Margaret Thatcher knew all about demonstrations and industrial unrest by the time she arrived in Downing Street in 1979: she had served in Sailor Heath’s Government and had seen the confrontations with miners and power workers, and in her early days as Tory leader had watched as Jim Callaghan hesitated over going to the country and ultimately lost his grip during the “Winter of Discontent”.
And she knew that there would be yet more unrest as her first term saw unemployment soar by over two million. At times like these, a Prime Minister needed to know that the forces of law and order would go that extra mile to hold the line, and so Thatcher made sure the Police were equipped and paid well. Thus favoured, they were more than happy to confront miners, print workers and other opposition.
The lesson was heeded not only by “Shagger” Major, but also by Tone and Pa Broon. Governments needed the Police, latterly not merely to deal with industrial unrest, but also to counter the threat of terrorism. And it was common sense that politicians, if they wanted to be considered fit for office, refrained from dissing those whose task was to uphold the law.
But Young Dave appears to have missed this straightforward lesson, telling in his New Year message that “too often our schools aren't up to scratch, our hospitals aren't always clean enough and our police don't catch criminals”, thus simultaneously lumping Police together with other public sector workers, and making unequivocal adverse comment on their performance.
This continues a trend I picked up on before Christmas, when former Tory spinner Nick Wood, who clearly has time on his hands at Media Intelligence Partners (MIP), denounced the Met and other forces who had been forced to confront the summer’s rioters, as proponents of “Limp-wristed Policing”. Wood will have to hope that the officers he calls on in his hour of need have retained their sense of humour.
Interestingly, the Mail, which carries the rants of Wood and other right leaning froth merchants, has put Cameron’s message a long way down the Mail Online front page (and emphasised merely the part on City pay), while the Mirror, as befits a Labour supporting paper, has made this its Politics lead, telling of “David Cameron’s new year swipe at public sector workers”.
And the Mirror piece is the one that carries a quote from Police Federation chair Paul McKeever. The Telegraph, like the Mail, does not (and also headlines on City pay). To lump the Police in with teachers and health workers is one thing, but to lay into them quite another. And trying to finesse matters by dumping on his predecessors’ legislation won’t wash: the basis of law governing the Police pre-dates New Labour.
This could be one very bad move by Young Dave.