The former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Ian Blair has warned that Theresa May's plans to reshape the police is sending the force into "unchartered territory", suggesting there is a "lack of sympathy" among coalition ministers for the police.
His comments to The Huffington Post UK come as MPs on the Home Affairs Committee prepare to assess Tom Winsor's suitability as the next Chief Inspector of Constabulary.
If confirmed as the new police watchdog Winsor, the former head of the Office for Rail Regulation, would be the first person to hold the job having not ever served as a police officer. This has alarmed some rank-and-file officers who feel he lacks any direct experience of working for the force.
Tom Winsor is likely to face a tough series of questions from MPs about his suitability to be Chief Inspector of Constabulary
Ian Blair says he thinks Tom Winsor would do a good job as the police's supreme watchdog, but warns that he will be fiercely independent. This, he says, coupled with the introduction of elected Police and Crime Commissioners this November, is likely to make it much more difficult for the government to direct the shape and style of policing in England and Wales.
"I don't know quite how much the coalition has thought about how much of the map will be coloured red," Blair told The Huffington Post, suggesting many Labour party police commissioners would be elected.
"You're going to have local elected politicians who have a diffierent political view than the elected government, plus a very independent inspectorate. I think this may be a good thing, but it may be difficult for the Home Office to control policing in the way it has done for the past 100 years."
"It's not a prophecy that this or that will happen, it's a prophecy that with this appointment the Home Office is moving into unchartered territory," he told HuffPost.
Ian Blair, now a crossbench peer in the Lords, was speaking to The Huffington Post after writing an opinion piece for The Times on Monday morning, in which he suggested the Home Office was at risk of losing significant leverage over the police.
Mr Winsor may seek change far more radical than anything the Home Office wants. He was a feisty rail regulator, far from being in the Government’s pocket. He will undoubtedly see the need for greater private sector involvement. He will have to deal with the novel relationship between the Home Office and the newly elected commissioners. And in that divide, his sympathy and the sympathies of Chief Officers who work for them may not be to Home Office taste.
Tom Winsor was due to be appear before MPs on the Home Affairs committee on Tuesday, but that scrutiny hearing has been delayed after the Home Office dragged its feet in confirming Theresa May's preferred candidate last week.
Winsor has recently conducted a review of police pay and conditions, angering the Police Federation by suggesting that there should be an "officer class" in the force, with graduates brought straight in at a senior level. He envisions a similar scenario to the Armed Forces, where officers are trained separately and are not required to spend time working as PCs.
Winsor also recommended that police officers take fitness examinations, with those failing the test being financially penalised.
Ian Blair told HuffPost that while he was in favour of fitness tests, he found the argument for an officer class among the police "reasonably unconvincing."
"You need a lot of upstream skills before you start doing that," he says. "What needed to be developed further is the accelerated promotions scheme, it takes people up the ranks quickly but gives people the experience not only as a constable but as a sergeant or detective inspector. These are complex jobs and to command them doesn't just require an MBA."
The home secretary's nomination of Winsor has been questioned by rank-and-file officers, with the chairman of the Police Federation Paul McKeever saying it "raised eyebrows" among officers, suggesting that Winsor lacked a "deep and profound understanding of policing."
On Friday the chair of the Home Affairs Committee Keith Vaz wrote to the home secretary saying she hadn't given enough notice for Winsor's pre-appointment hearing to go ahead on Tuesday, and suggested two alternative dates later in June. Vaz appeared to rebuke Theresa May for failing to give MPs enough warning about her decision, and said it was "worrying" that the press appeared to find out who she was recommending before the committee was informed.
Membership of the committee consists of five Labour MPs (including Vaz), five Tories and the Lib Dem Julian Huppert. It is not known for dividing on party lines and has always produced unanimous reports so far in this Parliament. Labour MPs on the committee have already given a frosty reception to Winsor, so far super-loyal Tory backbenchers like Michael Ellis and Nicola Blackwood have yet to comment publicly on the decision.
Ian Blair told HuffPost on Monday morning that the coalition appeared to "dislike the kind of police the police have become while they were out of office."
"No government is going to subordinate its interest to the police. But there is unquestionably a lack of sympathy between the coalition and the police," he added.
"The government has abolished the National Police Improvement Agency and they are starving ACPO of funds. It is a continuous process of appearing to be uncomfortable with the modern landcape of policing and being determined to change it."
Blair believes the coalition has a "much narrower view of what the police are for," compared with the previous Labour government.
"It is encapsulated in the view that the Labour government saw the police's role as building a more safe and tolerant society. The Conservatives view their job as to catch criminals. These are two very distinct views of the police."
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