Political representation of the police force is clearly a vital issue for any government. Margaret Thatcher found this essential fact out when she achieved election in 1979. At that time she was starting to introduce a number of political initiatives that were profoundly unpopular with the youth of the nation. A prime minister needs a police force on their side. Thatcher was to introduce a series of initiatives that were to herald the start of what became known as monetarism.
In this respect one of Thatcher's first initiatives on becoming elected prime minister was to instigate the Edmund Davies regime on police pay. Following very severe problems with the recruitment and retention of police officers in England and Wales because of chronically low pay, which had by then fallen far behind the pay for comparable occupations, in August 1977 Edmund-Davies was appointed by Labour Home Secretary Merlyn Rees MP to chair a commission of inquiry into the negotiating machinery for police pay and conditions.
His terms of reference were enlarged in December 1977 to include the levels of pay. His report was published in July 1978 and recommended a substantial increase in pay for police officers - of the order of 45 per cent. This pay review body rewarded the police handsomely and has stood until the current period. Up until this point the police had been lagging behind in the pay that they received. The instigation of monetarism as an economic agenda had been predicted to be unpopular with many of the more marginal elements of British society. The police were therefore important in dealing with this issue.
The implications of monetarism left many young people disenfranchised and unemployed but the police were a vital force in containing this. In both 1980 and 1981 there were extensive riots that took place in Britain in cities such as London, Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol and Leeds. The Edmund Davies pay review body rewarded a crucial body of the police force handsomely in terms of making the political philosophy of monetarism work. People were unemployed and were absorbed into the national statistics through a system of Youth Training Schemes to avoid their being on the unemployment count.
An unusual form of industrial action
The essential means of remuneration provided by Edmund Davies endured for a long period of time. Only recently during the current "recession" has this sought to be contained. As the current coalition government seeks to contain and control the spending of the British government, the police force are not allowed by law to strike to express their unhappiness with the situation. The police have always until now been well remunerated. The current government are seeking to qualify this situation. In this respect how do the police negotiate with a "hostile" government? One instance of this might be the alleged behaviour of Andrew Mitchell the government Chief Whip; who on leaving Downing Street by bicycle swore at police officers.
He was alleged to have used the word "pleb" although he has always denied this. Class is a massive issue in British society. Mitchell was, like many of the cabinet of the coalition government educated in an exclusive private school. To call police officers plebs and swear at them which he does not deny, caused a major issue in the relationship between top officers and the government.
Did a government minister swear at the police? Did he call them plebs? When the police are keen to negotiate a favourable pay increase with government does this form an issue in bargaining power? Andrew Mitchell lasted a month before he resigned. He was a cabinet minister and the police alleged he behaved in certain questionable ways. Is this an unusual form of bargaining over a pay increase? We await to find out.
Edmund Davies provided for over thirty years a pay review body for the police force that was consistently very favourable. When a government seeks to remove this how do negotiations proceed? Margaret Thatcher in 1979 introduced an unpopular form of economic management. She needed the police on her side.
David Cameron is seeking to contain government spending which will include the police. How do negotiations between government and police play out to achieve a favourable solution that keeps both parties happy?
The new Winsor Review recommended a new independent pay review body for England and Wales that would operate in a similar way to the bodies that set pay in other public services. This would be an effective replacement of the Edmund Davies review that has existed for over thirty years.