Apart from Sir Ian Blair, the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, is there any other copper who likes this government? Not many, judging by the angry reaction from the men and women in blue to New Labour’s decision to reduce their pay award. An independent commission gave the police 2.5% but home secretary Jacqui Smith refused to backdate it to August, as recommended. Her decision effectively reduces the pay rise to just 1.9%, well below the rate of inflation.
So now the police are talking about forming a trade union and going on strike. You have to go back nearly 90 years for the last time that police truncheons were withdrawn. In August 1918, the National Union of Police and Prison Officers (NUPPO) launched a strike by London police, which was supported by 10,000 out of the 12,000 workforce. The executive of NUPPO demanded a pay increase, improved war bonuses, extension of pension rights to include policemen's widows, a shortening of the pension entitlement period, and an allowance for school-aged children.
The most significant issue was that NUPPO be officially recognised. They won their demands, but the issue of the union was left unresolved. In 1919, police in Liverpool began another series of strikes. This time the union was suppressed by force and every striker was dismissed. The Police Federation, which is no more than a glorified staff association, was imposed on officers and is currently in charge of negotiations with the government.
Anonymous police bloggers are lining up to condemn the government. One has even called for a march on London, while others favour action ranging from all-out strike to a work-to-rule. There is a general air of contempt for the Police Federation negotiators. The prospect of industrial action by police is apparently frightening some ministers and MPs, who fear for their seats as the opinion poll ratings continue to plummet. But it seems the Brown government doesn’t really have a handle on any major issue and dithering is the order of the day (as shown by Brown’s decision to sign the new Euro treaty by himself instead of jointly with other EU leaders!)
As far as the state goes, New Labour had the support of the police while the judiciary fought a rearguard action to defend inroads into their powers and a general onslaught by ministers on the rule of law. The intelligence agencies are still smarting at being politically manoeuvred into spinning the case for the invasion of Iraq while senior civil servants are said to be bemused by how the Brown clique runs (or doesn’t) the machinery of government. Add in the mounting impact of the global financial crisis and things are not looking good for New Labour. Who knows what the outcome of a strike by police might be.