A frosty reception
From the minute she left home this morning Jacqui Smith knew that this was not going to be an easy day. Flanked by her police protection team she caught sight of a message scratched into the frost on a nearby car windscreen. It read simply "2.5%" - the pay increase which was recommended for the police, which police in Scotland are receiving but which the home secretary insists that the police elsewhere cannot have. It's just a guess but I suspect that it wasn't a passing member of the public who was responsible for that wake up call.
Now the Police Federation have delivered their own frosty message. It reads even more simply and can be summed up in one word - "resign". In addition, they've called a ballot to consider whether the police should fight for the right to strike.
This sounds incredibly serious and politically, of course, it is but, let's be clear, this is also a sign of the Police's relative weakness because:
* It would take a change in the law to allow the police to strike and parliament won't agree to it - even in the unlikely event that the police demand it.
* The Police Federation say that working to rule or staying at home with what I now understand is called Blue Flu would be wrong and probably unlawful.
* Many MPs believe that the police have had been treated remarkably generously in recent years.
* And note the deafening silence of the Tories. David Cameron did not use any of his 6 questions at PMQs today to raise the police's plight, he has not called on the government to pay up and is not calling on Jacqui Smith to go. Instead the Tories have condemned the home secretary for treating the police with disrespect bordering on contempt.
Do not be misled into believing that this dispute is about £40 million of public money - peanuts for any government - or £200 for police officers - not peanuts but not huge riches either. Ministers are more worried about curbing inflationary pay deals than saving a few million. The Police Federation are more worried about saving the negotiation board which the government's pledged to scrap than winning a couple of hundred quid for their members.
The Police Federation's only industrial relations weapon is public opinion. Words - whether written in the frost or uttered at news conferences - are their truncheons. Today they were used to beat the home secretary around the head.