May tells police - change or be changed

Home Secretary Theresa May addresses the Police Federation's annual conference Image copyright Reuters

Change yourselves or we will change you.

Theresa May's message to the police was as uncompromising as the black trousers and flat black lace ups she wore to deliver it.

No minister has spoken to the Police Federation like this. No-one has dared.

Today was the day when a representative of the trade union of home secretaries took on what is, in effect, the bobbies' trade union. It's something ministers - whether Tory or Labour - have dreamt of doing for years as each took their turn to face humiliation at the Fed's Conference.

Some were heckled, some slow handclapped, others heard in orchestrated silence.

All were told they were betraying police officers who had died or been injured in the line of duty. Two years ago Theresa May was forced to stand in front of a conference slogan which dubbed her policies "criminal".

Today was payback time. Why, though, did she do what her predecessors did not?

First, because the shocking list of police misconduct which she read out today - from Hillsborough to Lawrence to Tomlinson - has changed the public mood. Second, because deep cuts to police budgets and numbers have not led to the surge in lawlessness they predicted. Crime has, in fact, fallen.

Thirdly, because Plebgate revealed to the public gaze the misconduct politicians had suspected for years.

There is, though, one other reason.

Theresa May is an ambitious politician who knows people are eyeing her as a possible future leader of her party. She knew today that standing up to the police might prove as good for her career as standing up for them proved to be for politicians in the past.

Below are the key messages and extracts of the home secretary's speech:

We cut police numbers and crime too

I know many of you were sceptical. I know you meant it when you said that spending cuts would destroy the police as we know it, that the front line service would be ruined and that crime would go shooting up.…But today we can say with confidence that spending cuts have not ended policing as we know it, the front line service has largely been maintained, and most important of all - according to both recorded crime statistics and the independent crime survey - crime is down by more than 10% since the election.

Crisis of confidence

In the last few years, we have seen the Leveson Inquiry. The appalling conclusions of the Hillsborough independent panel. The death of Ian Tomlinson and the sacking of PC Harwood. The ongoing inquiry by an independent panel into the murder of Daniel Morgan. The first sacking of a chief constable for gross misconduct in modern times. The investigation of more than ten senior officers for acts of alleged misconduct and corruption. Allegations of rigged recorded crime statistics. The sacking of PCs Keith Wallis, James Glanville and Gillian Weatherley after "Plebgate". Worrying reports by the inspectorate about stop and search and domestic violence. The Herne Review into the conduct of the Metropolitan Police Special Demonstration Squad. The Ellison Review into allegations of corruption during the investigation of the murder of Stephen Lawrence. Further allegations that the police sought to smear Stephen‟s family. Soon, there will be another judge-led public inquiry into policing.

Not just a few bad apples

When you remember the list of recent revelations about police misconduct, it is not enough to mouth platitudes about "a few bad apples". The problem might lie with a minority of officers, but it is still a significant problem, and a problem that needs to be addressed.… It cannot be right when officers under investigation by the IPCC comply with the rules by turning up for interview but then refuse to cooperate and decline to answer questions.

Such behaviour - which I am told is often encouraged by the Federation - reveals an attitude that is far removed from the principles of public service felt by the majority of police officers. It is the same attitude exposed by HMIC when officers, called to help a woman who had suffered domestic violence, accidentally recorded themselves calling the victim a "slag" and a "bitch". It is the same attitude expressed when young black men ask the police why they are being stopped and searched and are told it is "just routine" even though according to the law, officers need "reasonable grounds for suspicion". It is an attitude that betrays contempt for the public these officers are supposed to serve - and every police officer in the land, every single police leader, and everybody in the Police Federation should confront it and expunge it from the ranks.

Change yourselves or we will change you

The Police Federation is an organisation created by statute, it serves a public function and the Normington Review demonstrated very clearly that it is an organisation in need of greater transparency and accountability. So it is a change that I believe needs to be made.Change yourselves or we will change you. Theresa May's message to the police was as uncompromising as the black trousers and flat black lace ups she wore to deliver it.