David Blackburn

Theresa May’s unenviable challenge

Theresa May’s unenviable challenge
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Many political careers have met a torturous end in the Home Office. And this morning, Theresa May began her struggle. She is taking on the "last great unreformed public service" and the opposition is formidable; so much so that the official opposition barely get a look in. The Peelers are marching on Downing Street.

The Police Federation has declared itself ‘fed up’ with cuts – a perfunctory warning to the government. Vice Chairman Simon Reed indicated that the Federation feels the government is abrogating its duty of care to those who serve, a dextrous line forged by those opposed to personnel cuts to the armed forces. Reed told the Today programme:

‘Because of the sheer nature of these cuts, quite clearly there are not 20% of savings in the service and it's clear that the Home Secretary is going to turn to police officers and their families to fund the shortfall.’

So far, May has responded firmly without being combative. On the one hand, she is relying on Tom Winsor’s examination of police pay and perks. ‘It’s jobs or pay’ is her pithy soundbite. On the other hand, she is reorganising police time to improve visibility, which stands at a meagre 11 percent. She emphasises value for money and fairness, and hopes to avoid a frenzied scrap.

It will be an excrutiating ordeal. May's problem is age old: a provocative reforming government cannot cross the police, which explains why the service has escaped root and branch reform for so long. As Nick Robinson points out, Ken Clarke’s assault on police perks was easily repulsed and Margaret Thatcher, like a medieval potentate, increased police pay and perks before putting them on the line. The Home Secretary may well hold her own, but the likelihood is that senior members of the government will have to dirty their hands for her cause.