To all those – from Left and Right – joining in the clamour for Cressida Dick to resign as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, a pertinent question hangs in the air: Who would you hire to replace her and what good do you think it would do?
If you are on the old-fashioned right of politics, you’d probably have in mind a figure in the mould of the no-nonsense former Commissioner Lord Stevens, a ‘copper’s copper’.
If you are on the liberal left, you are much more likely to demand a ‘Common Purpose’ clone, steeped in the fashionable jargon of the College of Policing and identifying structural racism and non-crime hate incidents as the central challenges of our age.
Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu talks the lingo pretty well, believing the disproportionate number of young black men in the criminal justice system is a sign of ‘racial bias built into the fabric of our institutions and society’. So does the kneeling Chief Constable of Kent, Alan Pughsley.
Perhaps right-wingers still consider Dick to be squarely in that tradition anyway, despite my article of last summer about her testimony to the Commons Home Affairs Committee, in which she stoutly defended stop and search, pushed back against claims that her force was ‘institutionally racist’ and even dared to set out the disproportionate crime rate among young black men in London and elsewhere.
Another fact often left out of our hazy collective memories of that chaotic last summer in London is Dick’s response to a few of her officers taking the knee before an aggressive crowd of BLM supporters in Whitehall. She did not, in fact, either sanction kneeling or approve of it. Quite the opposite.
On the evening of June 7, just hours after the kneeling had occurred, she issued a direction instructing Met officers not to repeat the gesture, later telling LBC: ‘Every briefing after that for the protests included “we will not be taking the knee”.’
She still came under fire for the relatively softly-softly approach taken by her operational commanders towards those BLM protests, especially when it meant that cherished national monuments such as the Cenotaph and Churchill’s statue were vandalised.
Now she is under fire again for another culture war issue – her failure to ensure a de facto exemption from Coronavirus legislation for feminists protesting against society’s apparently high tolerance threshold towards violence against women and girls.
A national poll by YouGov found that, by 43 per cent to 40 per cent, the public did not think that even a vigil in memory of Sarah Everard should have been permitted, let alone the large demonstration it turned into. Despite the distressing scenes that unfolded, twice as many people backed Dick as thought she should resign: 47 per cent to 23 per cent.
As usual, her public reaction has been a blend of emollience and sternness. Had the demonstration been lawful, she’d have attended it herself, she says, while also questioning how well informed the criticism of her officers has been.
It is notable that the left has led the latest outpouring of criticism of Dick. Left-wing Labour MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy, whose constituency includes Clapham Common, was especially damning, saying: ‘I do not think she has the confidence of people in my area… It’s not just this. There are other comments she has made about largely black communities that I have absolutely no time for and I think at this time she does now need to consider her position.’ She is far from alone. Lib Dem leader Ed Davey loftily declared: ‘Of course Cressida Dick must resign.’
Diane Abbott, the former shadow home secretary who told Dick during that combative select committee appearance last June that ‘young people should not be stopped and searched’, has declared that the ‘solitary reason not to sack Cressida Dick is that Priti Patel would promptly appoint someone even worse.’
For once, Ms Abbott is onto something. By ‘even worse’ she means someone less under the spell of left-wing ID politics. Someone like that would indeed struggle to police London by consent, as the British tradition demands.
Look, for example, at Ms Ribeiro-Addy’s constituency where the protests took place. She won almost 55 per cent of the vote at the last election, securing a majority of 17,690. In second place came the Lib Dem candidate with a 23.5 per cent vote share. The Tories limped home third with just 16 per cent. These sky-high vote shares for left-wingers constitute an authentic gauge of the opinions of most of today’s Londoners.
Despite Ms Patel having the final say over any new Commissioner, she must consult with London Mayor Sadiq Khan before making an appointment, giving his views due weight. Anyone imagining that some kind of latter-day Jack Reagan – ‘you’re nicked’ – would emerge from such a process would very likely be disappointed.
Any such abrasive character would anyway present a very easy target for the capital’s agit-prop mobs, leading to summer evenings on the streets far more highly charged and unruly than the ones we saw last year.
But neither would an out-and-out spouter of leftist sociology be acceptable. Certainly not to Ms Patel and not to national public opinion which leans in a socially conservative direction and also has a legitimate interest in how its capital city is policed.
The daubing of national statues rightly outraged such opinion, as did Extinction Rebellion gridlocking the city. Those who are commuters into London, day-trippers or just people who expect life in their capital to be policed respectably, have a right to see good order being enforced around Parliament, royal palaces, embassies, monuments and on the streets generally.
The policing of London must answer to two sharply diverging audiences – the local one and the national one. It is, in other words, an impossible job on the cutting edge of the culture war.
Cressida Dick manages somehow to pull it off to a largely acceptable degree – talking the jargon when she needs to but still committed to basic notions of strong policing on the ground. A wolf in sheep’s clothing.
You will miss her when she’s gone. There is absolutely no point in seeking to bring forward that difficult day.