June 24, 2004 | Jeff Wall

A major test for the power to direct police.

THE Rt Hon David Blunkett is one of the more interesting Members of the Blair Government in the UK. He is also one of the most powerful – and successful.
Totally blind, David Blunkett has held the largest, and most complex Ministry in the UK, Home Affairs, since 2001. The Home Secretary is responsible for law and order, prisons, customs, migration and a host of other areas.
David Blunkett is no shrinking violet. His attitude to asylum seekers, and the equivalent of our “boat people” in particular, makes that of Phillip Ruddock and Amanda Vanstone almost “soft” by comparison.
Apart from wanting illegal entrants to be held in prison, not detention centres, his latest initiative is to require people waiting for removal after being denied refugee status to undertake community service!
He takes a hard line approach to crime and criminals, and has presided over a cut in violent crime. He is even less tolerant towards football hooligans, who seem to be born every minute in Britain.
He has now decided to take on the Police Force – a dysfunctional organization that is supposed to report ultimately to the Home Secretary. The UK has 43 Chief Constables, effectively the equivalent of our Police Commissioners, many of whom think they are a law unto themselves.
This week he has demanded that one of the more powerful Chief Constables, David Westwood, Chief Constable of Humberside, stand down as a result of highly adverse findings by an Inquiry into how the convicted child killer, Ian Huntley, was able to be appointed a school caretaker despite a string of sex abuse complaints to Humberside police.
The Chief Constable, and the Police Board to which he directly reports, is ignoring the Home Secretary’s direction. The Police Board is headed by a prominent Labour Party Councillor.
The matter may end up in court, and will be interesting to watch, because David Blunkett has been moving for some time to assert more direct political control over the Police Force. The deeply entrenched Chief Constables, and their Boards, are resisting his moves very strongly.
From time to time there are debates here over whether a Government, through the Police Minister, has the power to direct the Police Commissioner and the Police Force. In NSW, the Police Minister, John Watkins, has recently increased his powers to the chagrin of sections of the NSW Police.
The more political law and order issues become – and they are now very political in Victoria and NSW in particular – then the greater will be the pressure for stronger political control.
There is a fine line between legitimate political directions and unacceptable political interference. There is no question that during the Bjelke-Petersen era in Queensland that line was crossed many times. It was certainly crossed during the Askin regime in NSW as well.
It is interesting that in Papua New Guinea, the National Constitution specifically prohibits the Government from “directing” the Police Commissioner. What it does not prohibit is the Government sacking the Commissioner – so when a Commissioner is disinclined to follow the Government line he gets the chop!
David Blunkett has deliberately decided to take on the Chief Constable of Humberside because this Chief Constable is in a very weak position. A sex fiend was allowed to have access to school girls – with tragic consequences – because of gross police incompetence.
Being the very smart politician he is, David Blunkett is on a sure winner…….and will milk his showdown with the Humberside Police for all its worth.
And a footnote – he must have the most placid guide dog of all. His dog sits at his feet during Question Time in the Commons, and does not stir even when the only genuinely robust “parliament” in the Commonwealth is in full cry!

Posted by Jeff Wall at 10:28 am | Comments Off on A major test for the power to direct police. |
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