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Last Updated: Friday, 11 November 2005, 18:21 GMT
'Political police' prompts questions
By Jon Silverman
Home Affairs analyst

Met Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair in Downing Street on Thursday
Sir Ian Blair's comments during the election also raised eyebrows
As the row continues over claims that the government manipulated the police on the Terror Bill, Jon Silverman looks at the questions raised by their relationship.

At all levels, the police vigorously refute the claim that they were manipulated by the government to press the case for a 90-day maximum on detention without charge of suspected terrorists.

And it is true that the head of Scotland Yard's anti-terrorism branch, Peter Clarke, and senior ACPO representatives were making a powerful case, privately and publicly, for an increase in the present 14-day limit well before the government drafted its anti-terrorism bill.

'Stepping over line'

Nevertheless, the manner in which the campaign was conducted in recent days is unprecedented and raises profound questions about the relationship between policing and party politics.

The former deputy chief constable of Nottinghamshire, Tom Williamson, said he was surprised that the Met's Andy Hayman had met a group of wavering Labour MPs at the Commons in the presence of the home secretary and one of his ministers.

"This was stepping over the line which should divide the police from politicians," he said.

"And I'm sure there will be implications for the future."

Privately, some chief constables believe they are under greater political pressure than ever before
Jon Silverman

That meeting may well be seen as a miscalculation by ACPO, which is unlikely to get so close to the front-line of such a political battle in the near future.

But other developments this year have also caused disquiet.

Comments on terrorism made by Met Commissioner Sir Ian Blair during the general election campaign led to accusations that he was espousing a government line.

And the Chief Constable of Nottinghamshire, Steve Green, was criticised for writing a national newspaper article during the campaign complaining about a lack of resources.

National policing

Privately, some chief constables believe they are under greater political pressure than ever before as Britain moves steadily closer to a national police force.

Tom Williamson said: "For more than 30 years, we had a tripartite arrangement in which the influence of the home secretary was balanced by that of the chief constable and the police authority.

"But the last decade has seen an inexorable trend towards national policing agencies and a blueprint for far fewer forces.

"All the cards are now stacked in the government's favour."

New 'soul-searching'

Twenty years ago, the police were castigated for getting too close to the government of the day in their handling of the miners' strike.

A number of senior officers argued that that should never be allowed to happen again.

It may well have influenced the police handling of the early stages of the fuel protests in 2000 when some members of the Cabinet's emergency committee, COBR, accused chief constables of not pursuing a robust enough line with the protesters.

The police then took a tougher approach.

The fallout from the anti-terrorism debate may lead to another bout of soul-searching.

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