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Wednesday, 13 March, 2002, 11:15 GMT
Police reform row tests Blunkett
David Blunkett
Blunkett needs to build alliances with officers
test hello test
By Mark Davies
BBC News Online political reporter
line
It may not be set out explicitly in the job description, but every home secretary knows he needs to at least act the tough guy.

David Blunkett is no different. Months after roaring into office with a series of headline-grabbing announcements, he is now knee-deep in his biggest test so far.

And Mr Blunkett's approach to police reform has been nothing if not tough. A wide range of measures have, perhaps predictably, upset rank and file offices.

They are converging on Westminster on Wednesday to voice their displeasure.

The home secretary has always appeared, however, to relish a fight. He took on the teaching unions during his time as education secretary and won.

His stock was high in the government and promotion to the home office followed last year.

He is one of those ministers - and there are few - talked about as a future prime minister.

Alliances

And a series of trail-blazing announcements on asylum vouchers and cannabis laws soon after his appointment as home secretary did nothing to mar his image.

But this current row is a little different, particularly as Mr Blunkett has not only antagonised rank and file officers, but has managed to upset chief constables as well.

David Blunkett
Blunkett: Bruising battles as education secretary
That in itself is quite an achievement. His predecessor at the home office, Jack Straw, had quietly built alliances on all sides in the police service.

Mr Blunkett seems almost clumsily intent on destroying those relationships which could work in his favour.

The home secretary's plans for the police are a key part of the government's drive to reform public services.

Extra care

And the prime minister will almost certainly be delighted that his home secretary is taking such a tough line.

Reform of the police is widely regarded as a necessity and the image of a government taking action is much more preferable to Downing Street than one beset by sleaze allegations.

Indeed, Mr Blunkett's style in the past has been to push for what he wants regardless of the opposition he faces.

But on this he needs to take extra care. After all, even a politician as robust as Kenneth Clarke ended up bruised when he took on the police as home secretary.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens is still smarting from Mr Blunkett's criticism of police efficiency.

A new standards unit for the police also worries him, while Mr Blunkett is also introducing "policing priority areas" urban areas blighted by high crime rates.

Determined

It is potential alliances with the likes of Sir John which Mr Blunkett should take care not to blow out of the water.

The Met Commissioner is known to favour police reform and has led the way in areas now being championed by Mr Blunkett.

As the home secretary seeks to get his message across to junior officers, he could do with the backing of the likes of Sir John.

Mr Blunkett has been in this sort of territory before, of course, during his days as education secretary.

He won that battle, and for all the talk of compromise with the police, seems determined to win this one too.

He might have cause to consider, however, that even tough guys need powerful allies.

See also:

13 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Police rally against reforms
22 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Q&A: Police reform white paper
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