Last week saw the hosting of the Annual Police Federation Conference held at Bournemouth. Representatives from every force in the country attended. The police are currently facing their biggest threat and oddly not from the criminal fraternity.With all the current turmoil in the police over pay, conditions, and pensions this was going to be a momentous conference from the outset. I would add here that whilst I was at work for some of the conference I was most impressed with the online streaming on the Federation website. As you can imagine there was an awful lot of comment being pushed through Twitter during the event.
There were many key note speakers but it was quite obvious that delegates were going to want to see Theresa May (Home Secretary) and Nick Herbert (Policing Minsiter). Nick Herbert attended a day before the Home Secretary. I have to say that during his question/answer session he looked most uncomfortable and was in many regards quite feeble.. perhaps intimidated? His answers were exactly what you would expect from a politician in this position. His answers reflected government statements to date and he did not waver. But why should he? He’s a mouthpiece for the government. He has a career to build and develop. Why would he say anything to the contrary and jeopordise his future? It takes a strong politician to stand up and speak his mind. I did get the feeling that he was also a bit of cannon fodder in preparation of Theresa May’s appearance the next day. As I observed some of the posts on Twitter I read a number of tweets indicating that at least he “had the bottle to attend”. “He came and he faced the music”. I find this somewhat annoying. Let me put it into perspective. Nick Herbert is the policing minister. Forget any respect engendered for him actually turning up. HE HAD TO ATTEND. He is the policing minister. Yes he was uncomfortable, yes he was welcome in a “welcome to the lions den” kind of fashion but the fact is that failing to come to the conference at all would be so much more politically damaging than an unpleasant hour or two at Bournmouth. Politicians are a thick skinned breed and he will show, as was evident after last nights debate, utter disregard to the claims of the Federation and will press on regardless. Mr Herbert isn’t on his own though. Whilst similar tweets for Theresa May were much less, she too had to attend. Neither she nor Nick Herbert deserve any kudos for simply turning up.
In my OSPRE days and learning to do part II my trainer continually reinforced that you must “listen and respond” to what the role player was saying. This would draw out the information you needed and help with high scores. Whilst studying leadership with the CMI the same phrase appears. The inspirational, transformational leader listens and responds to his team. He/she ignores their team at their peril. In the police we have some tremendous leaders at every rank. We also have some dreadful ones. Leadership is not everyones bag. Politicians I suspect are no different. There are those with excellent leadership skills. There are also those who seem to be lacking. There are many aspects to leadership. But to me, effective listening, good communication skills, emotional intelligence and empathy are musts. Having watched Theresa May and Mr Herberts performances one thing was abundantly clear. They have no leadership skills at all. They actually fall into the autocratic sphere where “don’t question me and my policies” and “just do what I tell you to do” are common. This simply alienates your staff/team, causes friction, reduces performance and impacts greatly on results.
The next thing that struck me was the support that seemed to eminate across Twitter for Yvette Coopper. She apparantly spoke in total support of the police. She criticised the government for it’s current policies and was well recieved at conference. This gives me grave concerns. There is a line in Toy Story where Mr Potatohead says “Hang on a minute. What’s the matter with you. Did we all take stupid pills this morning.”
Yvette Cooper is part of the same party that gave us Gordon Brown and Jacqui Smith. The latter being the lady who rode roughshod over our pay deal and refused to be bound by the PAT conclusions. It led many of us to march into London to protest. Have we all forgotten what labour have done to us in the past? This is not a policital statement. I’m not shouting in favour of one party or the other. They are ALL as bad as each other when they behave as Mssrs Smith, May and Herbert have. Yes there are savings to be made. Yes the forces around the country will do their level best to economise with better practices and streamlining of processes. But we cannot swallow 20% cuts without there being an effect on front line policing. HMIC recognise this, the Federation know this but the Government are ploughing on regardless and ACPO as an organisation have doffed their cap and said they can do it!!
So we have a situation where the government are defending a ridiculous position and the opposition are ridiculing them for it. The important fact to me in all of this is that the parties change their stance with the wind direction. It’s very easy for labour to criticise and say “we would never have done that”…. but you know in your heart of hearts that no matter what they say in opposition, had they been in power then they would be putting huge cuts in place, reneging on deals, ignoring PAT conclusions and the opposition would be saying “we would never have done that”….. what a nonsense politics really is! The fact of the matter is that the vicious circle will continue until politicians of ANY party actually listen to what is being said to them and respond to it. Whilst they continue to ignore it the situation will remain dire.
I would add that there are certain individuals who appear to support the police. They appear to support the police regardless of their position in power or opposition. These are true leaders and stand by their convictions regardless of party doctrine. They listen, respond and really understand a situation. These people are Mavericks though. They tread a fine line and if the might of the party rallies against them their futures can be very short.
We currently have an autocratic leadership style emanating from the Home Office. The most worring statment for me came from Nick Herbert. When asked about time scales, he stated he believed the changes and recommendations of the various reports would be concluded by September. It is almost June. Government moves slowly. All the consultation processes that are needed take time and may well, if the process is followed correctly, end up at the PAT. I don’t see this happening in 3 months.. do you?
I’m an optimist generally… but for this occasion I will change my stance. The mark of a bully is to gain his advantage by force. If the Government believe they can get all his resolved by September they PLAN to ignore the PAT and the processes. They plan to push it through regardless. If the Federation and public support builds we may get the government to act differently. But if the government continue on their current path the only losers are the police, their safety and the safety of the general public. We need to determine who our true friends and allies are. We cannot rally to some individuals just because they are saying what we want to hear. Can we be certain they will maintain this stance if the governmental tables turn? The last government ran roughshod over the police service… why should the current incumbents act any differently?