It is fair to say that the Conservative party has long cherished its reputation as the party for “law and order”.
So for a Conservative-led government, in less than two years, to get tens of thousands of police officers from across the country out on a march, campaigning against the way their forces are being undermined, illustrates just how badly David Cameron is mismanaging the country.
Early estimates suggested at least 20,000 serving police officers took part in the march today. So large a number turned out that it took almost an hour and a half for them to march past the Home Office this afternoon. It’s not known whether Theresa May, the Home Secretary, was in her office to witness the protesters’ march-past: apparently, she had made a note in her diary that the demonstration was next week.
Unlike the public service workers who took industrial action today to highlight their dispute with the government – which wants them to work for longer, and pay more into their pension funds, but to receive reduced retirement benefits – these protesting police officers were not on strike. They are not allowed to strike by law. All were “off duty”.
According to police officers who contacted Inside Croydon, many more wanted to join the march today, but were denied leave to do so. They were needed to maintain police cover on normal duties, and in some cases to police the marchers. It is clear that today’s march was not the action of a militant minority, but represented deep-seated disquiet among the police.
All police staff who contacted Inside Croydon were adamant that their protest is less about their own terms of service, more about the manner in which the government’s cuts are crippling the police service.
“Government policy is going to rip the heart and soul out of British policing,” Pete Smyth, a senior official of the Police Federation in London, told Inside Croydon.
“Savage budget cuts will affect frontline policing. Officers pay and conditions are under attack with a 20 per cent pay cut, officer numbers will fall significantly. Communities such as Croydon will be affected.”
In the past couple of years, hundreds of senior officers in the Met have taken early retirement, demoralised about their working terms and conditions.
The disaffection in the thin blue line is palpable. One senior officer, who works out of Croydon police station, can now hardly wait to retire from the force.
He told us: “I have 28 yrs service with the Met. I have been proud of the job all my career but now I can’t wait to leave. It’s sad. I wish I could leave in two years looking at a modernised police force and feel proud, but I know that won’t happen. I’ll just be glad to get away.
“Although I am being affected financially, I only have a couple of years left before I retire. I’m marching because we do a special job. We make a huge sacrifice to make sure the public are protected. Our families make a sacrifice to allow us to protect the public.
“We are being treated very badly by this government. They don’t seem to understand our job at all. The changes they want to make will not improve conditions for officers or the public.
“I think it will make a hard job even harder and it will put the public at unnecessary risk.”
The stark facts are that the government has slashed the police budget by almost 30 per cent. “The government mantra is that we can get more for less, but with cuts of this magnitude the only thing you will get more of is more crime, more disorder and more anti-social behaviour,” Paul McKeever, the chairman of the Police Federation, told the marchers today.
In England and Wales, the police service will lose more than 16,000 warranted officers over the next four years; this year alone, £163 million is being taken from police pay; as with other public servants, the police’s pension contributions have been increased, while a two-year public sector pay freeze has been imposed on police officers.
“The reality of the cuts to policing is really beginning to bite,” McKeever said. “Numbers are beginning to fall rapidly. In the past year alone, we have lost more than 5,200 police officers from the frontline and we are witnessing the privatisation of core policing roles as chief officers struggle to cope with budget restraints.
“The government need to be realistic about the outcome of severe cuts to policing; we cannot afford to compromise on public safety.”
- Inside Croydon: Living life on the fringes of Croydon. Post your comments on this article below. If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
- 4 Days in August: Steve O’Connell’s lasting shame? (insidecroydon.com)
- Chief constable Tony Melville to join rank-and-file police on cuts march (telegraph.co.uk)
- 400,000 workers predicted to strike (thisislondon.co.uk)
- Jon Rouse, Croydon riots, and the crucial missing hours (insidecroydon.com)