What a difference a year makes. Just 12 months ago the home secretary was being booed and hissed at by disgruntled police officers in the audience at the annual Police Federation conference in Bournemouth.
Why? She had refused to backdate officers’ pay meaning effectively they would get a pay cut from 2.5% to 1.9%. Officers threatened they’d vote to strike (by law they’re not allowed to) and promised never to forget her “betrayal”.
Yet at yesterday’s keynote speech one year on Jacqui Smith got a pretty easy ride from officers in the audience, and indeed, the Federation’s new chairman Paul McKeever. The 2008 pay dispute had been long forgotten; well, the recession can be thanked for that, as 2.5% – even 1.9% – seems like a pretty good deal from where most of us are standing.
Instead Smith played the recession card to her advantage, stating she had fought hard to maintain police funding in last month’s Budget (despite economic pressures) so that forces could maintain policing numbers without having to cut jobs.
While a year ago this funding was not enough, now Smith presents it as looking good compared to a Tory government, which Smith claimed would have cut funding equivalent to 3,500 officers by now.
Delegates didn’t really buy it. They complained their local offices had been forced to slash policing numbers over the past year and were concerned that plans to modernise the police force were really just a decoy for more cutbacks.
But Smith said officer numbers were at their highest now than they’d ever been, at 140,000 officers. If chief constables decided to cut some of those jobs and spend the money on other areas, that was their decision and certainly no pressure had been made from the government to cut jobs, she said.
Only when one officer brought up the expenses row did things feel slightly awkward for the home secretary. He said police allowances had been radically slashed over the last couple of years yet MPs and ministers had been claiming items as extraordinary as furniture, dog food and interior design. This saw the audience whoop and whistle – they’d been dying to have some lasting impression on the home secretary all afternoon.