Thursday, 13 December 2007

Who would be Home Secretary?

Being Home Secretary must be one of the toughest jobs in British politics, even though some of the responsibilities have been transferred to the new Justice department. Roy Jenkins wrote an interesting piece about the role many years ago in which he recalled that one was at the mercy of unexpected events. For example, the 'Mad Axeman' escaped from Dartmoor. People came to the conclusion that he was equipped with his axe and might lay about them at any time when in fact he was being disposed of by his criminal compatriots.

To some extent Jacqui Smith's troubles are of her own making, although Gordon Brown is also fully involved. Deferring the introduction of the police pay increase will only save £40m for the exchequer, and cost the average copper £200 over the course of a year, but it has incensed the boys in blue. Their concern is that it undermines the arbitrarion mechanism set up by Mrs Thatcher which followed years of low pay awards under incomes policies which led to a substantial number of departures from the force.

Public reaction has not been entirely sympathetic to the police, pointing out that they are far from badly paid. On the other hand, given the complexity of their duties and the challenges they face, one would expect quite a high level of pay.

If £40m is crucial, the public finances must be in a worst state that we had thought. Gordon Brown says that holding firm on public sector pay is essential for the fight against inflation, but this settlement hardly seems inflationary. One suspects that the government has caused an avoidable political storm, and upset another group of voters, for little real gain.

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