Hot irons don’t always mean it’s time to strike!

A PCSO on duty with two police constables
Police walk out?

 The media last week was full of speculation and comment about police officers going on strike. But as usual, most of the coverage was little more than journalistic dross. Emotive and sensational headlines designed to provoke opinion and/or heated debate. Initially it probably achieved its aim however, public interest in the topic was mostly short-lived…

The Police Federation of England and Wales media release said that their national committee had voted “unanimously to hold a ballot of its membership on the question of whether police officers want full industrial rights.” Details of a rally in central London prior to the Police Federation’s annual conference in May was also planned. This was “to highlight the unprecedented attack on policing by this government and the consequences that these cuts will have for public safety” (see here).

British police officers angry with the coalition government’s plans to cut jobs and freeze pay will vote on whether they want the right to strike, the body representing them said on Thursday…(Reuters)

Before going any further I want to dispel the myths about the current tinkering with British policing. What is happening now has very little to do with ‘efficiency’ or ‘performance’ but much to do with the public perception of political and police leaders. Oh yes, and a pretty poor effort to put cash back in the rusty public sector budget bucket, one that has had gaping holes in it for years.

Many police officers may begin to understand what ‘economics’ means from today…  What happened in our factories and mines is now coming to the police.  The question not asked is why this has taken so long and who is responsible for that – the answer being the ACPO ranks.  In the factory model they would be delayered and sent packing because they have failed  for so long and would not be seen fit to use the new broom…(allcoppedout)

As Allcoppedout rightly suggests (above), many of the problems faced by policing in the UK today can be attributed to that oligarchical private members club, The Association of Chief Police Officers. For years police officers (and ultimately the public) have suffered a level of servitude to this organisation of almost tyrannical proportions.

For several years, many ACPO members appear to have had far more interest in feathering their own nest of self-importance, rather than looking after the public service of policing. But recently and thankfully, people outside the service are also starting to ask questions, ones that many lower ranking police officers have been asking for years.

Questions like those raised in the Yorkshire Post recently; (1) “why has ACPO paid hundreds of thousands of pounds to consultants without applying the spending controls it tells forces up and down the country to abide by” (see here) and (2) “why is ACPO unable to provide evidence of contracts to so many ‘consultants’ employed by them” (see here), to mention just two.

In addition, a recent academic submission to the Justice Committee by Dr Rodger Patrick (see here), evidenced the self-serving nature of ACPO and much of its membership. Recognised as an expert in the field of exposing the manipulation of crime figures by police forces, Dr Patrick explained how police management methods disguise and skew crime statistics, mostly to reflect a perceived level of improved performance.

And who benefits from these unethical but ‘sanctioned’ methods? Our senior police officers that’s who, they and ultimately the government ministers. All people responsible for the direction and leadership of a (supposedly) accountable service, one that is paid for by our society!

Many of the current police ‘reform’ proposals, Winsor Review (Parts 1 & 2) et al, are simply designed to disguise, or cover up, the years of undue political interference in a public service. One that is often, led by an inept and mostly self-serving leadership. I may be specifically talking about the police here however, ‘reforms’ to our National Health Service is another prime example of what is happening in public services. It’s a great pity the public can’t summon up similar levels of angst for what is happening to policing, as they have appear to be doing for the NHS.

But the current reviews of policing aren’t really anything new per se. Policing has been in an almost constant state of flux for many years, mostly within the last decade or two. So, how the government can accuse the police, and the Police Federation in particular, of being ‘resistant’ to change, is ludicrous and laughable.

During this time policing has become ever more regulated and (arguably) more accountable than almost any other public service. It has been subjected to a constant stream of PR based political direction, along with a myriad of mostly whimsical plans and ‘initiatives’ from a self-interested leadership. People who are interested in making their mark and enhancing their personal career prospects. Is it any wonder that many police officers are angry about what is happening?

Not really however, all the current talk and posturing around greater industrial rights, maybe even the right to withdraw labour, although understandable, is probably a step too far. As many workers have found to their detriment throughout history, strike action rarely achieves the aims it intended.

Even the strongest and most militant unions can end up discovering the stark realities of protracted industrial disputes. Strikes actually result in so many unintended (or unseen) negative impacts, especially when a union decides to try to do battle with the government. Many of those involved in the strikes of the 1980’s, not just the miners, are still experiencing the fallout from that action. They have had problems with employment prospects and/or work conditions. The health and welfare of their families have also suffered, strikes divide families and communities – like warfare – they are mostly futile and ultimately painful, for all concerned.

So what of all the recently published comments on police academic ability, individual fitness and personal performance?

Far from police officers being over-weight neanderthals or an uneducated mob of working-class oiks, each rhetorical descriptions favoured by our politicians and their Winsoresque puppets, like the majority of us, they are mostly just hard-working people trying to do their best. Despite getting shafted by politicians who have lied and reneged on previous properly negotiated and in many respects, legal agreements.

But all those descriptions are mainly employed by politicians to create a public image, one that will hopefully, detract from any display of public support for those disengaged or disadvantaged police officers. Like the masking of fact by senior officers in the past, it’s all about creating an atmosphere conducive to implementing the plan.

In addition, the representative body of rank and file officers, the Police Federation, isn’t an antagonistic union trying to stand in the way of change for self-interested reasons. They are a Staff Association, one that has no intention of threatening the nation or holding our country to ransom, they are, as Tony Judge titled his historical reference, simply The Force of Persuasion!

The Force of Persuasion: The history of the Police Federation – Just weeks after the First World War ended, the British establishment was rocked by a sudden police strike in London, when almost every constable and sergeant in the Metropolitan Police refused to go on duty…(Purchase at

But what is the value of persuasion if all your efforts continually fall upon deaf ears?

Back in 1991, Professor Mark Skousen, a prolific American author and world-renowned speaker on economics and politics wrote about the powers of Persuasion vs. Force. In his piece he acknowledged the inspiration he gleaned from the book Adventures of Ideas, (ISBN: 0029351707), written by Alfred North Whitehead, the renowned British philosopher in 1933. Skousen quoted Whitehead’s use of Plato who said; “The creation of the world is the victory of persuasion over force… Civilization is the maintenance of social order, by its own inherent persuasiveness as embodying the nobler alternative.”

Professor Whitehead’s vision of civilized society as the triumph of persuasion over force should become paramount in the mind of all civic-minded individuals and government leaders. It should serve as the guideline for the political ideal…(Prof Mark Skousen)

Skousen continued by suggesting a new political creed; “The triumph of persuasion over force is the sign of a civilized society.” As he also correctly pointed out; rightly said, “Surely this is a fundamental principle to which most citizens, no matter where they fit on the political spectrum, can agree.”

Although Skousen is American, and mostly writes about American issues, I chose him for this post intentionally. With the predominant social, political and economic love affair that generally exists between the UK and the USA, his views are more than relevant here.

But, a little nearer to home, and as one of my Twitter followers put it recently, it really is time they (politicians/ACPO ranks) started to head the advice of that Greek sage and stoic philosopher, Epictetus.

We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak…(Epictetus AD 55 – AD 135)

Despite decades of success in negotiation, as opposed to confrontational ‘action’, even the Police Federation are now seeing from membership opinion that, enough really is enough. And, in a recent poll over at The Police Inspector’s Blog the author asked; Would you strike over Winsor?

Although perhaps only partly indicative of the overwhelming feelings within policing, the poll suggests a worrying picture for the future. Results in the Gadget Poll (as at 25th March) suggest that over 79% of respondents were in favour of strike action. However, even if police officers do eventually vote in favour of greater industrial rights, it will probably be mostly irrelevant… The government is unlikely to ever draw up laws that would allow police officers to (legally) take strike action.

If I was still a police officer, it is unlikely that I’d be prepared to withdraw my labour. In many respects it flies in the face of the reasons I actually joined the force in the first place. Unfortunately, the raison d’être of many cops today appears to differ somewhat from those possessed by many of their predecessors. However, ethical notions espoused from the moral high ground don’t put a roof over your head, or food on the table to feed your family. Could this be a driver at ACPO level one wonders? I doubt it.

All said, it will be sad day if the police service is obliged to return to the methods of the 1920’s, simply because politicians and police leadership, simply won’t bloody listen. One that has a potential for further damaging the original concept of policing by consent!