Home Secretary ditches police election plan

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The Independent Online

The Home Secretary has scrapped plans to make police more accountable by introducing direct elections to the bodies which oversee them.

Jacqui Smith blamed opposition from senior police, which she said was fuelled in part by the "politicisation" of policing by the Conservatives in recent months.

She said that London Mayor Boris Johnson's role in the resignation of Sir Ian Blair as Metropolitan Police Commissioner and the Tories' response to the arrest of their immigration spokesman Damian Green had made senior officers worried about the potential for politician interference limiting their operational independence.

But Tories dismissed the claim, accusing the Labour Government of responsibility for politicising the police by "micro-management" of forces' activities over the past decade.

Plans for a directly elected element to the 43 police authorities in England and Wales were expected to feature in the Policing and Crime Bill being published today.

But Ms Smith said that, while she still sees the reform as a good way of increasing police accountability, she has decided to put it on hold.

She has asked former home secretary David Blunkett to prepare a report on proposals for Labour's next manifesto on how to make the police more accountable.

"The Tories' behaviour has raised fears that the police were being politicised, making it more difficult to win public support for my proposals for some members of the police authority to be directly elected," she told The Guardian.

"There has been a fundamental shift in the way people think about the politicisation of the police. I put that down to the London Mayor's intervention in the resignation of Sir Ian Blair and the events surrounding the Damian Green affair."

While "quite a few" senior police initially said they could see a case for directly elected authority members, following Sir Ian's resignation there were many more who said they were concerned about the implications of the plan for operational independence, she said.

Sir Ian announced in October that he was quitting as England's most senior police officer, after the new mayor made clear in a private meeting that he did not have his confidence.

Ms Smith said that the Conservative plan to replace police authorities - made up of local councillors, magistrates and independent appointees - with US-style directly elected police commissioners would lead to "lots of Boris Johnsons trying to run the police all round the country".

Shadow home secretary Dominic Grieve said: "The danger of politicisation of the police comes from the complete micro-management that has been the hallmark of this Government over the last 11 years.

"Our plans to replace police authorities with directly elected police commissioners are entirely different from those of the Government. They are about both restoring the professional judgment of the police, while making them accountable to and able to work with the public, not Whitehall diktats."