Relations between police and Ministers have hit a new low as officers demand the Home Secretary's immediate resignation over her refusal to approve their full pay award.
Jacqui Smith has provoked mutiny within the police service, and dismay among her Labour colleagues, by phasing in their promised 2.5 per cent pay increase, effectively cutting it to 1.9 per cent.
The Police Federation passed a vote of no confidence in Ms Smith and will ballot members on whether rules banning them from taking industrial action should be scrapped.
This marks the first challenge to Gordon Brown's determination to impose a 2 per cent cap on public sector pay deals in the fight against inflation. The Prime Minister yesterday made it clear he would not back down, telling MPs: "No policeman, and no person, across the country would thank us if their pay rise was wiped out by inflation."
At an emergency meeting in London attended by officers from each of the 43 force areas in England and Wales, the Police Federation launched a scathing personal attack on Ms Smith with the unprecedented call for her resignation.
Jan Berry, the federation chairman, said: "I don't remember a home secretary who has betrayed the police service in the way this Home Secretary has.
"She should not underestimate the sense of betrayal and the sense of disgust that our colleagues have. They have no confidence and no trust in her to be able to negotiate our pay and conditions in future."
She added: "It is alien to police officers to want to go on strike, but they have been pushed into a corner."
The ballot will ask members whether they believe the ban on industrial action infringes their human rights and should be overturned. The vote could pave the way to some form of action short of a strike. The federation also plans a mass meeting in London in the New Year to express their anger.
The dispute blew up after the independent Police Arbitration Tribunal ruled that officers should receive a 2.5 per cent increase from September.
Ms Smith decided that the rise should only be implemented from this month in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, although the full increase has been paid in Scotland.
The federation has begun a legal challenge to the decision under human rights legislation and is threatening to pursue the case all the way to European courts.
Labour MPs are worried by the political damage from the stand-off, arguing that the 30m saving from phasing in the pay award is not worth the political pain. Forty-five government backbenchers have signed a Commons motion calling for the award to be paid.
Several Ministers have also privately condemned Ms Smith's stance. One complained yesterday: "It just looks crass to the public. But there won't be any change because Gordon's pulling the strings."
Tony McNulty, the Policing Minister, said yesterday that agreeing an extra "40m here, 50m there, 60m elsewhere" would fuel inflation. He said: "I have enormous respect for the police, but we do need to keep those inflationary pressures down."
A Home Office spokesman said last night praised the "vital and hard work" of officers. But it argued it had a "responsibility to ensure pay settlements are affordable and consistent with Government pay policy".
Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: "There is no point having an arbitration process if the Government simply ignores it.Reuse content