Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Head girl Theresa May wows the Tory back benches

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There may be a couple of new female prefects; but Theresa May is still the head girl. Today she was at her most severe. A chief constable with even a modicum of wit only has to hear the Home Secretary begin a statement with the routine declaration that the “vast majority of police officers in this country do their job honestly and with integrity” to start sweating in anticipation of what’s coming.

It didn’t take long: police disciplinary hearings to be held in public to improve transparency and justice!

A review by a Major-General Clive Chapman of the police disciplinary system “from end to end”. Protection for whistleblowers who expose police corruption and malpractice. An “in-depth look” at the whole creaky police complaints system. Annual inspections to measure the “legitimacy in the eyes of the public” of each force.

Wow. Or at least that’s how the Tory backbencher Mark Pritchard saw it. “I am wowed by the Home Secretary’s statement,” he declared. So excited was Speaker John Bercow at Pritchard’s use of language that he announced: “I think the honourable gentleman has established a first. The clerk assistant tells me he has never seen the word ‘wowed’ appear in Hansard in that context.” (What context he had seen it in was not disclosed.)

But Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper was not wowed. Why was so much of Ms May’s statement about “reviews”, she wanted to know. Why not simply get on with “reforms that work”? Magnanimously, she said she was glad that Ms May had agreed with “our call” for public disciplinary hearings. But she excoriated her failure immediately to replace the Independent Police Complaints Commission with “a much stronger body”.

Fair enough. But a tide is slowly turning. It’s inconceivable that a generation ago a Tory Home Secretary would have been so forthright in denouncing police misconduct. Or that Tory backbenchers would have been falling over themselves to congratulate her.

Only one, Philip Hollobone, said “the police are doing a fantastic job” without the “majority of” qualifier. But even he wanted police vest cameras to provide “evidence to correct anomalies”. And he’s a special constable.