Blunkett demands overhaul of police

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The Independent Online

David Blunkett took less than 48 hours from his appointment as Home Secretary to ruffle establishment feathers by announcing a drive on police standards.

His switch from the Department for Education and Employment (DfEE) had been one of the worst-kept secrets of Tony Blair's post-election reshuffle. Rumours even abounded in Whitehall that discreet preparations had begun in the Home Office to accommodate a blind Secretary of State.

But even the oldest hands in the department had not anticipated the speed and energy with which Mr Blunkett would settle into his new role. In just over two weeks, he has demanded an overhaul of police training and operation, promised to speed up laws to protect vulnerable witnesses and signalled a softening of policy on possession of small amounts of cannabis.

He has floated the idea of issuing "green cards" to skilled asylum-seekers and promised to examine limited publication of the names of paedophiles released from prison. Meanwhile, Mr Blunkett went as far as possible to distance himself from the Parole Board's decision to release James Bulger's teenage killers.

Most dramatically, he stepped into the festering row over the death of James Ashley in a bungled police raid three years ago; Paul Whitehouse resigned as Chief Constable within hours of the Home Secretary making plain he would be pushed if he did not jump.

At the age of 54, and after almost 30 years in public office, Mr Blunkett shows no sign of slowing up or wanting to avoid conflict. He seems to relish it, insisting he would have no qualms about facing the Police Federation, which heckled his predecessor, Jack Straw, before the election. He said last week: "I had a fair run of six years of teacher conferences and having my Easter ruined. There is nothing, or very little, that is truly daunting to me except failing. That is what drives me on."

Mr Blunkett's "frenzy of activity", as one Home Office colleague calls it, is also motivated by the emphasis Mr Blair is putting on law and order. The Home Office has been stripped of many peripheral responsibilities to enable it to focus on core issues such as crime fighting, prisons, the courts and asylum-seekers.

Over the next year, Mr Blunkett will steer through a Police Bill which has been described as a "big stick" with which to beat the opponents of change. It will usher in a "standards unit" to compare the performances of different police forces, demanding that those with poor detection rates raise their game.