Leading article: The dangers of speaking one's mind too freely


Amid the array of daunting tasks facing the new Metropolitan Police Commissioner, not the least will be living up to the standard set by Sir Hugh Orde, one of his unsuccessful rivals. Notwithstanding the talents of Bernard Hogan-Howe – named as the new head of Britain's biggest force yesterday – the Home Office may have lost an opportunity in not appointing Sir Hugh. The decision also carries a worrying tinge of politics.

Sir Hugh was rightly tipped as a contender. With seven years as the Chief Constable of Northern Ireland under his belt, he had precisely the experience of complex policing that the head of the Met needs. But what stood most in his favour was his outspoken response to last month's riots, publicly standing up to political pressure and calming feverish talk of plastic bullets and water cannons.

Alas, by ruffling feathers at both the Home Office and City Hall, it seems that he may have been ruled out of the running by the very qualities that made him a strong candidate. In fairness to Mr Hogan-Howe, it may be that the decision did not reflect recent tensions. But even the hint of politics in this appointment makes the new police chief's difficult job even harder.

He is the third Commissioner since 2008: Sir Ian Blair resigned under direct pressure from Mr Johnson, while his successor, Sir Paul Stephenson, was a casualty of the phone-hacking scandal.

It is imperative that the new Commissioner lasts longer; he has a demanding in-tray. The Olympics are the most obvious challenge but he must also rebuild both morale in the force – at an all-time low after a string of blunders including the death of Ian Tomlinson, rows over "kettling" and alleged police mishandling of the London riots – and public confidence, even as further details of police corruption emerge from the Leveson inquiry.

All of this takes place against a backdrop of cuts of a fifth in police budgets. Boris Johnson is understood to have wanted Jane Tennison, the tough-talking but sadly fictional Prime Suspect detective. Her real-life alternative has a tough act to follow.

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