When I heard that former London Mayor and political joker Boris Johnson was no longer in the running to be the next Prime Minister – but his fellow Brexiteer Michael Gove, the Justice Secretary, was – my first thought was that we are still doomed.
But then I watched Home Secretary Theresa May’s announcement that she was standing and, strangely, my spirits lifted.
As a black man from Liverpool and former police officer, you might find my advocation for May unsettling. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no fan of her politics and I don’t need a lesson on the things she hasn’t handled right. But credit must be apportioned where it is due.
The British police, in England and Wales, are the last bastions of vested interest. I served in the country’s two biggest forces for over a decade, so I know all the tricks of the trade. And if anyone is going to drag the institution into the 21st century, where all people are treated fairly with respect and within the law, then Theresa May is the person to do it.
It was only last year that I heard her speak at the National Black Police Association conference about the lack of diversity within the service, and the failings of stop and search. Like most of my former colleagues still serving, I was shocked at what she said. Never before had a Home Secretary taken on the police which such vigour. She doesn't mince her words.
Anyone who still claims that the police does not have a problem when it comes to race and racism is in denial. I joined at the turn of the century and, in many ways, the force is still no better off today. In some respects, there has been a reversal of the progress made on racism.
Systemic discrimination remains a problem for the police, and May both knows and acknowledges it. As she launched her campaign to be the next leader of the Conservative Party, she said: “If you’re black, you’re treated more harshly by the criminal justice system than if you’re white.” How true, I thought. She is a refreshing voice in a party which too often acts in the interests of the few, and not all.
Earlier this year, those who lost their loved ones at the Hillsborough disaster in 1989 finally achieved justice. After 27 years of cover up, the truth was finally out. May wasn’t there at the beginning of that fight, but she gave support as they faced their final hurdles, having been in her post for six years.
Shadow Home Secretary, Andy Burnham, thanked May for her contribution in the House of Commons after the inquest verdict, stating: “We had a police force which had consistently put protecting itself above protecting people harmed by Hillsborough”. May has consistently, and repeatedly, stood up to that force.
I asked Alastair Morgan, the brother of Daniel – who was murdered while reportedly working to expose police corruption – what he thought of May. “She is attentive,” he said.
Unless you’ve served in the police, you cannot really understand how the leadership of the force impacts on its wider culture. The police cannot be changed from within – especially in order to rid itself of the bad apples.
Yesterday, launching her campaign, May said: “From Stephen Lawrence to Hillsborough, where there has been evidence of police corruption, I’ve exposed it.” And she has.
May won’t be democratically elected as Prime Minister, because there’s no general election planned. But anyone who challenges the police like she has, I have no doubt will make a good Prime Minister.
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