It looks like Home Secretary Theresa May has decided to seek revenge for the way the Police Federation treated her at their annual conference earlier in the year. In a deliberately provocative move, she has announced that her preferred candidate for HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary will not be a police officer, but for the first time ever a civilian and a lawyer to boot.
This is akin to declaring war on the police, especially as the person chosen is none other than former rail regulator Tom Winsor, the recent author of two highly controversial reports into police reforms. You will recall that one result of Mr Winsor's recommendations was to bring thousands of off-duty police officers onto the streets of London last month in protest.
Added to their deep animosity towards the impending demise of Police Authorities and their replacement with elected Crime and Police Commissioners, together with the advance of contracted-out services, the police must feel boxed into a corner. Unable to strike due to legislation introduced following the 1926 General Strike, we may yet see a motion passed by the Federation demanding that the Act be repealed.
Of course this is only a preferred candidate so far and will have to be ratified by the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee. This may not just be a formality as the preferred candidate for HM Chief Inspector of Probation discovered when the Justice Affairs Committee declined to endorse her appointment recently.
Although not entirely unexpected due to obvious government irritation with the Police Service generally, and not assisted by the fall out from the on-going Murdoch scandal, it nevertheless marks a dangerous escalation in tension, especially as the security nightmare of the London Olympics looms. In a country famously 'policed by consent' (only two arrests on Monday with 1 million people in The Mall) I can't help feeling this is a very dangerous path for the government to be treading, and an example of the worst kind of 'gesture' politics.