I became convinced, back in 2017, that one person alone was responsible for the changed atmosphere in the UK – so much so that it caused a swing against the Brexit government of Theresa May.
That person was not Jeremy Corbyn or any of his acolytes – though they certainly got a filip from it. A somewhat delusory one as it turned out.
No, the person was Cressida Dick, then the newly-appointed chief constable of the Metropolitan police. This is what I wrote back then in a Radix blog post about the reaction to the Borough Market terrorist outrage…
“It was only perhaps in retrospect that we realised there had been a shift. Normally, politicians emphasised the evil men who had carried out the atrocity, their hearts being with the victims, the ‘never be defeated’ stuff, which tended to make us all feel like victims too – he cliches that go in one ear and out the other. Then came the new Metropolitan Police commissioner Cressida Dick’s statement after the Borough Market attack and, this time, it was clearly deliberate. It wasn’t that she whitewashed the perpetrators – quite the reverse – it was that she declined to waste airtime on them. Instead she paid tribute to the courage of the bystanders. We all stood a little taller as a result.
It was a remarkable, planned shift of emphasis. What was not planned, I am sure, was the unexpected impact on the general election campaign: we felt better about ourselves. We felt more positive, braver, we looked for more positive messages. Then the Prime Minister’s statement was so obviously fake – so obviously spun – that it grated in comparison.”
I still believe that now. In fact, it is strange that, compared to other terrorist before and since, I remember the people who intervened at the Borough market, some of them armed only with beer bottles.
That was the main reason I am very sorry that Cressida Dick has stepped down – and that Sadiq Khan has in effect pushed her out. Because people who are capable of changing the language we use around events are few and far between.
Nor am I sure that a sacrificial victim is required to reform the police after a series of shocking incidents. Or if there is, it should probably have been Pritti Patel, the home secretary.
In fact, I am afraid that people’s preference for symbolic political gesture to actual action is getting in the way of change. We should start by having the job divided into two, splitting the London police from the various tasks of national policing, anti terrorism, that the Met is also supposed to be doing. It is time we had a properly federal police service – things tend to go wrong when our institutions are too big.
And if you don’t believe me, take a look at the report on the police by the Reform thinktank in 2009 (A New Force), by my former colleague Dale Bassett, which showed that smaller forces cleared up more crime than bigger ones.