Get an army general to take charge of the Met
The police chief does not have to be a copper – for years they appointed military men
A fish rots from the head down – rather quickly in the summer. So does the Metropolitan Police. With the resignations on Sunday of Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson and on Monday of Assistant Commissioner John Yates over their connections with the News of the World, the two most powerful men at Scotland Yard have gone in less than 24 hours. And under a cloud to put it mildly.
If Sir Paul Stephenson was a copper's copper, God help us. His resignation speech was dripping with the self-pity of an old time Southern Baptist preacher caught in a motel with a cheap hooker.
'Paul', as Mayor Boris Johnson refers to him, clearly doesn't think he has done anything wrong. He can't see why he has to fall on his sword for hiring a dodgy newspaperman at a hugely inflated salary when 'Dave' did exactly the same thing but is still snugly installed at Number 10.
But that is not what did for Stephenson. It was the revelation that he accepted £12,000 worth of luxury hospitality from an expensive health resort that made him toast. While recovering from an operation on his leg, Sir Paul and his wife spent 20 nights with full board at the spa – free.
"The attempt to represent this in a negative way is both cynical and disappointing," he said. He was keen to get back on the beat as soon as possible after his operation, so that made it OK.
What is it with our current top people across the board? Their sense of entitlement is overwhelming. Even Cherie Blair might have blanched at a 20-night luxury freebie. It's not as though Paul is short of money on a salary of £250,000-plus and all the other perks that go with being the nation's top policeman.
And so now Theresa and Boris have to find a replacement for Paul. They can have their pick of an identikit array of blow-waved, sharply-dressed, middle-aged men with 'distinguished policing records'. Just like Paul and most of his recent predecessors.
One of the leading candidates, currently chief constable of a provincial force, is reassuringly the Association of Chief Police Officers' 'lead on diversity'. Should come in handy during a Mumbai-style terrorist attack on London.
If the men aren't up to it there are a number of women on Scotland Yard's fast track, including Cressida Dick, the lady who did for poor old Jean Charles de Menezes and got promoted afterwards. The Daily Mail suggested, apparently without irony, that the job may have come up too soon for her.
But why does the next Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police have to be a copper at all?
From 1829 until 1945 the Met was nearly always run by a military man. The first and third commissioners had both fought at Waterloo and were recommended by the Duke of Wellington. They were followed by a series of Victorian soldiers of varying ability and charm but absolute integrity.
Some truly distinguished men have held the post well into modern times. General Viscount Byng of Vimy held the post from 1928 to 1931 after a successful stint as Governor-General of Canada. His finest hour had been the command of the Canadian Corps during their great victory at Vimy Ridge in 1917.
He was succeeded by Lord Trenchard, father of the Royal Air Force and one of the architects of victory in the Battle of Britain. Another air marshal followed, running the force during the difficult war years. The first professional British policeman to accede to the post was Sir Joseph Simpson from 1958 to 1968.
Putting a policeman in charge of London's police is an extremely recent innovation which is not working well. It's time to revert to the tried and tested practice of the Met's first 125 years and send for a soldier.
The army has had its problems in recent years and has itself suffered under poor leadership. But they still produce some impressive generals. A clutch of the most talented and subtle leaders were posted to Northern Ireland in the last years of the conflict where their ability to get on with policemen was a key skill. Any one of them would have the stature, judgment and energy to lead the Met.
There are other retired officers available that all ranks in the police could look up to. One who seems to have caught the selectors' eye recently is Lt Gen Sir Graeme Lamb, one of the authors of a balanced and thoughtful report into the future of the army, published on Monday in between the police resignations.
A no-nonsense Highlander who became Director Special Forces and latterly boon companion to US General Stanley McChrystal, he sounds just the ticket. ·
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