The home secretary’s decision to scrap plans for direct elections to the bodies which oversee police forces has won the backing of West Midland police leaders.
Jacqui Smith blamed the move on opposition from senior police, she said fuelled in part by the “politicisation” of policing by Conservatives.
She said London Mayor Boris Johnson’s role in the resignation of Sir Ian Blair as Metropolitan Police Commissioner and the Tories’ response to the arrest of immigration spokesman Damian Green made senior officers worried about the potential for political interference limiting operational independence.
Ms Smith said: “The Tories’ behaviour has raised fears the police were being politicised, making it more difficult to win public support for my proposals for members of the police authority to be directly elected.”
But Tories dismissed the claim, accusing the Government of responsibility for politicising the police by “micro-management” of forces’ activities over a decade.
Plans for a directly elected element to the 43 police authorities in England and Wales were expected to feature in the Policing and Crime Bill yesterday.
But Ms Smith said, while she sees the reform as a way of increasing police accountability, she decided to defer it.
Chairman of West Midlands Police Authority Coun Diana Holl-Allen said: “It is a tremendous relief to see common sense has prevailed. The make-up of this authority is uniquely balanced and works in the best interest of providing accountability for policing. We work closely and consult with our communities and will continue to do so to ensure their police service can meet their needs.We will not have to face the inevitable additional expense of elections and the cost to the tax-payer.”
Former home secretary David Blunkett has been asked to prepare a report on proposals for Labour’s next manifesto on how to make the police more accountable. Ms Smith said Conservative plans to replace police authorities – made of local councillors, magistrates and independent appointees – with US-style directly elected police commissioners would lead to “lots of Boris Johnsons trying to run the police all round the country”.
Shadow home secretary Dominic Grieve said: “Our plans to replace police authorities with directly elected police commissioners are about restoring the professional judgment of the police, while making them accountable.”