Ever since the perceived requirements of modernity dictated that it should be a police service rather than a force, it has presented a confused and often self-abasing image.
The departure of Sir Ian Blair last week crystallised its tormented crisis of image and identity. He was forced out by London mayor Boris Johnson. The Home Secretary, to whose office he owed his appointment and to whom he apparently reported, appeared powerless to intervene. Blair publicly attributed his departure to a political coup while ignoring a swirl of newspaper stories alleging various misconducts against him. Nothing on or off the record from either Johnson's City Hall press team or the Home Office's PR operation cleared the fog for a public deeply worried about crime and terrorism.
Blair's appointment in 2005 was portrayed by both New Labour and by Blair himself as the advent of the modern police chief. It supposedly signalled the final reinvention of the Met after it was labelled 'institutionally racist' by the Macpherson report a decade ago. Community, multiculturalism and consensus were the buzz words. While supporting an end to any form of racism, media critics predictably panned the Blair appointment as political correctness.
The Met's spin doctors have done nothing to rebut the morale-sapping criticisms that Blair's multiculturalism has cynically bitten the hand that fed it. Headlines abound around the discrimination case being brought by Blair's now-suspended number three. The leader of the National Black Police Association has been suspended pending corruption inquiries. And this week his organisation stood a decade-long recruitment campaign on its head by announcing it was to take out newspaper ads advising members of the ethnic communities not to become recruits. The shooting of an innocent Brazilian and the endless inquiries into the failures that led up to it have served further to damage public confidence.
Blair leaves a service that inspires more cynicism than reassurance. Its need for a clear message is urgent.
- Ian Monk is founder of Ian Monk Associates and a former executive at the Daily Mail and The Sun.