Gone are the days when the Metropolitan Police was led by men such as Sir Edward Bradford, whose qualifications were based on his service as a distinguished military officer – which included being half-eaten by a tiger while on colonial service in India.
Modern-day Met commissioners more often resemble politicians in uniform than military men with exotic scars. Much has also changed in the nature of crime and in Scotland Yard’s responsibilities. The Victorian force founded by Robert Peel in 1829 faced few of today’s challenges of serious crime and terrorism.
In 2011, the Met must not only police the capital, it must also shoulder responsibility for all counter-terrorist operations across the UK, as well as security for visiting VIPs, personnel for major state occasions and royal protection.
Unfortunately, Scotland Yard has found it increasingly difficult to meet these diverse demands – and the phone-hacking scandal has brought the organisation to a crisis point. In the Lords this week, Lord Blair, a former commissioner, asked if the resignation of two commissioners in three years meant that there was “something gravely wrong with the political oversight” of that body. It had not occurred to him that something might have been wrong with his own judgment and performance.
But the crisis in confidence goes beyond personalities, to fundamental issues of policy. Not only has its leadership been lacking, but the Met’s very constitution is in question. Like the Home Office in 2006, the case for reform is stronger than ever.