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Monday, August 22, 2005

The football manager syndrome

There is a tendency in football for the Chairman of a club to publicly offer his full and unequivocal support for a beleagured manager just before he sacks him. I wonder therefore if that is what is going on here.

Most politicians are waiting for the outcome of the independent police watchdog's confidential probe into the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes before expressing an opinion on the future of Sir Ian Blair or his political masters. This is despite the damning evidence that is leaking out from the inquiry. No such restraint seems to apply to the Prime Minister, his Deputy or the Home Secretary:

The government yesterday entered the dispute to give Sir Ian its full backing. Asked if the prime minister had full confidence in the Met chief, a Downing Street spokeswoman said: "Yes."

John Prescott, the deputy prime minister - in charge of the government while Tony Blair is on holiday - and the home secretary, Charles Clarke, also both insisted Sir Ian, the most senior police officer in the UK, retains their full confidence.

In many ways the Government finds itself between a rock and a hard place. If they equivocate in any way, then they will have effectively hung Sir Ian out to dry prematurely. If they offer their full confidence, as they have done, then they have become inexplicably linked to his fate. One wonders if, having chosen the latter course, whether the Prime Minister and his Cabinet will find it so easy to let Sir Ian go if the inquiry finds that the buck really does stop with the Met Chief and public opinion demands his head. If they do subsequently sack him, then what does that say for their political judgement now?
Your final para sums up the dilemma. I think this is analagous to the 'planned devaluation' situation in which it is generally accepted that Ministers can talk up the pound in public even when they are planning something very different. Asimilar 'understanding' has long applied to national security (it was Waldegrave's defence during the Scott Supergun inquiry if my memory serves). At times like this there is no real choice but to support the Chief Constable of the Met. If the inquiry criticises him personally one would assume he'd resign. If he has to be sacked then this would at one level be a decision for the London Policing Authority, though presumably the Home Secretary would also have a role. Until the inquiry is complete however it seems to me that Ministers have no option but to express total confidence in Sir Ian irrespective of their private opinions.
Experience over Soham seems to indicate that the Home Secretary can direct the Police Authority to sack him.

Yes, but that would only apply if the Police Authority were not to decide to sack him of their own accord. London's Policing Authority may be a slightly different beast to others. Until the establishment of the GLA it was directly accountable to the Home Office - hence its national lead roles in relation to counter terrorism and other forms of 'organised' crime.
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