We should all be alarmed by a partisan police – the Met must not be seen to cosy up to Labour

Craig Williams
Losing support: Conservatives have now disowned Craig Williams, candidate in Montgomeryshire and Glyndŵr -one of the only seat they are predicted to win in Wales - Matthew Horwood/Getty

The betting scandal at Number 10 has provided voters with a perfect example of the kind of political arrogance and entitlement that has signalled the end of this administration.

It’s hard to imagine a more egregious example of privilege – in this case privileged access to the prime minister – being cynically monetised by a chosen few who placed bets on the date of the general election.

The latest twist in this sordid tale, allegations that the Metropolitan Police themselves deliberately leaked the names of those being investigated into the public domain, might be dismissed as deflection: typical Tories trying to divert the blame for this scandal away from themselves.

Such a dismissal would be understandable, even justified. Let us not dilute the blame for this appalling (and at this stage, alleged) betrayal of trust by public servants by casting the net wider to include a “he said, she said” debate about process.

And yet the Met Police story matters, if not very much as regards the current investigation (which includes at least one police officer as well as a handful of Downing Street aides), then certainly as we move forward under a Labour government and home secretary, to whom the Commissioner of the Met is accountable.

First, it is important to reflect on the fact that without the leak of the identity of those under investigation, there would be no story at all. In this respect, we should be grateful that this information became known; such allegations of sharp practice among those surrounding the prime minister, those at the very heart of government, should be subject to the disinfectant of daylight, preferably this side of a general election. Such revelations have undoubtedly helped many previously undecided voters decide where they should place their cross next week.

But there’s no escaping the fact that it was the leaking of those names that made this story so sensational in the first place. However much of a service the act of revealing these identities has been to the country, there is little doubt that they were leaked deliberately in order to embarrass the government at a delicate political time.

“Quite right too!” most voters will reply, and they’d be right, for all the reasons given above. Nevertheless, after our anger has been vented and our voting intention decided, we are left with the uneasy possibility that the Met themselves are playing politics. And just because that act has exposed bad behaviour that should certainly have been exposed, does not mean that officers should blithely enter the realm of party politics.

We need to be clear: just as the courts’ job is to dispense justice impartially, the police’s job is to rise above the politics of the day and to carry out investigations neutrally and professionally without an eye on the political weather or the political consequences of their actions. There are two threats here to the force’s integrity and public reputation.

The first is officers’ own predilection to dispense their own justice, to leak information about an investigation in order to encourage the media to draw their own inevitable conclusions about the guilt of those being investigated. The officers in question might think they are doing the right thing, that they are on the side of the angels. But they would be wrong. Their personal opinions about the government or politicians are of no importance.

The second threat comes from a different direction: from politicians to the force. We have already seen numerous complaints about London’s “two-tier” police response to different types of political demonstrations, leaving us with the impression that pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel marches are treated more tolerantly by officers than those from the political Right.

We are about to see the first Labour government – and home secretary – in 14 years, and it would be perfectly natural for officers to want to curry favour with their new political masters. Natural but wrong. Woefully wrong.

However grateful the next home secretary might be for the immense level of embarrassment and humiliation heaped on the outgoing Conservative government by the leaked information about those being investigated for their betting activities, he or she must avoid the temptation to allow the Met to politicise itself in a Left-wards direction.

The police are not a political organisation, even if it is accountable to the public via elected politicians. The bond of trust it requires to carry out its day-to-day functions would be fatally undermined by any perception that it is remotely partial towards either Right or Left. The next home secretary would do well to remind the Met Commissioner of that sacred trust, rather than seek to politicise the force even further.