HAS the relationship between the British government and the Police Service become too close, as the Conservative Party and other critics are alleging? The question arises because of the intensive lobbying of Members of Parliament undertaken by individual Chief Constables and the Association of Chief Police Officers in favour of the 90-days detention of terrorist suspects without charge. It is always easy to know when the government feels itself in trouble over an issue; it sends its heavy-hitter, Defence Secretary John Reid, to do battle with John Humphrys on BBC radio's Today programme, as it did yesterday morning, regardless of whether the subject is within Mr Reid's immediate responsibility. If the government is indeed in trouble on this matter it is largely Mr Blair's fault. Some weeks ago he told his monthly press conference that he had asked the Chief Constables to tell him what more they wanted to fight terrorism and had promised to give it to them. They said 90 days detention without charge and Mr Blair made it a personal crusade to give it to them, but then found that it was not within his power to do so. It was the realisation by the government that it might lose the Commons vote on this issue that led the Home Secretary Charles Clarke to write to the Association of Chief Police Officers asking them to lobby MPs and providing words that they might use in doing so. This was wrong and it backfired. However, it should be accepted that a regular exchange of views between Chief Constables and the government, as between generals and admirals and the government, is desirable and quite proper and the fact that such exchanges take place should be publicly acknowledged. But it is essential that a thin blue line exists at all times between the two sides; in the case under consideration, the government should neither have undertaken to accept whatever the police wanted nor have asked them to help with lobbying of MPs to obtain it. Unfortunately, these waters have been further muddied by the fact that under government plans many police forces are due to be merged in the near future with a resultant reduction in top jobs. Was it in the government's mind that those who lobbied most effectively this past week might be the kind of men they wanted in charge of the newly-structured police service? Perish the thought!
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