With Winsor's appointment, the Tories have declared war on the police

This is a highly provocative move.

The appointment of Tom Winsor as Chief Inspector of Constabulary can be boiled down to two areas of debate. First, there's the desire to distance Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabularies (HMIC) from the police force. Second, there's the way the government has chosen to do it.

On the first issue, the arguments have been played out across the media all day. The police will tell you that the man responsible for monitoring performance needs to understand the job, and for that reason, he needs to be drawn from the force. The counter-argument says that this leads to self-interested regulation - Nick Hardwick, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, has never run a prison, for example. The counter-counter argument runs that HMIC is less of a regulator because of the various police authorities: it's really there to make the force run more efficiently. And so on.

It would take more space than we have here to thrash all these issues out, and they're somewhat beside the point. Of five current inspectors of constabulary, two aren't police officers. Many serving police officers can see the merits of the various arguments: judging by their comments this morning, it's not really why the appointment frustrates them so much.

However the government sells it, Winsor is a deeply provocative choice. In fact "provocative" doesn't really cover it. Unless Jim Davidson's being lined up to head the Equality and Human Rights Commission you're unlikely to see a public appointment provoke this much anger any time soon. You can forgive a nervous Lynne Featherstone - who was attempting to talk about forced marriages at the time -  for her somewhat-less than wholehearted endorsement of Theresa May's decision ("I believe Theresa is probably, almost certainly, right") on Radio 4 this morning.

The police hate Winsor because of the reforms suggested by his report, and the suspicion that they were simply an expression of Conservative political will. The issues surrounding them are hugely complex. Take pay: you tell me you don't like the fact that the basic salary for a typical officer at entry level is nearly £2,000 more than a teacher. I tell you teachers don't have a job where people try to stab them, unless they're at a particularly rough school. You say the police overtime bill is enormous. I tell you teachers aren't expected to be called out to work at 3am.

This is before we get on to Brian Paddick and his massive pension. You don't like it. I point out that Paddick doesn't have the same opportunities for career progression as he would in, say the army, and given he was a bright graduate, never mind the rest of the public sector - the state needs to have something to attract him away from coining it in at Goldman Sachs or some other City hell-hole, and if you're the government what better way than by promising him a load of money further down the line once you're safely out of office?

So we go away from our discussion having reached the conclusion that politicians are disingenuous scumbags, which is pretty much the same conclusion the police have reached for different reasons. And these days they seem more likely to blog or tweet these views than the average Guardian journalist (one of the morning’s more interesting posts on the surrounding issues was published here).

This is an unusual state of affairs. The received thinking in Whitehall is that law and order is just such a big deal for voters that if there's one branch of the public sector you don't want to upset, it's the cops. The trouble is that there are now just too many strong emotions and vested interests at play to come to any kind of meaningful conclusion. Paul McKeever of The Police Federation says the appointment will lead to senior officers leaving the force. But then yesterday, McKeever essentially claimed the Federation predicted the 2011 riots, which given the way they played out suggests he’s either prone to getting overexcited or officers don't listen to him as often as they should.

This declaration of war - and it is just that; a fierce rebuttal to the heckling May received when she spoke to the Police Federation last month - marks an unprecedented worsening in the relationship between government and police. Many of us have plenty of time for the argument that the force needs reform - it has been left untouched for 30 years - and the furious reaction to the initial Winsor report showed exactly why this has been the case. The question, therefore, is whether the government really needed to rub salt in the wound. This morning, Nick Herbert told Radio 4: "In his report he showed how he is able to get under the skin of policing." He's certainly got that right. I can only agree with Matt Cavanagh of the Institute for Public Policy Research. It's a "risky if not reckless choice".
 
But we're not there yet. Winsor has yet to meet the Home Affairs Select Committee, and one member, Steve McCabe MP, has already said the appointment of Winsor would mean the government was seeking to "politicise and neuter the police". Keith Vaz MP found it regrettable "those without experience of the frontline have been instructed to draw up the plans for our police force" a precedent also frowned upon by the outgoing inspector, Sir Denis O'Connor. Vaz and McCabe are, of course, both Labour, and this is the problem: every decision Winsor makes - whether right or wrong - is likely to be seen through a political lens.

Alan White's work has appeared in the Observer, Times, Private Eye, The National & TLS. He lives in London and tweets as @aljwhite. As John Heale, he is the author of One Blood: Inside Britain's Gang Culture, republished this year.

The Home Secretary, Theresa May. Photograph: Getty Images

Alan White's work has appeared in the Observer, Times, Private Eye, The National and the TLS. As John Heale, he is the author of One Blood: Inside Britain's Gang Culture.

ELLIE FOREMAN-PECK FOR NEW STATESMAN
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Notes from a crime scene: what Seymour Hersh knows

Xan Rice meets the tireless Seymour Hersh to talk My Lai, pricey coffee and Bin Laden.

It’s late on a lazy Wednesday afternoon when Seymour Hersh comes bounding down the stairs. “Let’s find somewhere to sit,” the American investigative journalist says, striding over to the café area of the hotel in Bloomsbury where we meet.

Not quiet enough, Hersh decides, and he marches into an adjoining branch of Steak & Lobster, past a startled waiter who tries to explain that the restaurant isn’t open yet. “He’ll have a coffee,” Hersh tells the man laying the tables, gesturing in my direction. When the drink arrives, he remarks that, at £4.39, it’s the most expensive coffee he has bought in some time.

“I’m older and crankier than [Bernie] Sanders,” the 79-year-old says with a smile, leaning back in his seat, his tie loose and his top button undone. Hersh’s many notable stories include the My Lai Massacre and cover-up in Vietnam, which he exposed in 1969, and the Abu Ghraib prison scandal during the Iraq War. He’s in good health, relishing his speaking tour of London to promote his new book, The Killing of Osama Bin Laden, and hearing “how wonderful I am”.

“I come home from a trip like this,” he says, “and my wife can’t stand me. She says, ‘Get away, I don’t want to talk to you because you want everybody to bow and scrape.’”

Hersh never planned to be a journalist. After he was thrown out of law school for poor grades in 1959, he heard about an opening for a police reporter at a small news agency in Chicago. “I was reasonably coherent and could walk in a straight line, so they hired me,” he explains. Hersh learned on the job, covering his beat with a zeal that did not always impress his editors, one of whom liked to address him, without fondness, as “my good, dear, energetic Mr Hersh”.

“He saw me as a bleeding heart,” Hersh says, “who cared about people ‘of the Negro persuasion’ dying.”

Half a century later, he cannot say exactly what drove him to become an investigative reporter. “What defect did I have in my life that made me want to make everyone else look bad?” he wonders. “I almost viewed myself like a public defender: my job was to be there on the scene of a crime and to write about it in such a way that the police could not have the only call.”

Later, as his range widened, Hersh came to see his role as keeping in check “the nincompoops and criminals and fools running the world”.

He had been a journalist for ten years when he received a tip-off about an army officer being court-martialled for killing civilians in Vietnam. After investigating, he broke the story of the massacre at My Lai, in which a group of US soldiers murdered at least 347 people. The work earned him a Pulitzer Prize and soon afterwards he wrote his first piece for the prestigious New Yorker magazine. After sending in a draft, he was told that it would be read by the editor, William Shawn, and that he would receive a proof copy in the mail.

“Seven days later, the envelope comes and I’m terrified,” he recalls. “It was a writer’s magazine and any change they wanted, they asked you about. On the third page, I had some cliché or figure of speech. It was circled and in
the margin Mr Shawn had written: ‘Mr Hersh. Pls use words.’ I had a one-year course, a Master’s degree in journalism, in one sentence!”

Hersh has written regularly for the New Yorker over the years, though the relationship has recently come under strain. After researching the death of Osama Bin Laden, he became convinced that the Obama administration’s account of what happened before, during and after the raid in which Bin Laden was killed was a lie. He argued that the al-Qaeda leader had been captured by Pakistani intelligence in 2006 and held in Abbottabad until the US navy Seals operation five years later, which, Hersh claimed, was conducted with Pakistan’s assistance – rather than being a daring mission into hostile territory.

The New Yorker declined to run the story, so Hersh wrote it for the London Review of Books, which published it last year. The piece was read widely but attracted criticism from some American journalists who argued that it relied too heavily on a single, unnamed source and veered dangerously in the direction of conspiracy theories. Hersh is convinced that his version is correct and makes no apologies.

“I remember saying to my wife, ‘Don’t [these journalists] have mothers that tell them what to do better?’ . . . They insisted what they knew, what they wrote, had to be the story.”

Hersh’s mistrust of the official line is undiminished. His new book also questions whether it really was the Assad regime that carried out the chemical attacks in Ghouta, Syria, in 2013. Even the culprits of the recent Paris and Brussels massacres are not beyond doubt. “I don’t think Isis had a goddam thing to do with these kids,” he says. “The truth is, I don’t have any idea. I’m just telling you, heuristically, it’s an idea I would pursue if I was still a reporter.”

There is more to tell but Hersh has another interview. “Talk to me tomorrow,” he says, running back upstairs to collect his coat. “I’ll be around. I still have a lot of energy.” 

Xan Rice is Features Editor at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 28 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The new fascism