Barack Obama delivers an address on Iraq from the State Dining Room of the White House last night. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Cameron backs US military action in Iraq - but he won't join it

Last summer's defeat over Syria has made the PM wary of intervention.

"Earlier this week, one Iraqi cried that there is no one coming to help. Well, today America is coming to help," Barack Obama said last night. In response to the threat posed to the Yazidi minority, besieged on Mount Sinjar after being pursued by Islamic State (IS) jihadists, the US president has authorised air strikes to prevent what he described as a potential "genocide". 

"When we face a situation like we do on that mountain, with innocent people facing the prospect of violence on a horrific scale and we have a mandate to help - in this case a request from the Iraqi government - and when we have unique capabilities to act to avoid a massacre, I believe the United States cannot turn a blind eye," he said in an address from the State Dining Room of the White House.

For the first time since its troops withdrew from the country at the end of 2011, the US has returned to a military role in Iraq. But Obama emphasised last night that "As commander in chief, I will not allow the United States to be dragged into another war in Iraq". 

Where does the UK stand? The government has welcomed Obama's decision, while emphasising that "we are not planning a military intervention" (which is not quite the same as ruling it out). After being defeated by MPs over intervention in Syria last summer, and with a general election just nine months away, Cameron is wary of engagement. But he has asked officials to establish "what more we can do to provide help to those affected, including those in grave need of food, water and shelter in Sinjar area."

He added: "I welcome President Obama’s decision to accept the Iraqi Government’s request for help and to conduct targeted US airstrikes, if necessary, to help Iraqi forces as they fight back against ISIL [sic] terrorists to free the civilians trapped on Mount Sinjar. And I fully agree with the President that we should stand up for the values we believe in – the right to freedom and dignity, whatever your religious beliefs."

Given the UK's role in the 2003 invasion, widely blamed for the sectarian strife in Iraq, some MPs argue that the government has a moral obligation to act. Mike Gapes, a Labour member of the foreign affairs select committee, and its former chairman, tweeted: "Why is weak Cameron ruling out UK support for @KurdistanRegion in exisential fight v ISIL terrorist butchers? Contrast Major 91." 

But in the absence of a sudden change of heart in Downing Street, it looks likely that any UK involvement will be strictly non-military. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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The future of policing is still at risk even after George Osborne's U-Turn

The police have avoided the worst, but crime is changing and they cannot stand still. 

We will have to wait for the unofficial briefings and the ministerial memoirs to understand what role the tragic events in Paris had on the Chancellor’s decision to sustain the police budget in cash terms and increase it overall by the end of the parliament.  Higher projected tax revenues gave the Chancellor a surprising degree of fiscal flexibility, but the atrocities in Paris certainly pushed questions of policing and security to the top of the political agenda. For a police service expecting anything from a 20 to a 30 per cent cut in funding, fears reinforced by the apparent hard line the Chancellor took over the weekend, this reprieve is an almighty relief.  

So, what was announced?  The overall police budget will be protected in real terms (£900 million more in cash terms) up to 2019/20 with the following important caveats.  First, central government grant to forces will be reduced in cash terms by 2019/20, but forces will be able to bid into a new transformation fund designed to finance moves such as greater collaboration between forces.  In other words there is a cash frozen budget (given important assumptions about council tax) eaten away by inflation and therefore requiring further efficiencies and service redesign.

Second, the flat cash budget for forces assumes increases in the police element of the council tax. Here, there is an interesting new flexibility for Police and Crime Commissioners.  One interpretation is that instead of precept increases being capped at 2%, they will be capped at £12 million, although we need further detail to be certain.  This may mean that forces which currently raise relatively small cash amounts from their precept will be able to raise considerably more if Police and Crime Commissioners have the courage to put up taxes.  

With those caveats, however, this is clearly a much better deal for policing than most commentators (myself included) predicted.  There will be less pressure to reduce officer numbers. Neighbourhood policing, previously under real threat, is likely to remain an important component of the policing model in England and Wales.  This is good news.

However, the police service should not use this financial reprieve as an excuse to duck important reforms.  The reforms that the police have already planned should continue, with any savings reinvested in an improved and more effective service.

It would be a retrograde step for candidates in the 2016 PCC elections to start pledging (as I am certain many will) to ‘protect officer numbers’.  We still need to rebalance the police workforce.   We need more staff with the kind of digital skills required to tackle cybercrime.  We need more crime analysts to help deploy police resources more effectively.  Blanket commitments to maintain officer numbers will get in the way of important reforms.

The argument for inter-force collaboration and, indeed, force mergers does not go away. The new top sliced transformation fund is designed in part to facilitate collaboration, but the fact remains that a 43 force structure no longer makes sense in operational or financial terms.

The police still have to adapt to a changing world. Falling levels of traditional crime and the explosion in online crime, particularly fraud and hacking, means we need an entirely different kind of police service.  Many of the pressures the police experience from non-crime demand will not go away. Big cuts to local government funding and the wider criminal justice system mean we need to reorganise the public service frontline to deal with problems such as high reoffending rates, child safeguarding and rising levels of mental illness.

Before yesterday I thought policing faced an existential moment and I stand by that. While the service has now secured significant financial breathing space, it still needs to adapt to an increasingly complex world. 

Rick Muir is director of the Police Foundation