Belfast Telegraph

Friday 28 November 2014

Will Sir Hugh answer to Boris when it’s London calling?

You've got to really want it — this particular ‘it’ being the biggest job in UK policing, the post of Commissioner at the Metropolitan Police.

And in that thought you have the key question, does Sir Hugh Orde ‘really want it’ — does he see it as the inevitable and only next step up the ladder of policing promotion?

Sir Hugh — the man who recently turned 50 and with a PSNI contract until 2010 — will have ruled nothing in and nothing out, not yet anyway.

There is another question when it comes to a high profile job of this type — another high profile job. What is he prepared to give up?

This is about the sacrifices that will come with the demands of another five or more years in the police pressure cooker — should he want the job and should he get it.

Both are pretty big assumptions at this stage.

The PSNI Chief Constable, like many others in the high ranking police world, will be watching that London space and thinking over the nature of Sir Ian Blair’s resignation and ‘who claimed his head’ — who being the Mayor, Boris Johnson.

Police officers, chief constables in particular, do not like political interference on their patch.

They build high protective |walls round their operational independence.

But Boris Johnson stands loud and large on the London landscape.

After six years here, Sir Hugh would have enough experience at the police/politics interface and he can be a verbal sledgehammer when he needs to be.

“You don’t need a dictionary to understand Hugh Orde,” politician and Policing Board member Ian Paisley junior commented, “you know where you stand with him.”

“I think maybe Boris Johnson would need that clarity when he’s dealing with the police,” he added.

Not that Mr Paisley junior is urging Sir Hugh to go — not at all.

“I’ve come to highly regard the guy He’s proved by his actions that he’s a top notch cop. He would be a big loss and his shoes would be hard to fill,” he said.

“He would probably get on with him,” one observer commented — meaning Sir Hugh would probably get on with Mr Johnson.

Would he really?

“I think he’s a canny man,” is how another politician and former Policing Board member sees Sir Hugh Orde.

“He works hard at building relations with people that he needs to build relations with,” Dawn Purvis commented, “whether that’s people in the community or politicians in high office.”

“He can manage all of that very, very well, but he’s very clear about where to draw the line and where accountability becomes interference,” the Stormont politician added.

The police/politics interface is certainly a growing part of today’s real world.

It can be a difficult place of clash and confrontation.

Remember how just a few months ago Sir Hugh defended the PSNI in the face of republican criticism, accusing Sinn Fein of being at best manipulative and at worst anti-police.

“There have been times when we have accused him of straying into the realm of politics,” Sinn Fein Policing Board member Alex Maskey said.

Sir Hugh is likely to view that as the republican pot calling the policing kettle black.

But does Mr Maskey think the Met job will take the PSNI boss in London’s direction?

“I just don’t know,” he responds. “I’m sure he would be the top contender. I hope and expect in the meantime he will do his job, driving down crime and driving up detection rates,” he said.

Sir Hugh is focused on his PSNI job and his responsibilities.

But will London call and will he answer? He will enjoy being mentioned in connection with the job.

Who in his shoes wouldn’t?

It confirms his place in the highest tier of policing.

But that doesn’t mean he is leaving — and it doesn’t mean he is staying.

It’s too early to be certain about any of that.

And there is that question that only Sir Hugh can answer: Does he really want it?

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