New Met chief will need all Johann Cruyff’s fancy footwork to survive

Like Johann Cruyff, new Met chief Bernard Hogan-Howe’s task will be to use his fancy footwork to stay on his feet for longer than his two immediate predecessors.

Ministers will be hoping the appointment of Bernard Hogan-Howe as the 27th Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police will bring to an end a dreadful few years for the force.

A tough-talking Yorkshireman, Hogan-Howe was yesterday announced as the successor to Sir Paul Stephenson, an equally tough-talking Lancastrian, who nevertheless survived just two years in post before resigning in ignominy back in July amidst the fallout from the Met’s inept handling of the phone-hacking scandal.

While his predecessor-but-one, Sir Ian Blair, was pushed onto his sword after just three years in the job. There is a lot of bad karma at the top of the Metropolitan Police.

Described by home secretary Theresa May as a “tough, single-minded crime fighter”, Hogan-Howe’s appointment represents a safe bet for ministers.

Although outspoken on issues like cannabis reclassification (he is opposed to making it more lenient) he is a classic insider who will ruffle fewer feathers than Sir Hugh Orde, the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, who was widely felt to be the outstanding candidate for the Commissioner’s role.

This was confirmed today by the revelation two separate interview panels found Orde to be technically superior to Hogan-Howe. Despite this, Teresa May is said to have black-balled Sir Hugh’s candidacy. This serves to underline how political role the role is, requiring an adroitness that has not always been evident among Hogan-Howe’s predecessors.

The new Commissioner, in contrast, has all the hallmarks of having spent his career striding purposefully towards the position he has now acquired. An assiduously-built career and a clutch of degrees (Oxford, Cambridge and an MBA from Sheffield) marks out Hogan-Howe as a thinking copper as well as an ambitious one.

Not averse to the limelight, he built a reputation as an energetic networker while serving as Chief Constable of Merseyside and oversaw a concerted attempt to tackle Liverpool’s gang and gangster culture. He then moved to HM Inspectorate of Constabulary, before his appointment as a deputy commissioner in the Met.

The new Commissioner will now be at pains to show he is his own man – not least to reassure rank and file officers – and not too close to his political masters, a perception that bedevilled his Sir Ian Blair.

His defeated rival, Sir Hugh Orde, said he brought “a wealth of experience and professionalism to the job”, while Kit Malthosue, chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority, praised his “firm resolve” and “eagerness to get about his task”. The Police Federation (which represents officers up to the rank of Inspector) has not yet issued a response to Hogan-Howe’s appointment, but has previously approved of his no-nonsense approach.

Looking ahead, the new Commissioner has four main challenges coming up:

1. Restabilising the Met: Significant damage has been done to the Met’s reputation following the devastating – and hugely embarrassing – losses of Sir Paul Stephenson and Assistant Commissioner John Yates earlier in the summer.

The force’s lumbering handling of the phone-hacking scandal means the current investigations – Operation Weeting (into phone hacking) and Operation Elveden (whether police receive payments for information) will do further damage still. Hogan-Howe has little option but to let nature take its course and deal with the fallout at the end.

Furthermore, he will have to implement a new code for how the Met deals with the media in future, ensuring “maximum transparency and public confidence”.

He will also face a period of turbulence in the run-up to next May’s London mayoral election, with policing likely to feature heavily in the campaign.

2. Implementing the government’s cuts: Hogan-Howe managed to put more frontline officers on the streets as chief constable of Merseyside and rationalised back office functions. He will doubtless seek to do similar at the Met, earning brownie points from ministers who argue the headline reductions in police numbers be offset by forces becoming more efficient.

While serving an earlier stint as the Met’s assistant commissioner with responsibility for human resources, Hogan-Howe oversaw the largest ever recruitment into the force (including a significant increase in ethnic minority officers).

His task is now reversed and he must preside over its largest-ever losses, as he implements a swingeing 20% funding cut.

3. Learning the lessons from last month’s riots and looting: The underlying terror gripping ministers and policy-makers is that there seems little from stopping the same thing happening again. The mainly leaderless and viral upsurges are a policing nightmare, both in terms of prevention and in terms of the tactical deployment of officers to counter groups of highly-mobile looters.

While last month’s riots may eventually be seen as a one-off misfortune, any subsequent outbreak, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, will be viewed as carelessness by the Met.

4. Preparing for next summer’s London Olympics: The period around the games is laden with potential policing disasters. Everything from traffic management in the capital through to upswings in forgery, street robberies and people trafficking will fall on the Met’s shoulders.

The logistical challenges – across the force’s full range of responsibilities – will be immense, and their performance played out in front of the world’s media.

Hogan-Howe has been dealt a tougher hand than most of his predecessors and the circumstances of his appointment are far from ideal. He has a daunting in-tray and shrinking resources to work with. All this is before he grapples with the continuing threat of terrorism and the routine – but eternally complex – policing challenges of the capital.

There will be little appetite to see another Commissioner bite the dust and Hogan-Howe should be able to farm off some of the current difficulties onto his predecessors.

His task is to keep the confidence of ministers and the Mayor of London (whoever that is next May) and avoid the types of gaffes that marked Sir Paul Stephenson and Sir Ian Blair’s tenures.

Hogan-Howe called his approach while at Merseyside “Total Policing” – which involved first time resolution of calls, building a high performance culture and ensuring value for money. He is said to have lifted the phrase from the “Total Football” approach made famous by the legendary Johann Cruyff.

Like the Dutch maestro, Hogan-Howe’s task will be to use his fancy footwork to stay on his feet for longer than his two immediate predecessors.

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