Almost everything that could go wrong with Boris Johnson’s police stunt has gone wrong
PUBLISHED: 10:46 06 September 2019 | UPDATED: 10:46 06 September 2019
With fluffed lines, a fainting police officer, and widespread criticism from senior police figures, Boris Johnson’s latest campaign stunt has backfired spectacularly.
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Johnson seemed to be aiming at a straightforwardly populist "law and order" image as he announced, against a backdrop of police officers, that his government had committed to boosting decimated police numbers by 20,000.
Things started to go wrong early on when he comically fluffed the recital of the police caution, to indulgent laughter from the officers.
But a few minutes in, as he was about to make a political attack on Jeremy Corbyn, the WPC standing behind him looked visibly disturbed, shaking her head slightly.
Johnson seemed to notice by turning back to her and saying "don't worry, I'm going to end very soon."
Someone in the crowd pointed out to him that she didn't seem to be feeling very well.
Johnson turned to ask if she was all right, before she sat down. "I'm so sorry. I think that's a signal for me actively to wind up."
He then carried on with his speech, saying: "Time and time again, Jeremy Corbyn has asked for a vote, and he's said he wants and election, and here he is, he's got an election, absolutely being offered to him, and for reasons I don't quite follow he seems to be opting out."
After the event, the stunt attracted numerous criticisms from police chiefs and MPs, on several counts.
West Yorkshire police and crime commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson said that using police as a backdrop to what became a political speech was "inappropriate".
"They shouldn't have been put in this position," he added. "It clearly turned into a rant about Brexit, the opposition and a potential general election. There's no way that police officers should've formed the backdrop to a speech of that nature."
The chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, John Apter, also joined in the censure. "I am surprised that police officers were used as a backdrop for a political speech in this way," said Apter.
"I am sure that on reflection all concerned will agree that this was the wrong decision and it is disappointing that the focus has been taken away from the recruitment of 20,000 officers. This is what we should be talking about - this is what is important."
Labour MP and prominent Remain supporter David Lammy agreed, saying he was using police as props "to give a weird, rambling speech on Brexit".
He also slammed the prime minister for not helping the unwell WPC. "The definition of self obsessed. An officer is clearly unwell and Boris doesn't even bother to help her," he tweeted. "What a selfish shyster he is."
The former chief prosecutor appeared incandescent on Twitter. "Mr Johnson. You don't have to say anything, but using police officers as political football is totally out of order," tweeted Nazir Afzal. "Particularly as your govt demolished their numbers, 800+ police stations and created thousands more victims as a result. My family had to bury one of them. Yes, I'm angry."
The former chief constable Stuart Hyde called it "crass": "I have no problem with politicians having pics with cops doing their work," he tweeted. "This was however using cops as window dressing in a crass manner. It was degrading and insulting to those forced to stand whilst their leadership sat comfortably in front of them."
Labour MP Louise Haigh agreed, quoting the tweet and saying she had pictures with police all the time, but that Johnson had crossed a line. "There is a line, which the prime minister knows he crossed today. It's one rule for him and another for the rest of us."
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