Analysis: Boris’ challenge

Boris Johnson’s decision to push Sir Ian Blair out of his job sets up the possibility of a real clash between City Hall and the Home Office.

It is a dangerous precedent: Sir Ian had to go because he had lost the London mayor’s support. That means the London mayor basically has the power to sack and implies his support is required when it comes to choosing a successor.

Is this really the case? Who has the right to choose? In statutory terms at least, it is certainly not Boris Johnson. As a Home Office spokesperson explained to politics.co.uk, the Metropolitan police and the mayor will make recommendations to the home secretary. She will then put forward her own choice to the Queen, having taken into account their representations. Ms Smith, crucially, is not bound to either the Met’s or City Hall’s judgment.

Mr Johnson certainly has no statutory power to force Sir Ian out of a job. But he has succeeded in doing just that, leaving Ms Smith’s authority shaken. She has the final say – in the selection process, at least. Her statement, quickly delivered following Sir Ian’s announcement, was dripping with subtext.

“Sir Ian has always had my support,” she said, praising Sir Ian’s contribution and distancing herself from Mr Johnson. Ms Smith paid tribute to his work in lowering crime levels in the capital before adding: “The role of Met Commissioner needs strong support from all with the best interests of London and national policing at heart.” Strong support from all including the mayor, it seems.

The question now is: how much will she be forced to bow to Mr Johnson’s will come December 1st, when Sir Ian exits for good?

It may all come to nothing, of course. Sir Paul Stephenson, already waiting in the wings, may prove a popular choice. Sir Hugh Orde might find himself recalled to the capital after an impressive spell in Northern Ireland. Or another strong contender could come to the fore with both parties in agreement. The risk, though, is that is no consensus emerges – and it is far from clear what happens then.

Mr Johnson may be flexing his political muscles in preparation for just such a confrontation. His comments at the Conservative party conference in Birmingham, in which he called for the mayoralty to have the power of appointment over future Met commissioners, may not have enjoyed much support from David Cameron. It did send a signal to the Home Office, however, that he wants more power. Mr Johnson argued the mayor is held accountable for crime levels in the capital – and that he needs control over the commissioner as a result. Where does this leave the home secretary?

It will be difficult to assess who wins and who loses in any clash which follows. Both sides will seek to limit the extent to which they seek confrontation. One thing is certain, however: Boris’ move has begun a process which is unlikely to help relations between the rising star of his Tory mayoralty and the setting sun of the Labour government.

Alex Stevenson