Just before PMQs began, a couple of colleagues sitting next to me on the green benches expressed sympathy for Jackie Smith after she was pelted with criticism at the Police Federation conference in Bournemouth. My colleagues’ view was that if ministers know they’re going to be given a hostile reception, they should simply walk out or, even better, not accept the invitation to be there at all.
I have some sympathy with this view, especially since I was Patricia Hewitt’s PPS a couple of years ago when she was treated disgracefully by the Royal College of Nursing at their conference. Nevertheless, it’s only right that ministers face the people who are directly affected by their decisions. I have to say, my (already high) opinion of Jackie was higher still after seeing her performance on Sky. Not many people would willingly walk into a large room full of angry police officers – particularly when they’re angry at you. And I thought she handled it with real courage and dignity.
I’m reminded of the trade union leader who once told the TUC: “Say what you like about Brenda Dean, but she’s got balls!”