The crumbling of the News of the World - or even its UK stablemates - may annoy some in the UK, but any gap will soon be filled by the market. Indeed the Sun may soon start shining for NoW readers every Sunday. But a collapse of confidence in the Metropolitan Police would be a calamity of a different order of magnitude.
Over the last few years, a succession of Metropolitan Police tactics have alienated increasingly large sections of the population. The use of "Stop and Search" powers alienated youths and visibly ethnic minorities. Use of similar anti-terrorist powers has alinenated many muslims including some of the police force itself. The Met's reluctance to countenance the possibility of error - not to mention allegations of covering up - in response to the deaths of Charles de Menezes and Ian Tomlinson are just two examples of circumstances that have undermined trust with other sections of the UKs population.
The latest allegations are far more corrosive. It is alleged that some policemen received large sums from the News of the World in exchange for inside information. There is also the possibility that something - whether more money, personal relationships, the desire for positive newspaper coverage, the scope for mutual blackmail or something else - led the Metropolitan Police to hold back from investigating the News of the World phone hacking allegations. If true, this could easily cause trust in the police to plunge to depths not previously seen. And to paraphrase Warren Buffet, you can lose trust in minutes but it takes years to build it. Traditionally the UK's police were seen as trusted members of the community. Without trust, traditional style policing won't work.
Its no wonder that the Met has become obsessed with managing its reputation with the 'silent majority' that it relies on for support. Brian Paddick, the well known former Deputy Commissioner of the Met, is quoted by the Financial Times as saying:
“The police tend to be obsessed with reputation management because British policing is based on the consent of the public and it is important to keep the trust and confidence of the public.”Unfortunately, the Met is addressing the wrong problem. Reputation management isn't the answer. As Julian James, then trying to rebuild Lloyd's then battered reputation, perceptively put it:
"You soon discover that it can't be done by clever marketing or spin. You have to fix the fundamentals."Fixing them doesn't mean fixing just the bribery allegations and the other historical grievances. It means fixing the causes: these probably include the culture, ethos and behaviour of the police and its leadership.
An imminent study of mainly private sector crises, will set out nearly twenty under-recognised but fundamental areas that can destroy both reputations and the organisations that own them.
From the outside, many - perhaps most - of the fundamentals highlighted in that report seem to need fixing at the Met. It will also have to exorcise the effect of what too many citizens see as a toxic track record.
The rehabilitation of the Metropolitan Police can't start too soon.