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The Meaning of ‘Canteen Culture’

Last updated on October 13th, 2023 at 08:10 pm

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I am indebted to ‘Paul’ on Twitter for this Tweet about the Police ‘Canteen Culture’

Numerous stories have emerged from both members of the public, as well as former and serving officers of sexist language and behaviour, which would appear to reflect a dated misogynist culture, the likes of Gene Hunt, Regan and Carter would recognise and feel at home in. – Dr Ian Durrant, Canterbury Christ Church University

This is not a world I recognise.

Much of this has been said before, and for that I apologise, but it is a subject dear to my heart, and got me sufficiently worked up to record my thoughts for posterity.  I thought about Paul’s Tweet for a very long time, and I looked back at my earlier posts, and ran it all past Google, and I belatedly came to the same conclusion as Paul.

I will try and highlight my main reasons for agreeing with Paul, some I might get out of sequence (I’m getting old you know), and I might forget one or two (it’s the age thing again), but please feel free to correct me, or make your own contributions in the comments below.

As I said recently, Policing has never been perfect, but in 2010 something really seismic happened in the world of Policing.  David Cameron won the General Election and set up a Coalition Government with the Lib Dems.

Theresa May was appointed as Home Secretary and George Osborne as Chancellor.

It didn’t take the 3 Amigos very long to inflict #Austerity on Policing and all the other Public Services and Local Councils, and that was just the beginning.

In less than a year Mrs May had found Tom Winsor, a former Rail Regulator and solicitor, to conduct a review into Police Pay and Conditions, and publish the first of two parts.  A remarkably short time scale in comparison to some current Reviews.  Remarkably it was worded in a very similar way to a speech by David Cameron in 2006.

In what might be seen as a reward Tom Winsor was later made Chief Inspector, HMIC, and the received a Knighthood in Theresa May’s Honours List.

In 2012 the Home Office, still under Theresa May inflicted political Police and Crime Commissioners on the whole of England and Wales.  Was this a statement of intent regarding her long-term agenda?

2012 also saw the publication of Part 2 (and final) of the Winsor Reviews

September 2012 saw the appointment of ‘He of the 4 Horsemen Comment’, Blair Gibbs was given a plum job as Principal Advisor to the Deputy Mayor for Policing under Mayor Boris.

In March 2014 the IPCC (now IOPC) condemned a Canteen Culture at Merthyr, South Wales after 2 officers were sacked for Gross Misconduct relating to innapropriate comments which were regarded as ‘harmless banter’.

In May 2014, at the Annual Police Federation Conference, Mrs May weighed in against the Police citing excessive stop and search inflicted on black communities and failures in handling domestic violence cases, May said problems appeared to lie with a significant minority of officers rather than just “a few bad apples”.

She pledged to break the powerful federation, announcing an end to its automatic right to enrol police officers as its members, in effect curtailing the closed shop in policing .


2019, an Article in the Spectator had this to say (I have copy/pasted a sizeable extract as it is behind a paywall; 

Lord Condon, Lord Stevens, Lord Blair, Sir Paul Stephenson and Lord Hogan-Howe, who between then ran the Met from 1993 to 2017 don’t mince their words. Speaking of a service that has endured a reduction of 20,000 front line officers since 2010 they described in a letter to the Times the consequences of this: the ‘virtual destruction’ of community policing.

This together with other political interference such as stop and search had, they said, emasculated the police and contributed to public perceptions of ‘lawlessness’ on our streets as ‘dangerously low’ resources battle against a knife crime epidemic and a continuing severe terrorist threat. The extraordinary tirade, directed against the policies of the traditional party of law and order, is newsworthy enough in its own right. But this isn’t just politics, it’s personal.

Theresa May, as home secretary and then Prime Minister is inextricably linked with what many senior policing figures regard as a highly-personalised onslaught against the last great unreformed public service. The cover of austerity provided much room for an insurgency of organisational reform that at times has seemed like naked score settling for those with the temerity and experience to see the consequences of cuts and speak out.

Jim Gamble, the visionary leader of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection centre, CEOP was effectively forced out after going public, criticising his organisation’s planned merger with the National Crime Agency. And after Sir Hugh Orde, the boss of the Association of Chief Police Officers clashed with Theresa May over political interference in the 2011 London riots and critiqued budget cuts, ACPO was disbanded. The appointment of Sir Tom Winsor by Theresa May, as Chief Inspector of Constabulary, a man associated with an earlier pay review detested by many rank and file officers, was also held by many as a deliberate message from the ‘bloody difficult’ home secretary that the days of the cosy policing cartel, immune from government reach were finished.

Whether Theresa May’s war against the police establishment was ever justified is debatable. However, in the context of today’s policing crisis, her words return to haunt her. Incidentally, these words also make life difficult for May’s successors, in cabinet or in the London mayor’s office.

In a book called Broken Yard by Tom Harper it was claimed that Theresa Dick  beat Sir Mark Rowley to the Commissioner post when she was appointed in 2017 because then Prime Minister Theresa May felt she would have more control over the former.

In 2022 I posted about Canteen Cultures in Policing, amongst other things.  If you haven’t already read it, I would invite you to read it here.

That august publication, The Havering Daily, today reports that Police officers across the country are soon to receive training on how to stop ‘canteen culture.’  The reasonably balanced article explains how officers will receive training on how to tackle the ‘corrosive canteen culture’ in canteens that have been closed down and sold off, while officers are criticised by some for daring to queue up in a food outlet to buy themselves some food to eat in the cangteens that no longer exist.

I accept that my personal experience is 20+ years out of date, but in my day the canteen was somewhere to wind down during a busy shift, chat shit with your mates to ‘offload’ whatever was bugging you that day, and who can say how many potential Mental Health problems might have been averted just  by being able to ‘chat’.  Fortunately we didn’t have Wassapp in my time, but in the main officers werfe too busy unwinding, eating their breakfast, playing cribbage or Space Invaders to engage in Inappropriate Banter. I believe that closing them was short-sighted, and politically motivated. With PCCs, an incresing number of City Mayors, and contant reminders from government  and IOPC I conclude that I agree with Paul, and this was all part of a ‘cunning plan’ to CONTROL the Police. So, the definition of Canteen Culture, is in

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  1. Jack Dees

    Sadly accurate Alan. I’m also working on a response and have my library team at Arden Uni looking for early sources of the term. I’m as far backas 1989 atm. Will let you know.

    • RetiredAndAngry

      It’s also a term that is used in many contries across the world, so good luck with your research Jack

  2. Kevin Moore

    I fully agree with the vast majority of what has been written here. The so called “canteen culture”, was I believe, wholly and unequivocally positive. I never once witnessed the so called negative elements of this such as racism, sexism and misogyny etc. etc. Theresa May and David Cameron without doubt are responsible for what exists today as a so called police service. In a matter of a few years they managed to destroy what had taken more than 150 years to build. As a former senior police officer, I will never forgive them for that. Politics has destroyed policing as we knew it!!!

    • RetiredAndAngry

      Can’t disagree with any of that Kevin, what vexes me possibly more, is that they suffer no consequences for what they have done, even though it now it now seems discredited

  3. Francesca Lilleystone

    Thank you for mentioning the Havering Daily. I would be interested in chatting to you further-kind Regards Francesca Editor of the Havering Daily.

    • RetiredAndAngry

      Hi Francesca, no problem at all. Please email me via the Contact Us link at the top of the page and we can take it from there,

      Thank you for your interest

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