The case against class solidarity with coppers

This post was written by Salman Shaheen on September 27, 2012
Posted Under: Class,Police,Protest,Tories

Reuben’s article made some very valid points, not least that Andrew Mitchell’s comments show just how radically out of touch the Tory elites running this country are from the vast majority of us. Should Mitchell be hung out to dry for his comments? Undoubtedly so. Is it a good thing that he has brought fresh shame to a government hit by a seemingly unprecedented amount of scandal only two years in? Yes. Does that mean we should be making common cause across the board with police simply because a lot of bobbies are working class? Probably not.

Reuben’s piece drew a great deal of very unfriendly fire from the left, some fair, some not. I don’t plan to deconstruct his arguments one by one, it’s a debate I’m not terribly interested in, precisely because while I loathe the coalition and everything it stands for, I find it difficult to work myself up to any great deal of sympathy with the police as an institution. As Geoffrey Wheatcroft in The Guardian rightly says:

We are told that it was the worst possible moment for a minister to insult the police, just after the deaths of two brave policewomen in Manchester. But it was also just after the real story finally emerged at last about Hillsborough. On that appalling occasion, gross police incompetence aggravated the tragedy, and the police then behaved in an utterly despicably manner by blaming the victims for heir own deaths. This was done – need one add? – with the connivance of the Sun, a headline on whose front page reading THE TRUTH is in any circumstances beyond satire.

If Mitchell may seem a little rebarbative to some tastes, he would have to try hard to be more obnoxious than John Tully, who has demanded his resignation. Tully is chair of the Metropolitan Police Federation, and thus represents that fine body who maintain law and order in our capital with such courtesy, efficiency and restraint. Just ask Jean Charles de Menezes or Ian Tomlinson.

Actually, you can’t ask them since they’re dead, at the hands of the Met, whose policy nowadays is often “Shoot first, ask questions later” – or better still, no questions asked at all.

Few worse things have happened in my lifetime than the deterioration of our police. We have lost the priceless legacy of Sir Robert Peel. Almost uniquely in Europe he gave us not a gun-toting paramilitary gendarmerie but “citizens in uniform”, an unarmed police force under civilian control. Now we have heavily armed police who often appear to be under no one’s control. Politicians bear a heavy responsibility for this, notably Thatcher, who assaulted unions and vested interests with the conspicuous exception of the police: she needed their support in sundry industrial conflicts.

It is worth remembering, for all our righteous rage against the ruling elites, that the police are, for the most part, their attack dogs when it comes to political matters. Yes, they do work that is socially necessary and yes they provide a vital service in preventing violent crime. But they are also perpetrators of violence. The killings of Tomlinson and de Menezes are striking examples. But there are subtler, more insideous forms of political violence. I asked one officer, for example, why the police deliberately underestimate numbers on demonstrations. His response was that it didn’t matter that they did this. But imagine if votes were deliberately not counted. It’s systematically denying people their democratic right to speak out against injustices on behalf of the government. And that’s not to mention the institutional racism, the kettlings of peaceful protesters and the outbursts of collective irresponsibility hidden behind numbers and uniforms that almost always go unpunished.

I would like to see  this culture change. I would like to see the left find common class cause with the police against a polarising government. I would like to see the fissures between the pigs and their dogs Reuben speaks of open up. But I doubt one stupid comment by an out of touch minister is going to provide that catalyist. For now, the police “know their fucking place”. And it’s on the side of an unjust system.

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Reader Comments

the debate would be more effective if it were about how to do without a police force…..step back and look at it through a telescope from Mars.

Small numbers of blue uniformed mainly low socioeconomic people restricting movement of crowd masses which rarely if ever include any of the following: top 10% of wealth owners, cabinet ministers, judges, military officers, etc etc

#1 
Written By Trevor Brown on September 28th, 2012 @ 6:48 pm
Owen C

For the sake of argument, and also to be annoying, I have copied and pasted my response to the other bit into here. I don’t have a twitter account so bear with me

My grandfather moved to London in the 1940s, found the anti Irish racism intolerable, then moved to the sticks and became a copper. I’ve no idea what he did exactly as a policeman, although I believe he done the bit of confiscating offensive weapons off people who intended to use them, checked around for potential thefts and also drove around really really fast. There were not any non white ethnic minorities to oppress, at least not ninety eight per cent of the time. This was before the miners strike, you see.
This is reasonably irrelevant to the current discussion on this thread, but is something I tend to bear in mind when thinking about how annoying cops are as a general principle. Having said that, I feel that southern English cops are a slightly different entity to the general principle of police work, and, yeah they are kind of daft uns tbh. If you are reading this, please don’t.

Signed A. Workingclassperson

..Yep I’ve checked all that, it’s fairly annoying.

#2 
Written By Owen C on October 4th, 2012 @ 2:53 am

I’ve met plenty of nice police officers, some very helpful ones and I’ve no doubt they do good and necessary work. My issue is with the police as an institution, how they act as a collective whole and how they have been deployed unreasonably by the state.

#3 
Written By Salman Shaheen on October 4th, 2012 @ 3:15 am
John P Reid

Aghh, teh Polcie didn’t kill Ian tomlinson even if his death was proved unlawful in court, it didn’t mean beyond reasoanble doubt that the push he recieved resulted in his death as teh jury in teh Harwood trial

regarding Demenez, ask all those P.Cs. who bravely went into the tunnels where trains had been blown up, thinking that ethy maybe killed if other explosives went off, while the rest of us were told to run the opposite way

Finnally I don’t know how old teh P.C who was swore at by Mitcehll was, but of the two P.Cs kiiled in Manchester one of them wasn’t even alive when Hillsborough happened,

#4 
Written By John P Reid on October 26th, 2012 @ 4:51 am

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