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.