The British Police Are The Best In The World, I Don’t Believe None Of These Stories I’ve Heard…

I try to be shocked. I really do. I try to really feel how terrible it is, but this kind of thing has happened too often.

Last week, a man died during the G20 protests. The story put out in the media at the time was a clearcut one. Man gets stressed by an out of control angry mob and has a heart attack. Police try to help him, but the mob are so out of control that they throw bricks at the police, stopping them from doing their job, and the man dies as a result.

A few hours later, the story had changed somewhat. The crowd near the police were in fact helpful – a few people at the back who didn’t know what was going on threw a couple of empty plastic bottles at the police, but that’s all. I wasn’t surprised. That sounded about right, given the way the media and police usually misportray protestors.

Now, according to the Observer, the truth appears to be out. Ian Tomlinson was a 47-year-old man on the way home from work, completely uninvolved. The police were “out of control“. Mr Tomlinson was battered around the head and thrown about by armoured riot police. Protestors, seeing he was hurt, *tried to help him*.

I tried, I really did, to feel shocked and upset by this, but I just felt numb when I should have felt outraged. Because this has been coming for a long time, and there will be more of it. There has always been an element within the police force that is attracted to the job because they like the sense of power and want to abuse it (in fact one of the best arguments for the *existence* of a police force is precisely that it can sometimes allow such people to channel their energies in a more productive direction – see Aleister Crowley’s remark “I am not an anarchist in *your* sense of the word – imagine a policeman let loose upon society!”, one of the few things the great old faker ever said that I agree with). Anyone with any memory of this kind of event over the last thirty years can name dozens of cases, from Blair Peach to Jean de Menezes, where the official report has differed wildly from the truth, and where enough misinformation has been created that police who are at the very least guilty of manslaughter have been let off with reprimands.

And the police have been spoiling for a fight. They’ve been talking in the papers about how they’re expecting a ‘Summer of Rage’ in 2009, and we all know that that sort of thing is liable to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you combine that with the worst economic crisis in eighty years, you’ve got a powderkeg waiting to go up.

And the police can afford to be arrogant – for the last fifteen years governments of both main parties have been putting in place the elements of a police state. I could make ten posts of this length just listing the various draconian laws that have been brought, removing the right to silence, the right to protest and so on, but just to take two examples – any photos that were taken of Ian Tomlinson’s murderers, to be used as evidence against them, are illegal, because it’s now illegal to take photos of the police due to ‘privacy concerns’. Meanwhile, as of tomorrow, the government will be requiring your ISP to keep records of every email you send, every website you visit, every file you download, for up to a year. You now have less legal right to privacy when organising your finances or viewing pornography or talking to your friends than the police do when beating a man to death for getting in their way while walking home.

And both major parties are like this. People believe they have no alternative but to protest, because they can’t vote for anyone who’ll fix the problem, but protesting is illegal and the police are spoiling for a fight. This is not going to end well. I’ve recently started listening again to Power In The Darkness by the Tom Robinson Band. Thirty years on, its pub rock sounds dated as hell, but the feeling of the record is as fresh as if it were recorded yesterday. We could be headed into a period when fascism becomes a real possibility, either by the continued populist right-wing drifting of both major parties, or because of the rise of the Bastard Nazi Party in response to people’s disaffection.

We need, desperately, to find a real electoral alternative to the current repression, and while I believe the Liberal Democrats to be the best option open, the unfortunate fact is that we can’t win the next election. But what Chris Huhne refers to as ‘the Parliamentary Liberal Party’ can. We need to campaign more (and I need to get far more active in things like No2ID myself – I don’t do anything like enough, and I’m going to try to do more) to bring about real changes after the next election.

I think the best way to do this is to rally round the Lib Dems’ Freedom Bill, but ensure it’s not seen as a purely partisan effort. It doesn’t go anything like far enough, but it’s a good start. We need to ensure that, no matter what party gets into power next election, this bill or something like it will get in. This is *important*, possibly the most important thing that could be achieved in the next Parliament (I believe other issues, such as the environment, are actually even more important, but no-one in government is going to do anything while there’s the current weird consensus in power, and this is one of the few ways I can see of putting a crack in that).

I honestly believe that the best thing you can do in the next election is to ask the candidates for the two main parties in your constituency if they will support the Freedom Bill if it is put before Parliament. The Lib Dems will, and I know a handful of Labour candidates will, because I’ve spoken to one or two decent Labour people (usually of the Compass type) who would support it. Possibly some Tories as well – but I’ve never trusted them. That is, however, purely personal bigotry. There may be such a thing as a trustworthy Tory, it’s entirely possible.

If one of them will support the bill and the other won’t, throw all your support behind the candidate that will, campaign for them, flyer your area, get out the vote – and tell them why you’re doing so. If both will, then be happy but put pressure on them when they get into Parliament – email them every week if necessary. If neither will, then if possible try to get one of them deselected and stand in their place. If you can’t do that, stand as an independent if necessary to make sure there is a candidate who *will* support those measures.

We need to ensure that no matter what party happens to be in Government, we get a majority for the Parliamentary Liberal Party in 2010. Because otherwise we may well see a majority for the National Socialist Party in 2014…

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7 Responses to The British Police Are The Best In The World, I Don’t Believe None Of These Stories I’ve Heard…

  1. There has always been an element within the police force that is attracted to the job because they like the sense of power and want to abuse it…

    While of course this is true, I feel it misses the point. At the G20 and so many other recent protests the way the Police’s draconian response was systematic. Lines of Police waded into the Climate Camp, for example, clearly under orders to do so. This isn’t a matter of ‘a few bad apples’, or if it is the apples are right at the top of the tree. One of the more sinister elements of this, which hasn’t received nearly enough attention, is that to be allowed out of the cordon people were compelled to give their name and address. The Police have absolutely no legal right to demand this unless they’re arresting you, yet this abuse of power is all too common.

    They’ve been talking in the papers about how they’re expecting a ‘Summer of Rage’ in 2009, and we all know that that sort of thing is liable to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    Sometimes yes, but also it’s Win/Win for the Police. If major disorder were to break out, they can simply say they told us so. If it doesn’t, they can claim this to be evidence of the marvellous job they’re doing. A cynical soul might point out that the public sector is in general facing cutbacks, and the Police need to talk up an exception case for themselves…

    We need, desperately, to find a real electoral alternative to the current repression…

    Perhaps we should agree to disagree there, in the interests of brevity!

    I think the best way to do this is to rally round the Lib Dems’ Freedom Bill, but ensure it’s not seen as a purely partisan effort. It doesn’t go anything like far enough, but it’s a good start

    I don’t see how this follows. In America the Constitution theoretically enshrines basic freedoms like the right of assembly but the Police are even more draconian than those here. There the Police’s response to demonstrations has been to corral the crowd inside a (normally far too-small) ‘free speech zone’. Anyone stepping outside the zone is arrested. Comments that America itself should be considered a free speech zone have left them unmoved.

    What normally happens over protests and demons is that whatever proves useful for the protestors eventually gets declared illegal, and whatever proves useful for the Police similarly gets enshrined into law. When Police first started extensive surveillance of protestors, people began to disguise their identity. This was made illegal. (Theoretically the Police have to apply for an order for this beforehand, but of course they pretty much use the power sweepingly.) The Police were seizing protestor’s cameras at events in Brighton long before the law was passed allowing them to do it. As the old saying goes: ”Laws are cobwebs for the rich, and chains of steel for the poor.”

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Good points all. However, I’m not saying the Freedom Bill will fix everything – or even necessarily anything – but given a choice between laws that allow protests and don’t allow the police to abuse their power, and laws that ban protests and encourage police abuse, I think the former are better and should be fought for.

      As for the institutional component of this, I have no doubt at all that you’re right,. I hadn’t, however, read enough reports to be sure of it in this particular case (I’ve only browsed a couple of things, having no home net access for much of the week and all sorts of stuff going on that means I’ve not kept up with the news as much as I’d like). The problem appears to be threefold – an organisation that sees dissent as dangerous and is unworried about abusing its power, laws that give that organisation free rein, and individuals within that organisation who take that as a literal license to kill.

      I’m not so naive as to think that legislation can fix systemic problems within the police, or to think that the police would never overstep the boundaries that are set for them – I grew up in the 80s, and remember the SPG, the West Midlands police fitting people up left, right and centre, the shoot-to-kill policies and James Anderton.

      But while the police will overstep whatever boundariess are set for them, the tighter the boundaries the less damage will be caused by the overstepping…

  2. This is an absurdly trivial example, but a few months ago Lincolnshire Police seemed to be having a crackdown on people walking along roads! One morning I got stopped while I was out for a walk on the road where I live (which is a largely deserted country lane miles from anywhere) and had to give my name and address and tell them where I was going. Then my dad got stopped when he was walking (not driving, because he’s sensible and law abiding) to the pub.

    I remember just after the Menezes shooting I was arguing in LJ comments that it would be thoroughly investigated and that anyone who had done anything wrong would be in serious trouble. Subsequent events proved me completely wrong.

    I don’t know that the solution might be. The Freedom Bill is better than what the big two are giving us but it still looks like a half-hearted compromise that will just give us slightly less of a police state.

    If only George Cowley was real…

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Yeah – the Freedom Bill isn’t meant to be the be-all-and-end-all, thankfully, but just a way of getting things back to where they were fifteen years ago, before everything got so comprehensively cocked up…

  3. given a choice between laws that allow protests and don’t allow the police to abuse their power, and laws that ban protests and encourage police abuse, I think the former are better and should be fought for.

    Depending on what finally comes to light over the man’s death, there’s an outside chance some order-obeying grunt cop will get done over this. Pretty unlikely, given the de Menezies outcome, but possible. However, the only institutional change I can see making a difference is some of the top cops of the day getting reprimanded. Losing their rank, getting suspended or something. Which is of course not going to happen.

    Here’s where I should suggest we all start attending lots more demonstrations. However, to be honest I hardly ever go to things like that myself any more, so I’m hardly practising what I preach. But I do think that the kettling tactic becomes unworkable once the crowd gets over a certain size, imagine if they’d tried it at one of the big anti-war demos, there’s not enough cops in the country. One of the aims of kettling is of course to deter people going on such things, by making them feel threatened and disempowered, which is so far working reasonably well. But kettling is also entirely reliant on that being the outcome, if it were to galvanize attendance the result would be quite different.

    As for the institutional component of this, I have no doubt at all that you’re right,. I hadn’t, however, read enough reports to be sure of it in this particular case…

    Just in case you had any lingering doubts…

    http://www.indymedia.org.uk/media/2009/04//426087.mp4

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Well, it’s convinced me to go on more…and I know a couple of other people for whom it’s already had that effect (admittedly, generally the macho type who like to boast of getting their photo in the papers being dragged away by police…). When even Peter Sodding Hitchens is saying the police are going a little far (got that link from this piece on OpenDemocracy) then something is seriously, seriously wrong…

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