Culpability VI: Law or Order?

Having gone truncheons to tasers in a generation, I also have to wonder what purpose the current Police Service has been built for? […] It looks like we have been built to violently confront and overcome people. I am not saying that is our mindset, but it is without doubt what we are equipped to do. Once people get over the quasi military kit, we are mostly approachable and pleasant people, it’s just that we dress like Imperial Stormtroopers.
                — NightJack, Winner of the Orwell Prize for Blogs, 2009

I’m going to repeat, at this stage, something I’ve said a few times through this fiasco but which I don’t think can be repeated often enough. I am not angry with constables as a class. I think there are some specific individuals who broke the law (the chairman of the IPCC agrees with me, btw) and need to be tried and jailed. I think that there is a policy from the highest levels which is flawed, arrogant, short-sighted and dangerous; but I do not and will not blame coppers for how they’re trained, briefed or ordered. The blame for those things lies squarely and solely with senior officers, the ACPO and the last four governments.

As of today, this is what we know: the rioting police forces were systematically hiding their identities to avoid accountability. There was a coherent policy of abusing the statute book as if it were a catalogue of ways to harass specific individuals and groups. The TSG paramilitaries were directed to use the assault on Climate Camp as an opportunity to punish dissenters. And there was a comprehensive and systematic effort to suppress and destroy evidence of criminal activity by officers of the law.

The senior officers, police PR staff and right-wing media then wriggled, lied, and potentially colluded to pervert the course of justice in claiming that Ian Tomlinson was variously a protester, a violent anarchist, a drunken lunatic, and dead of natural causes.

Much has been made out of the early reactions from the right-wing press and blogosphere, and how egregiously wrong they were. I can’t really blame them for that: if one is conditioned to assume that the official line is intrinsically more accurate than the rabble’s impression of what happened, then in the absence of actual evidence you’re going to believe the police press conferences. In the absence of evidence, I do the same. However, the evidence is here, time-stamped, organised, occasionally mis-spelled and in several instances caught on camera.

As far as I can see, this leaves the reactionaries three options from here. One, they can claim that the Climate Camp legal report, the second and third autopsies, the various bits of video footage and the IPCC are all colluding in a conspiracy to attack the police. Two, they can argue that the victims of the rioting officers deserved everything that was done to them: that expressing peaceful dissent places a citizen outside the protection of the law for their personal safety and private property. Or, they can accept (as even the IPCC has finally done) that the police talked up a riot, decided they were going to have a riot, and then caused one when the hippies didn’t oblige.

The most telling thing for me about the differences in attitude in this confrontation is that the protesters sat down when they were assaulted by paramilitary forces. They knew it was coming. They organised to deal with it; not by confrontation, but through the due process of the law of the land. I’m going to say that again: by organising a legal observer team instead of an army, the political dissenters proved that they have more respect for the law than the police. They believed that if they waited for the other side to commit a crime, then the law would treat them fairly. I sincerely hope that they were right. I bow to the fortitude of the women and men who stood and chanted “This is not a riot!” when under attack. I salute the courage of all those who named themselves on their witness statements, even knowing how badly the current government and police force are abusing anti-terror laws to spy on their citizens.

I believe the planners of this riot made an honest mistake. I think it likely that they genuinely believed their tactics would work; that a little piss on their boots and a few whacks to the knee would turn peaceful protesters into violent and aggressive warriors. They thought, after the Black Gang at Gleneagles, that they had hold of the pin in the dissenters’ grenade. When they pulled it they came away holding a flower and then found themselves being drawn and quartered on the evening news.

But now we have a serious problem. I believe the evidence shows that senior officers in the police force have an explicit political agenda and that they are using their constables to enforce it. I believe they are mirroring an agenda that has existed in Westminster throughout the last four governments. And it is clearly apparent now that in the minds of those who set police policy, the Force are no longer officers of the law: they are officers of order. While there is a culture of ignoring or abusing the law in the interests of bigotry, reactionary violence and political agendas; while constables are taught, trained and encouraged by their own officers to conceal their IDs so that they are unaccountable, it would appear we are being faced with a choice in this country. We can have law, or we can have order. We know which the police want, and we know that both Labour and the Conservatives agree with them. So what we must decide now is: which do we, the people, want?

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14 Comments

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14 responses to “Culpability VI: Law or Order?

  1. nightjack

    I would only add that I wrote “Truncheons To Tasers” in May 2008. I would be loath to write anything at all about it now. I did have a post up in the immediate aftermath but I spiked it because as things developed I was not only wrong but badly wrong.

    IMO G20 is an unresolved and poisonous mess of allegation and counter claim involving criminal investigations, high level reviews, cash for quotes journalism, personal accounts and all manner of video footage.

    At the moment it can be used to play into any particular geschicte and it is being used in that way by everyone commentating. I think that there is a tendency to try and conflate the whole lot into one massive cohesive narrative. I don’t know that there is a coherent narrative to be had. There are certainly a lot of individual narratives though and from my kitchen table, I think that nearly all of them are damaging to the public perception of policing.

    • johnqpublican

      I would only add that I wrote “Truncheons To Tasers” in May 2008. I would be loath to write anything at all about it now.

      I can entirely understand that; the problems you warned of a year ago have now been seen in action in London’s streets. One reason I was so impressed by the post is that it displayed a level of foresight and empathy that I felt was unusual. You seem to have the ability to see the police, to at least some extent, from civilian perspectives.

      IMO G20 is an unresolved and poisonous mess of allegation and counter claim involving criminal investigations, high level reviews, cash for quotes journalism, personal accounts and all manner of video footage.

      Again, I can understand that. You are going to feel as though you’re part of the target for a lot of anguished rage. People are feeling betrayed. For me, at least, you’re not a part of that target; unless you were personally one of the assaulting officers, or unless you were personally one of the policy-setters who created these attitudes and sanctioned these tactics. From your own post I’m fairly certain that you were neither of these things. I am not angry with the Police. I am angry about the way that they are being used.

      At the moment it can be used to play into any particular geschicte and it is being used in that way by everyone commentating.

      I’m not convinced I can agree. You will almost certainly have read the Climate Camp legal dossier, possibly the one I haven’t seen with the full collection of statements. I don’t know if you’ve read the five posts leading up to this one; but either way I’d be interested to know if you can contextualise (for example) the story of James Lloyd in any other way than as part of a culture of deliberately destroying evidence and intimidating official witnesses.

      Can we agree that policemen should not be tearing notes out of people’s notebooks and should not be destroying cameras and confiscating dictaphones? I would not ask you to comment on the violence aspect; there’s nothing new in it, except that this time the victims documented it. But I would ask, if you have the time, if you’d read my analysis and tell me if you felt it to be a coherent narrative?

      I think that nearly all of them are damaging to the public perception of policing.

      While this is almost certainly true: and while I say again that throughout my personal commentary I have been underlining that I am not angry with constables as a class, I think that when a Force acts the way this one did, if the story gets out it will damage the public perception of the police. Not much you can do about that; what they did was unacceptable. The only difference here from a variety of similar incidents of political retribution, right back to the Battle of the Beanfield, is that the dissenters were much more organised and effective at getting the evidence collected and submitted in time for the news cycle to still care.

      • johnqpublican

        An afterthought: if you haven’t read my full analysis, you may not realise the distinction I draw (which by no means all commentators on either left or right are noticing) between the police behaviour during the happy-slapping of a bank circa 13.30 and the police behaviour at Climate Camp between 19.08 and 01.54 The circumstances were different, the targets were different, and the ethicality of police behaviour was different as a result. Up at the Bank, people actually were acting violently and engaging in randomised vandalism. I can therefore make a case that stands to reason for a police response in force and with some reciprocal violence. Down at the Climate Camp, they weren’t doing these things. Reaction turns into action, and must thus be assessed differently.

  2. What I found most startling about the right-wing reaction is that it wasn’t only the one’s you’d expect to be either brusquely and mockingly dismissive or silent altogether (Dizzy & Guido Fawkes, respectively – with the latter demonstrating once again, for any who may have doubted, that he is a Thatcherite rather than a libertarian) but that the active apologists were often those on the most reasonable wing of Conservative thought.

    The most obvious example is Daniel Finkelstein, who actually attempted to shame the LibDems for kicking up a fuss over a citizen being killed by the police (indirectly as it appeared, at that stage), completely botched the article in every way and then stayed quiet (linking to the aforesaid Dizzy piece but cowardly failing to apologise) & LfaT who, as you well know, seems to have lost the high integrity he used to maintain completely and gone on the rampage against slow walkers who don’t even have the decency to wear a suit. They had it coming, of course.

    And these were the people I’d used to go to for a reasoned Conservative outlook! No longer, that’s for fucking sure.

    I think that this sort of event emphasises the division that all talk of the end to political polarity is belied by. And if New Labour have nothing to say either then, well, it’s not as if we needed more evidence that they belong firmly on the right-side of the spectrum, but this will do.

    • johnqpublican

      LfaT who, as you well know, seems to have lost the high integrity he used to maintain completely and gone on the rampage against slow walkers who don’t even have the decency to wear a suit.

      LfaT posted before the facts were out; he is, like much of the country and almost all of it over 50, conditioned and trained to assume the official line is trustworthy. He was quite careful to avoid the topic entirely after the facts started coming out.

      It’s the Chavscums and fellow travellers that just kept on pushing, and pushing, as more and more data arrived. Even LfaT seems to have recognised the application of the basic rule of right-wing social conscience: “Good lord, that could have been me“.

      I think that this sort of event emphasises the division that all talk of the end to political polarity is belied by. And if New Labour have nothing to say either then, well, it’s not as if we needed more evidence that they belong firmly on the right-side of the spectrum, but this will do.

      I’m not sure anyone serious believes political polarisation is diminishing; in fact, all the evidence in the last 40 years says it’s increasing, due to much more effective use of media management and to a sound-bite culture in which insults win elections better than debates. There’s more in here, but I’ll leave it ’til I can argue it thoroughly. New Labour have nothing to say because the political masters that the hired men and troopers were fighting for were New Labour; like everyone else who’s actually responsible for this catastrophe, their primary and arguably sole aim is now to divert the attention of the public onto the front-line coppers and away from the policy decisions. At least Boris is up-front about both his class prejudice and his racism.

  3. Ah, but the LibDems seemed to – neither right, nor left, but forwards was a slogan of theirs for a little one around the 2005 stage. That was also around the time when Tony Blair was trying to make the right-left distinction seem antiquated; although that was his gig all along, really. The New Labour project was meant to drain the politics out of politics, and all that.

    Although I suppose you could say that both the LibDems & Tony Blair were always a joke, quite reasonably.

    As for LfaT: he continued to press even after the video was out which, in my books, is more than late enough. Especially given past conduct of the organisation in question.

    • johnqpublican

      The first video was not clear. If you were inclined to believe that the protesters might not be liars by definition, then it seemed to show what you expected to see. LfaT did see the protesters as liars by definition, and therefore interpreted the footage differently.

      After the second video and three autopsies it had become apparent that we were right all along; at which point he went silent. Mind you, he did leave for a two-week holiday half-way through this whole thing.

      Regarding the left-right divide; there is nothing particularly ‘left’ about liberalism. The left is (certainly since 1917) associated entirely with a particular brand of socialism. Liberalism is rather more complex and does not as easily fit into the purely industrial world-view. One reason I’m happy to accept the label ‘liberal’; in terms of social politics it’s a fair description. In other terms, not so much; my attitudes in some areas are better described as libertarian or (in a couple of cases) conservative.

      • Depends what strain of “Liberalism” we mean. The right strain in Britain at least was incorporated in the Conservative Party as it because the Conservative & Unionist Party (the right Liberals were known as the Liberal Unionists, as they’d allied with the Tories over Empire and wariness of the Irish nats. the mainstream Liberals were allying themselves with in Parliament).

        Beyond them that whole “Laissez Faire” thing was always a socialist jibe rather than a reality, indeed even within then it didn’t hold true (even Hayek rejected laissez faire explicitly). It’s an unconvincing slur to try and merge the New Liberals and Liberal Unionists, beyond the obvious point that Joseph Chamberlain was the LU leader, as well as an innovative implementer of “municipal socialism”, that is local councils taking over services such as waterworks and hospitals.

        But Jo Chamberlain was a remarkable and category eluding man to an extent that’s rarely seen.

        Anyway: after the split the Liberalism which existed outside the Tories experienced a headlong collision with socialism, which had been in the works for a very long time (Mill darted towards it at the end of his life, in fact, plunging hard left and on one occasion even stating that although it wouldn’t be perfect communism would top the status quo). The dividing line between the liberals and the socialists became nebulous and blurred and any Liberal not to be found amongst the Tories was unquestionably a member of the left.

        As for laissez faire, well I’d agree with one historians assessment of it as “The last untested utopia.” Let us hope that it never is tested, seeing as by all measures it would be as disastrous as Stalinism, albeit in a slightly less direct way.

        • (Additionally, that whole “True socialist left driving the reluctant New Liberals towards reform” narrative is complete bunk and always has been. Originating from Conservatives incapable of arguing against perfectly reasonable policy proposals save by depicting the Liberals as red-stringed puppets & most probably perpetuated by Leninists trying to explain away the immense amount of good done the working classes by the dreaded “Bourgeois reformists”.

          In reality the working class was divided over the issue of state expansive reform, with many within their movement arguing that they would distract from the true issue of wages and let the employers off of the hook. They wanted to focus upon direct pressure on the owners and occasionally that wry old canard “Self Help”. This was the official position of some of the largest working class organisations. Unfortunately most of the self-help organisations started to collapse when their membership became elderly, so the point grew rapidly moot: if working class organisations couldn’t support them, the state was simply going to have to. It’s not as if anyone earnestly suggested sabotage of their efforts to do so.

          Additionally, given that at this stage the reforms benefited largely those devoid of a job it’s hard to imagine the unions having been central to pushing for it, on top of there being no real evidence for them having been so. The unions proved spectacularly inept at marshalling anyone beyond employed members, which is why in the inter-war years it was left up to a Communist Party front group to arrange the vastly swollen ranks of the unemployed into a marching force. This has proven the greatest flaw of unions and I imagine it’s going to become obvious once again in the forthcoming Depression proper. Only this time around the Unions are useless at representing even those who are their members.

          The working classes didn’t come around to anything so statist until after the reforms showed the clear benefit done to their lives, with the hundreds of thousands of elderly collecting pensions seeming to have been the tipping point (it would even seem that the claims that cries of “God bless Lloyd George!” rising across the land are as much truth as partisan hyperbolic myth). In fact even until the 1940s the Labour Party struggled to get past the notion of promoting “Sound finances” being the route towards respectability (and thank goodness they did ditch it for economic radicalism). This was even after MacDonald jettisoned his party to cling ignobly onto power (with the none-too-selfless assistance of the greatly empowered Tories).

          Instead, the idea of helping people out via state methods was the preserve of left wing, well educated middle class & aristocratic technocrats, such as the Webbs. It’s them that initiated the Welfare State project and it’s unquestionable that if Lloyd George had not been isolated entirely by Ramsay MacDonald’s economically conservative coalition there could have been further progress there.

          All such aimless fantasy aside, the point is: the Welfare State was organic New Liberal produce which they embraced before class politicians came to. There hand was not forced, indeed they were hardly being so much as nudged: even as they collapsed some working class organisation clung to their Victoriana like a drowning man to a cannonball.

          & the Unions, as ever, were helping out only those who did have jobs.)

        • johnqpublican

          Depends when it starts: there are future projections which could make it plausible but only if, and I really mean only if, it doesn’t happen ’til after cornucopia machines. The one thing laissez-faire capitalism cannot be allowed to apply to is any economic system in which value is a function of actual or engineered scarcity: particularly of food. Free markets are bad for essentials; good for ideas.

          Regarding your summary of parliamentary liberalism; I wasn’t thinking in party political terms at all (I don’t, unless specifically stated). I was talking about liberalism, as opposed to socialism, as opposed to conservatism: not Whigs, Tories and Labour.

          Conservatism is about trying to rebuild a “better” past in our future. Socialism is about trying to build a “better” future through planned, centralised economic control and social education programs. Liberalism is about trying to build a future, and make it as good as we can get while allowing the widest number of social and economic alternatives to be presented to every individual.

          • Depends when it starts: there are future projections which could make it plausible but only if, and I really mean only if, it doesn’t happen ’til after cornucopia machines.

            Ah, robotic anarchy. That’s something I’d considered as well.

            Regarding your summary of parliamentary liberalism; I wasn’t thinking in party political terms at all (I don’t, unless specifically stated). I was talking about liberalism, as opposed to socialism, as opposed to conservatism: not Whigs, Tories and Labour.

            Problem is: the distinction really isn’t all that great.

            • johnqpublican

              Good lord, I never mentioned anarchy; or robots. Cornucopia; machines which perform effective mollecular engineering. Also, that means that the ‘market’ will be one almost entirely of innovation; there’s no way to create value through manufacturing, only through coming up with a new formula for making something. I can completely live with free market economics in that environment; as the Open Source Software movement have already proved, the best thing for ideas is a totally free market. It’s just a bad idea when you try and make necessities something one can profit from.

              Problem is: the distinction really isn’t all that great.

              Your mileage and mine clearly vary: there’s a huge difference between the Labour party and socialism, for example.

              • Good lord, I never mentioned anarchy; or robots. Cornucopia; machines which perform effective mollecular engineering. Also, that means that the ‘market’ will be one almost entirely of innovation; there’s no way to create value through manufacturing, only through coming up with a new formula for making something. I can completely live with free market economics in that environment; as the Open Source Software movement have already proved, the best thing for ideas is a totally free market. It’s just a bad idea when you try and make necessities something one can profit from.

                That’s roughly what I meant.

                Your mileage and mine clearly vary: there’s a huge difference between the Labour party and socialism, for example.

                During the period I was referencing, yes. They were largely a trade unionist movement. Later on there were seom factions within the party with a very strong ideological commitment to socialism (the Independent Labour Party, the Socialist League, etc…) but these tended to be fringe groups, not least thanks to their mainly middle class make-up.

                & the Labour Party today is clearly non-socialist. There was a phase where both right and left factions referred to themselves as socialists, in the 1940s (and ’50s?). Democratic Socialists, to be precise.

                • johnqpublican

                  Okay, I get you, but my point is that therefore responding to a comment about the principles of three political schools of ideology with a comment about party-political history in Britain is a context error. I was talking about political philosophies, and you were talking about the history of certain British political parties. I don’t believe the one shed much light on the other; though the other clearly informs any analysis of the one.