Monday, 15 March 2021

Saturday was not just a one-off 'mistake'


Throughout the pandemic, there have been regular calls from some for the police to be more pro-active against those breaking the coronavirus rules, demanding a crackdown with more fines and arrests. On Saturday, the Metropolitan Police gave us a clear demonstration of what a crackdown looks like. Suddenly, it seems that some of those previously egging the police on to do more to enforce the rules aren’t quite so sure – or, rather, they want to apply different rules to different groups and causes. Clearly the police could and should have adopted a different approach to the proposed vigil and worked with the organisers to ensure that the event could take place in as safe a way as possible; the flat refusal to do so underlines a degree of incompetence and lack of empathy which is hard to understand. But on what basis do we expect the police to distinguish between, say, a beach party and a vigil, both of which involve an assembly of a greater number of people than is permitted under current legislation? That is not to argue that there is some sort of equivalence there; clearly there is not. But distinguishing between the two involves the application of values and judgement, and there is a real question as to whether the police are the best people to make that call, particularly if their role is defined simply as ‘upholding the law’.

Differential application of the law is, of course, one of those traditional British values of which politicians are so fond, although that isn’t the way they usually describe it. In practice, Lady Justice has never been as unseeing as the blindfold she traditionally wears might lead us to believe. Being part of the ruling elite has long bestowed a degree of indemnity – the Covid rules applied to Cummings were clearly not the same rules being applied to others, to quote just one recent example, and there was never the same expectation that someone like him should abide by the rules. It hasn’t always been as blatant or rampant as it has become since England elected a fundamentally dishonest man as its Prime Minister. Previous regimes haven’t always been as confident about what they could get away with, but the current regime seems to be pushing at an open door. The new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill currently wending its way through parliament actively seeks to extend police powers to decide what is or is not ‘acceptable’ behaviour, including criminalising any assembly of people which causes “serious annoyance”, effectively giving the police on the spot the power to decide the meaning of both ‘serious’ and ‘annoyance’. They are targeting dissent and opposition.

For many of us, Saturday’s events underline the need for policing in a democracy to be based first and foremost on consent and a sense of social solidarity; but the current government is taking us in a completely different direction, where policing is seen as enforcement of rules by whatever means are necessary. To them, Saturday will look simply like a one-off mistake, rather than a problem with the approach. If they come under enough pressure, a sacrificial head might roll to protect other more culpable heads, but they won’t see it as a reason to change their approach. The question is whether, and to what extent, people at large go along with that view. The way in which so many have been calling for the police to be more heavy-handed in other circumstances is not exactly a cause for optimism. Wales doesn’t have to follow England on this, but following England towards becoming an authoritarian state is precisely what will happen if we don’t take control of our own future.

1 comment:

dafis said...

That "confrontation" at Clapham showed up the Met for what it really is - a force full of bullies and imbeciles. Met Police showed their true colours, with a big streak of yellow, when dealing with the unofficial Sarah Everard vigil. Hiding behind an excuse linked in some way to the Covid “crisis”, Plod showed a willingness to suppress the event in a manner they failed to display when the far more militant BLM hooligans went on the rampage a few weeks ago with Forces UK wide taking the knee and kissing arse instead of drawing batons and brandishing cuffs. There again the murderer in this case was one of their own and its probably a bit much to expect moronic Plod to accept that they recruit( or create) killers just like any other part of society. Fine line between cops and serious crims.