Colours are important in politics, as in many areas of human endeavour. Not immutable, however.
My web is red – and for its target market this means British Labour. But most of my readers are from the US, where red is Republican (conservative, that is), and blue, the colour of English Toryism, is actually the colour of the American Democrats.
At least as far as television is now concerned.
Now there’s a funny thing.
I was struck a couple of weeks ago when Mr David Cameron, our holiday-loving Prime Minister, declaimed before the rioting hordes the following:
The move follows David Cameron’s speech this week in the aftermath of the riots in which he said it was essential that the Human Rights Act should not be “misrepresented” and used to undermine personal responsibility.
The prime minister warned that the human rights legislation and health and safety laws had been used to exert a “corrosive influence on behaviour and morality”. But he acknowledged that work on more fundamental changes such as the introduction of a British bill of rights is likely to be “frustratingly slow”.
“The truth is, the interpretation of human rights legislation has exerted a chilling effect on public sector organisations, leading them to act in ways that fly in the face of common sense, offend our sense of right and wrong, and undermine responsibility,” Cameron said.
The Ministry of Justice said: “We want to ensure that public servants understand the law and apply it correctly, so that no one in authority uses the convention wrongly or as an excuse for inaction.”
You can read more here from the BBC on Monday, on the background to the latest developments in this story.
I shouldn’t have been disconcerted by all of this, though, because here we have what Mr Cameron had said in 2007:
David Cameron last night called for the Human Rights Act to be scrapped outright for the first time amid mounting anger that the controversial law had allowed the killer of the head teacher Philip Lawrence to escape deportation.
In the current climate, I wouldn’t be surprised if that wouldn’t now be “escape decapitation”. For seventy percent of those questioned about the riots now believe harsher sentences are the right way forward.
Justice or tough justice?
And then yesterday the Guardian reported this fascinating story:
Senior Metropolitan police officers devised a policy of holding all people arrested on riot-related offences in custody and recommending that the courts also refuse bail after they were charged, according to a leaked “prisoner processing strategy” that lawyers argue could pave the way for a mass legal challenge.
The reason behind this blanket and premeditated – ie not case-by-case – assessment of sentencing requirements? Well, apparently it was because the thin blue line found itself unable to resist the aforementioned rioting hordes to the extent that the peaceful populace – the vast majority – were not being protected:
The police document argues that the policy was necessary to prevent further public disorder as violence spread through the capital. But it also acknowledges that the force was so stretched at the height of the riots that it was “impractical” to bail people while they conducted “protracted” investigations, suggesting that investigating officers use special rules to fast-track cases to the courts with less evidence than is normally required. The recommendation could expose the Metropolitan police to accusations that it adopted a policy of “conveyer belt” justice in order to deal with its unprecedented workload.
Specifically (the bold is mine):
Elsewhere the [police document] says: “The volume of prisoners being processed makes it impractical to bail for the purpose of protracted investigation. Where evidence of an offence exists charging authority should be sought, that is likely to mean that the threshold test is applied.”
Didn’t happen with the more than four thousand cases of voicemail interception and invasion of privacy by the newspaper industry though, did it? That was one sorry case where it was judged impractical to bring to court every infraction and crime allegedly out there.
I wonder why.
The lawyers to whom the police document in question was sent in turn sent a letter to the Metropolitan police:
The lawyers’ letter to the Met describes the policy as amounting to “unlawful arbitrary detention” of people. The existence of the policy has a “chilling” effect on Article 5 under the European court of human rights which guarantees an individual’s liberty and security, it says. Adopting a pre-action protocol for judicial review, the letter demands an apology for the violation of the woman’s fundamental rights. […}
The police replied thus (again the bold is mine):
“Guidance was issued to officers to ensure a consistent approach to an investigation which was, and remains, unprecedented in its volume and complexity.
“To ensure the interests of justice were served, prevent further disorder and protect the public it was made clear that a decision should be sought to charge where there was sufficient evidence. With courts sitting extended hours, the recommendation that those charged were remanded in custody was made to ensure cases were dealt with quickly and again to protect the public from potential further disorder.
“Cases were, and continue to be, looked at on the basis of the evidence available. Where the threshold to charge was not met people have been bailed to return pending further inquiries, released with no further action or – in a small number of cases – dealt with by other police disposals.”
But not, it would seem, over a decade of wrongdoing when people’s privacy was regularly and habitually invaded by newspapers like the News of the World, and with the alleged knowledge of some corrupt bodies in the very same police force.
Now, although it may seem like it, I’m not looking to rub salt into the wounds of corruption here. A recent mention of my account on Twitter drew me to another Twitter account which proclaims, quite rightly, though incompletely, that we should “Protect our police”. Why do I say “incompletely”? Because I assume that those who hold such simplistic views fail to understand that when we say “Protect our police” we must say “Protect us all”.
Yes, I know. I had it explained to me by a police officer when I was a Parish Councillor. The people see the police as a police service. The police themselves, however, inevitably, see themselves as a police force. That thin blue line, don’t you know?
But this then comes to the very nub of the issue. If we are to continue to police by consent in the UK, we must remember that colours are not immutable, that all the peoples who live in the British Isles all have a right to intervene in how they are protected – and that whilst the police inevitably behave like a force in times of crisis, their abiding and overarching virtue – compared to civilian forces in other countries – is that they truly prefer to be seen as a service.
And not only that – the vast majority of those who inhabit this country I am sure would also prefer to see them thus.
As Mary Riddell quite rightly pointed out in the Telegraph yesterday:
The European Court of Human Rights may need reform but the law, as applied by the UK courts, has consistently upheld the rights of the citizen against an over-mighty state. For Mr Cameron to claim that the causes of the riots included “twisting and misrepresenting human rights” suggests, absurdly, that the HRA is a charter for arsonists, thugs and trainer-looters. In reality, the “perversion” of human rights that he bewails is largely a politician’s dislike of judicial power.
That, on either side of the Atlantic, red can easily equal blue, and the thin blue line originally be a red one of much renown, should remind us that the overbearing state is not only a temptation of the left. I suspect Mr Cameron is heading towards going down in history as one of the most repressive PMs it’ll be our honour to experience – not out of a desire to stamp on the underclasses as much of the more rancid end of his party might wish; but, rather, out of an inability to escape the rising PR rhetoric his speechifying creates.
Yes, we need to protect the police – more now than ever before. But what we really need to protect the police from are those structures and individuals which would twist the service’s real purpose: that of providing the necessary logistical support and community framework to an intelligent and forward-looking society.
A society which is looking, in that selfsame intelligence, to imaginatively bring together its many peoples in coherent understanding.
Be a force if you must, on the occasions that we need. But – even then – an intelligent and transparent force, all the same.
In all war, the negotiating table eventually puts in an appearance.
The wise know when the time is right – and do not flinch at their responsibility to serve instead of impose.