Theresa May clearly likes getting brownie points. This story from Left Foot Forward today makes it all too plain:
The home secretary Theresa May announced today that under the Conservatives those convicted of killing a police officer will have their sentences raised to the ‘whole life’ category, usually reserved for the very worst types of murderer.
As the article goes on to remind us, there have been 376 people killed as a result of contact with the police since 2005. But whilst in the same period seven police officers were killed, I wouldn’t like to get into a numbers game here. The police clearly face an awful frontline every day of their working week – and, perhaps, outside work too – and it must be almost impossible to quantify how the stress and strain of that frontline affects the quality of those lives.
What I would like in this post to better understand, however, is exactly what frontline we are talking about. In response to this article, and some time later in the day, I tweeted the following thought:
The police don’t only need protecting from those who would kill them. They also need protecting from politicians who would misuse them.
I was thinking in particular of Hillsborough, Orgreave, the life and times of Margaret Thatcher and the covert actions on left-wing activists. Especially when I added in exchange with Mark, a Twitter friend of mine:
@MILivesey Yes but politicians seem to have used the police where that option, for us as simple subjects, doesn’t exist.
Mark then responded interestingly in this way:
@eiohel The Police are they’re to serve and enforce the Law. The problem is politicians use Law to enact policy.
This, for me, in my generally self-taught self and situation, is an astonishing revelation. And it leads me to wonder if it isn’t time we developed the potential for separating the law and policy-making more profoundly. Is it at all possible, in fact, to contemplate processes of national and local policy-making which don’t use as a tool for their implementation the law?
That don’t sully such a law with their political notions …
What if politicians were able to enact policy without using the courts, the police or legal processes at all? What if the courts, the police and the law were only there to defend the people from abuse from their politicians, business leaders and other concentrations of power and wealth? What if we could create a circumstance whereby the police were always on our side? What if the police simply operated to sustain a sensible and sensitive raft of inalienable rights?
For this does seem to me to be the nature of the problem. Although unproven, I think it hardly tendentious to suggest some police forces became politicised under Thatcher’s rule; some police officers covertly stepped over the line between protecting and oppressing; some of the machinery of law and order became the machinery of political control.
New Labour barely did much better: CCTV mushroomed under Blair; ID-card schemes were proposed and very nearly introduced; laws to manage and control people’s behaviours were passed hand over fist.
So in the middle of all of this, the real frontline for our police clearly becomes much more one of abuse at the hands of elected government officials than one of getting voluntarily involved in a delegitimising process of rather underhand social organisation and reorganisation.
At the mercy, that is, of entirely politicising forces.
Can, as Mark seems to indicate, we ever get to a place where the police and the law are there to primarily defend the rights of ordinary flesh-and-blood people over almost anything else that makes waves in our civilisation?
Where ordinary flesh-and-blood people come way before politicians, their prejudices, their party structures, business leaders, globalising forces and corporate entities?
Where the sole and specific purpose of the police is to defend the voters and their families from any attempt at repression – instead of ending up flailing tools of those who would use their elected positions to repress?
It seems to me, if you really want me to say what’s on my mind, that we need the police on our side much more than we need to denigrate them. But in order to make that connection, we must work out why we are fed – so systematically – with stories and tales of their bad behaviours. Theresa May’s bald attempt to cuddle up to the police, even as Coalition cuts savage their structures, is about as highly political as anyone could ever get. That “life” should mean the “whole of one’s life” when the servant of the people is killed by the people but that the same relationship should not exist when the people are killed by the servant is so manifestly repressive in its dynamics and shape to make it almost laughable. Except that this is no joke.
The real reason for May’s curious statement then? Perhaps a) to ensure the police remain on the side of the politicians despite the dreadful environment of austerity; and b) to ensure the people continue to fear the former as keepers of both general order and the law politicians so love to pervert.
Who’d be a police officer in such a landscape? Not me.
But then, right now, as austerity bites deep, you could ask any Western citizen pretty much the same question.
Given a free choice, who’d be on that frontline which ordinary police officers must so clearly struggle with – that real frontline between political perversion and civil society so obviously corrupting everything?