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Year 2005 No. 132, November 18, 2005 ARCHIVE HOME JBBOOKS SUBSCRIBE

On Ian Blair’s Dimbleby Lecture

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On Ian Blair’s Dimbleby Lecture

Police Accused of Lobbying MPs and Ministers Accused of Politicising the Police

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On Ian Blair’s Dimbleby Lecture

At the Dimbleby Lecture 2005, Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir Ian Blair reveals himself as an ideologue, following the reactionary government line and attempting to extend it further.

            Ian Blair’s lecture has a very political tone. He repeatedly raises the questions: “What kind of police service do we want?” And “Who decides?” We need a “dispassionate, thought-through, public examination of just what it is we [the police] are here to do in the 21st century”.

            The central thesis of his lecture is that “a new giant has arisen” to deal with: “personal insecurity, based on fear”. He presents this as follows:

            “... 2005 is also 60 years after the landslide election of the new post-war government, dedicated to the eradication of the five   giants identified a few years earlier by the great social economist, William Beveridge: Want, Idleness, Ignorance, Squalor and  Disease: the welfare state given birth.

            “... Sixty years on, however, I believe he would have described a sixth giant, arising to join the remnants of his other five: the giant of personal insecurity, based on fear of anti-social behaviour, of crime and of terrorism, so that policing becomes central to our understanding of citizenship.”

            This is essentially his rendering of “the rules of the game have changed”. In another part of the lecture, he tells us, “Terror   has changed its methods – or, more accurately, brought some existing methods to Britain for the first time ... Britain remains a  target of the highest possible priority to al-Qaeda and its affiliates; we are in a new reality.”

            It is on this basis of changed rules that “We now have to make some choices,” consciously reflecting Tony Blair’s tough choices.   “The citizens of Britain now have to articulate what kind of police service they want.” His final sentence is “You all now – we all now – need to make some decisions.”

            To back this point up, he adds to the hysteria and psychosis of fear: “... after atrocities in New York, Madrid and London, after Bali, Casablanca, Istanbul, Delhi and Jordan, fears for personal and communal safety are inextricably part of contemporary life,” and, “The sky is dark. The terrorists seek mass casualties and are entirely indiscriminate: every community is at risk ...”

            Quite ominously, he adds, “So, when I ask ‘what kind of police service do we want?’ I have an assumption: we want a 6th July police service, not a 7th July police service. However, we can’t have that to which 6th July aspired without understanding 7th July. Moreover – and I am   constrained in what I can say about this – I believe that we can’t now have either 7th July or 6th July without risks like that of  22nd July, when officers of my service shot dead an innocent man.”

            This is a statement saying that the state of affairs, of shoot to kill, and of “mistakes”, will continue.

            Relating to the situation changing, he elaborates his own theory:

            “Three trends have coincided. First, the agencies of community cohesion, the churches, the trade unions, the housing associations, the voluntary clubs have declined in influence. Secondly, the agents of social enforcement, such as park keepers, caretakers and bus conductors, have disappeared. The third was the laudable but under-funded and imperfectly implemented decision to close so many long-stay psychiatric institutions.”

            This is in line with the New Labour position on “communities”. However, standing outside government, he is able to take this further and suggest that the “cohesion” is actually declining and the “agents of social enforcement” have disappeared. The third “trend” is a hint that undesirable elements are now loose in communities. The answer, which takes the official government line further, is to be provided by the police:

            “This has left many people looking – in the absence of anyone else – to the police service for answers to the degradation of communal life ...”

            And this is also the answer to the question of what kind of policing “we” want:

            “And it is clear that how the police deal with these often very local issues will determine whether we are considered to be   successful in everything we do, local or not.”

            The second thesis of his lecture is, “We need to embed the citizen in everything we do.” He explains his view that the problems for which the police have been criticised have arisen largely as a result of being left alone, somehow separated from the rest of the state; left to their own devices with decisions taken behind closed doors and without consultation.

            But Sir Ian actually blames the people for this.   He essentially tells us that we have tried to please you, but you haven’t said what you want: it’s your fault. He accuses public opinion of being self-contradictory. His attitude is fully exposed by when he asserts; “You want us to be many things. You want us to be the agent of last resort but the first response to emergency and disaster. You want these things but I am not sure you know who we are.”

            His argument is that “it should be you, not me, who decides what kind of police we want”, and in making this argument, he steps right into the political arena:

            “For nearly two centuries, the British have not considered any of these questions very thoroughly. That is fairly typical. We are one of the few countries in the world without a written constitution. We have none of the exact distinctions between the executive and the legislature of the United States or between the roles of central and local government in France; we operate through gradual compromise and evolution.

            “But, even in that context, the police have a disadvantage. We have been a service which has always been separate and silent, which successive governments – until recently – and all of you, your parents and your grandparents have broadly left alone to get on with the job that you have given it...

            “... Until now, the police have discussed the strategy and tactics for using lethal force behind closed doors, open only to police authority members, Home Office officials, ministers and some specialist advisors.

            “That has to change. An open debate is now required, not just about how the police deal with suicide bombers, but about how, in a   liberal democracy, a largely unarmed service uses lethal force in any and all circumstances.”

            In the context of the rest of the lecture, it can be seen that he is hinting that a fundamental change needs to occur whereby the police take a different constitutional role, a more central role in civil society.

            He paints a picture of the police force as businesslike, like any other company: “we are the largest single employer in London; in another world, we would be a FTSE 100 company. We are a similar size to the BBC.” The police have been forced to adapt, largely driven internally; with “little help from government or from the public about what kind of police service it should be ... they organised themselves on business lines with an increasing reliance on technology.”

            “And they did all this without much consultation, so that I have an increasing concern that the police have a different view of themselves than the one – or ones – which others hold.”

            So his vision is to bring these differing views together. The modern police force is a big friendly company, there is nothing to fear; you should listen when we say we need 90 days detention without trial.

            He brings his two main threads together with the sentence: “The police will need authority, tactics and equipment to deal with   attacks similar to those of July and far, far worse: most important of all, we will need to draw that authority from a public which  understands us and the dilemmas we face.”

            This means that the rules have changed, the police ominously need “more authority”, and they need to be trusted, which means a more central role, a different relationship with the State and the people.

            “Properly to respond to all of that mission, to move to neighbourhood policing while responding to terror without losing current   mainstream services, the police will have to alter the way we work, change the make up of our workforce and seek out new  partnerships with the public, together with new methods of democratic accountability,” he states. And further, “Policing is becoming not only central to our understanding of citizenship; it is becoming a contestable political issue as never before.”

            He goes on to repeat the ideological line (something repeated not a few times in his speech) that liberties have to be balanced against security: “Within that national debate, we need particularly to examine the use of force inside a liberal democracy and the balance between protection against terror with long held civil liberties.” But this takes it further: now the public have to be involved in the debate, which means that the public must be brought around to that same way of thinking.

            He clearly envisions in this sense the police with the people behind it. He expresses his disdain that, on the issue of the 90-day detention without trial, “Parliament has decided and their will is sovereign”:

            “Police intervention in the discussion and, right or wrong, subsequent parliamentary disquiet about that may both be symptomatic of the absence of a forum for public debate and of the increased political significance of policing.”

            There is also another point that Sir Blair slips in. He suggests a role for private companies in his vision for the police force. He warns that, “The way we currently handle all of this expanding mission is very expensive. It will get more expensive as the years go on.”

            “Will you spend that money?” he asks. “If not, can we do it in some other ways, using – as police chiefs are currently suggesting – a different mix of volunteers and different sorts of professionals?” He plainly asks, “How can we best engage with private security and with local authorities?”

            As with other “consultation” exercises, such as the ill-famed Big Conversation, the authorities are frustrated at not being able to form public opinion, especially not in their favour. Their arguments are that, without this public consensus and with the public will in contradiction with the authorities, it is necessary for the state to use the big stick. The police must become the wielder and upholder of the official ideology with all its incoherence, arbitrariness and antagonism to dissent and rebellion. The police must become a political police, the enforcers of “our way of life”; the state must become a state where the police can act with unchallenged authority. But the government and police have forfeited the moral and democratic authority to act in our name; the working class and people cannot and will not accept this “political” role for the police, the tearing up of the rule of law and the de-recognition of rights, which are being escalated under the banner of the “war against terror”.

Article Index



Police Accused of Lobbying MPs and Ministers Accused of Politicising the Police

The police faced fresh accusations of lobbying after a police officer from Scotland Yard sent an e-mails to Labour MPs denying it operated a "shoot-to-kill" policy.

  The unsolicitied messages defended the tactics used by the armed officers who killed Jean Charles de Menezes, an innocent Brazilian electrician, in July.

  Following the storm over attempts by chief constables to influence last week's vote in the House of Commons on locking up Islamic terrorist suspects without charge for up to 90 days, an all-party committee of MPs is to investigate whether the police are becoming politicised.

  The e-mails were sent by Nick Williams, the acting inspector at the Metropolitan Police's Diamond Support Group.

  He told MPs that the "Operation Kratos" tactic used against suspected suicide bombers was "not a shoot to kill policy".

  He said: "In the modern era of terrorism, it is essential police are able to deploy appropriate tactics when necessary, whilst acting fully in accordance with the law, in order to safeguard the public against mass murder.

  "No police action is targeted against particular communities - we only seek to target suspected criminals. In doing so, we aim to protect society as a whole."

  John McDonnell, the chairman of the Campaign Group of Labour MPs, said: "It looks as though is another example of lobbying to try to influence MPs' attitudes before any future inquiry into the [de Menezes] shooting in south London.

  "It is surprising behaviour. It smacks of the Met entering into political sphere." Scotland Yard denied the e-mail amounted to lobbying, saying it merely drew attention to material already in the public domain.

  An investigation by the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee will focus on the case for 90-day detention, but MPs will also question senior police officers over their attempts to influence last week's vote.

  James Clappison, a Conservative committee member, said: "They came into the political arena and contacted MPs on a very sensitive issue. We have to look at that."

  The police faced fresh accusations of lobbying after a police officer from Scotland Yard sent an e-mail to Labour MPs denying it operated a "shoot-to-kill" policy. The unsolicited messages defended the tactics used by the armed officers who killed Jean Charles de Menezes on July 22.

            Following the attempts by chief constables to influence last week's vote in the House of Commons on detaining suspects without charge for up to 90 days, the all-party House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee is to investigate whether the police are becoming politicised.

            MPs will also question senior police officers over their attempts to influence last week's vote. James Clappison, a Conservative committee member, said: "They came into the political arena and contacted MPs on a very sensitive issue. We have to look at that."

            The e-mails were sent by Nick Williams, the acting inspector at the Metropolitan Police's Diamond Support Group. He told MPs that the "Operation Kratos" tactic used against suspected suicide bombers was "not a shoot to kill policy". He said: "In the modern era of terrorism, it is essential police are able to deploy appropriate tactics when necessary, whilst acting fully in accordance with the law, in order to safeguard the public against mass murder. No police action is targeted against particular communities – we only seek to target suspected criminals. In doing so, we aim to protect society as a whole."

            John McDonnell, the chairman of the Campaign Group of Labour MPs, said: "It looks as though is another example of lobbying to try to influence MPs' attitudes before any future inquiry into the shooting in south London. It is surprising behaviour. It smacks of the Met entering into political sphere." Scotland Yard denied the e-mail amounted to lobbying, saying it merely drew attention to material already in the public domain.

            Conservative chief whip David MacLean has said he has launched an investigation into the conduct of the police, while former cabinet ministers Peter Lilley and Stephen Dorrell have tabled a Commons motion criticising government action.

            While police chiefs were entitled to discuss the clause of the Terrorism Bill with MPs, "what is not acceptable is for there to be an organised lobby in support of a highly controversial aspect of government policy," said Dorrell.

            Shadow defence minister Gerald Howarth drew parallels with the use of the intelligence services in the run-up to the war in Iraq. "Tony Blair suborned the intelligence services to bring pressure on MPs with warnings of death and destruction if we did not remove Saddam Hussein," he said. "Charles Clarke, probably at the behest of the prime minister, is now suborning police officers to put pressure on MPs."

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