Tuesday, 8 March 2011

It's PC Gone Mad!

Oh dear. The Tories have made rather a serious tactical error. They've told the average bobby on the beat that s/he's either going to be sacked or get quite a large pay cut. The police are threatening protest, which is very interesting indeed.

Now you and I may have opinions on the police forces, and whether they're over or underpaid, but it's political insanity to mess with their terms and conditions. Why? Because the cops have always been the state's working-class enforcers: not liked by their employers and distrusted by the people (which is why Victorian Metropolitan plods wore an anti-garotting collar as part of the uniform).*

Governments have always paid officers well because during times of tension, they're required to put aside their opinions and class allegiances and defend the status quo. Take the Miners' Strike, for example: most of the police were working-class lads who chose to enforce the Thatcher government's diktats in return for employment and fat bonuses. This is why they're still hated in ex-mining areas, despite the growth of community policing. One theory holds that Raoul Moat became a folk-hero in the north-east because he shot policemen: if this is true, it's unforgivable but it has a context.

So what are the Tories up to? The police did what they were told during the Miners' Strike. They weren't so keen on the Poll Tax and lo and behold, the big riots were allowed to rage. If the cops are feeling victimised in this recession, I don't think we can expect them to try very hard to counter the protests that are surely going to escalate in the next year or so. Perhaps they'll even join in. It's no coincidence that one of the student demonstration chants to the police was 'your job next'.

How do I feel about this? Very optimistic. Just because the police is the armed wing of hegemony doesn't mean it always has to be. We need a police force: rapists and murderers aren't proletarian heroes, whatever Moat's supporters think. But it is time the police stopped being treated like - and thinking of themselves as - a special category. The sooner they join the people, the better.

What I really don't understand is how the Tories think this will come good for them. A demoralised cop struggling with a mortgage and two jobs isn't going to take a brick in the face for the government. Why should s/he? We need the police, but the government will need them even more when the true horror of what they have in store for us becomes apparent - and they seem to have forgotten this fact.

(If the police do stage a demonstration, I suggest that we all go along as stewards, 'evidence gatherers and security guards. We can then estimate their numbers to the news media and talk about their determination to cause trouble: 'There was a hardcore minority in para boots and black clothing with protective gear, yes, but there were only about 250 people on the march in total, not the 50,000 they claimed, and we've got the names and pictures of the known troublemakers' - they do it to us).

*Jennifer Davis, "The London Garrotting Panic of 1862", in VAC Gatrell, B. Lenman, G. Parker, Crime and Law (1980) 

No comments: