Magazine article The Spectator

Tony's Coppers

Magazine article The Spectator

Tony's Coppers

Article excerpt

The battlebuses have pulled out of their depots, the pledge cards are freshly laminated, and various overpaid journalists are secretly looking forward to their first ride in a helicopter. But amid the preelection chatter one significant development appears to have been missed: the launch of a new political party.

This party has large organisations in all major cities, though as so often these days few of the members are willing actually to pound the streets. It has a big fleet of brightly painted vehicles and all the usual marketing men's catchphrases. Uniquely, however, this party asks questions of the voters, rather than vice versa. Indeed, if it is dissatisfied with the answers, it can lock us up. It is, of course, the Police Party, whose leaders are now in long-term strategic coalition with New Labour.

Traditionally, the role of the constabulary was to police the laws that MPs, ministers and judges drew up, not openly proselytise for new legislation themselves. But fighting crime can be jolly tricky, and politics is so much more fun. The difficulties are summed up in the official slogan of the Metropolitan Police. This really ought to be something simple, like 'Cutting crime', 'Catching criminals' or, possibly, 'You're nicked'. The Met is cutting some non-violent crime. But sadly, with a clear-up rate of less than 20 per cent, it has traditionally been rather bad at most other things, so it's had to settle for the vaguer, but more achievable and certainly more politically sound, 'Working together for a safer London'.

The police have, of course, been accused of acting as political tools in the past, especially in breaking strikes. But they were at least the tools of democratically elected politicians. In recent times we have witnessed unprecedented and unashamed attempts by senior police officers to enter the political arena in their own right. Richard Brunstrom, chief constable of North Wales, told the Wales on Sunday newspaper last month, 'My job is to lead public opinion as much as to follow it.' He simply could not be more wrong.

In the last few weeks, a time in the electoral cycle when old-style police chiefs would have been deeply wary of political controversy, leading members of the Police Party have been actively campaigning on behalf of the I government. When Tony Blair claimed that there were 'several hundred' active alQa'eda terrorists in Britain, the security services briefed the newspapers that the actual number was no more than 30, condemning Mr Blair's claims as 'irresponsible and likely to scare people unnecessarily'.

It looked horribly like another dossier moment for the Prime Minister, but then Sir John Stevens, the recently retired commissioner of the Met, came to the rescue. Writing in that respected journal of criminology the News of the World, Sir John painted an even more lurid picture of 200 Osama bin Laden-trained terrorists . . . walking Britain's streets' who would 'commit devastating terrorist acts against us if they could'. It was, he said, 'vital' that highly controversial legislation to imprison suspected terrorists without charge or trial, opposed even by many members of the Labour party, was 'enacted as soon as possible'.

Sir John's successor in London, Sir Ian Blair, also warned - after the Lords rejected the Bill - of a 'grave threat to national security' if it were not passed, and backed his namesake's 'several hundred' figure, though more cautiously. The 'hundreds' turned out not to be active terrorists at all, but people who have passed through Afghanistan's training camps and not done anything since: perhaps not quite so grave a threat as all that, then. …

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