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Editorial: The spycops inquiry is a warning against trusting the British state

Despite scandal after scandal about abuses of state power, Britain is growing more, not less, authoritarian

ACCOUNTS of the psychological damage done to women deceived into long-term sexual relationships by secret police agents are harrowing.

It was, as environmental activist Lisa — the name is a pseudonym — told the Morning Star, she and other victims whose years of digging resulted in there being an inquiry into undercover police activity in the first place.

The fact that they have shown such strength should not be allowed to belittle the enormity of the suffering caused. Women were manipulated into relationships by men whose entire identity was a lie; some gave birth to children resulting from these relationships. 

Often the men were considerably older than their victims. Frequently they had wives and children. When their assignments ended, they disappeared, in some cases faking traumatic experiences such as mental breakdowns that left their abandoned targets in prolonged anxiety over the whereabouts and wellbeing of their vanished partners.

As the inquiry heard yesterday, the number of cases and their similarity make the Metropolitan Police’s argument that these relationships were the work of rogue officers hard to credit. “The methods by which the women were groomed ... which dictated how the undercover officers [conducted] the relationships, right through to the exit strategies” demonstrate “the systematic nature of these intimate relationships,” as lawyer Phillippa Kaufmann says.

If sexual relationships with activists were indeed an “intelligence-gathering tool” then women’s contention that they were used as objects by an institutionally sexist organisation becomes unanswerable. 

Further, the fact that the organisations spied on were not illegal but simply a variety of political and environmental campaigns shows utter contempt for the rights to association and protest, just as the revelations of police spying on trade unionists expose deep state hostility to organised labour.

Judicial inquiries are too often held and reported on in isolation. Wrongdoing is examined. Recommendations are made, yet the real lessons aren’t learned.

How, given the Bloody Sunday inquiry, the Hillsborough inquiry, the blacklisting scandal, the spycops scandal, is the British state still given the benefit of the doubt when assigned sweeping new powers to spy on us or to break its own laws?

Its crimes are not “historical.” The most recent false relationship being examined by the current inquiry ended in 2015. 

It would take a leap of faith to assert that there are no officers engaged in this abusive conduct today, however much police lawyers waste our time with claims that we can’t compare current policing to that of the olden days when, as we heard last week, they specialised in catching runaway horses.

The reality is that the British state is becoming more, not less, authoritarian. The Tory government curtails the right to protest and threatens direct action groups such as Extinction Rebellion with terrorist legislation. 

It grants security agencies extraordinary licence to monitor and harvest our communications. It warns teachers not to use materials critical of capitalism in the classroom, is passing legislation allowing its agents to break the law with impunity and is still complying with an outrageous bid to extradite Wikileaks founder Julian Assange for a political show trial in the United States.

Labour is hardly better, abstaining on the legislation in question and demanding stricter state regulation of social and broadcast media that extends to demands to outlaw the television channel RT. The common thread with police snooping on protest groups is the instinct to criminalise dissent. A party that bans its own branches from discussing the suspension of its former leader is an unconvincing defender of our freedoms.

Over recent years the mask has slipped: there is plenty of evidence that the British state is neither transparent about its activities nor, in key regards, democratically accountable. 

The courage and tenacity of the women who forced the spycops scandal onto the public stage would be poorly rewarded if socialists do not take up the lessons and hit back at a cross-party consensus in favour of creeping authoritarianism.

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