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Editorial: Policing scandals strengthen the case against authoritarian legislation

SCANDAL after scandal is hitting the Metropolitan Police.

It is not alone in this of course: its political masters are entangled in a web of sleaze allegations. The “nothing to see here” act, from David Cameron’s Greensill lobbying through the public money made available to a lover of the current Prime Minister when he was mayor of London, is wearing thin.

Ministers believe there are no political consequences to their wrongdoing and seldom bother to make their denials sound plausible.

The same calculation lies behind their willingness to drastically curtail protest rights — the opposition is weak and unsure what it stands for anyway. They can do what they like.

Yet each day that passes gives us more reasons to fight legislation giving police sweeping new powers.

The conviction of a Metropolitan Police officer for membership of a banned neonazi organisation and terror offences including possession of documents on making bombs comes on the day the Independent reveals that just one in every 18 Met officers accused of sexual offences are subject to any formal action.

A Met officer is currently charged with the murder of Sarah Everard and Met officers provoked national outrage by manhandling and arresting women at a peaceful vigil in her memory.

Though there is no national British police force, the Met, while a London organisation, has UK-wide responsibilities in a number of policing areas including counter-terrorism. The culture in the Met matters throughout the country.

Yet mounting evidence that that culture is rotten is not only brushed aside — the Inspectorate of Constabulary had the gall to condemn critics of the police when it issued its whitewash report on their Clapham brutality.

Its condemnation of calls for Met Commissioner Cressida Dick to resign as showing a “lack of respect” had an ominous ring as MPs consider a law enabling 10-year jail sentences for causing “annoyance” at protests. A creeping culture of authoritarianism is gaining ground at every level of the British political system.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is just as keen as Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to cite the rise of authoritarianism abroad as justification for additional military spending (though in certain designated “enemy” countries, of course — the United States can imprison a greater proportion of its population than any other country in history without risking being criticised in this way). 

Yet he is either blind to or supportive of the rise of authoritarianism at home. Even when taking aim at the government Labour pushes solutions that further empower the British state or rely on its benevolence: Starmer’s response to the government’s race report this week was to attack the Tories for failing to prosecute enough people for online hate speech.

He would do far better to align Labour’s considerable human resources and national platform with the grassroots Black Lives Matter movement and campaigns such as Stand Up to Racism which fight racism from the ground up.

His behaviour is hardly surprising from a former director of public prosecutions whose leadership of his party has been marked by an unprecedented crackdown on its own membership.

But it puts the onus on defeating the policing Bill on ordinary people — whose outcry following the Clapham Common violence was the prompt for Labour to belatedly start opposing the Bill in the first place.

Despite the government pausing the legislation, “Kill the Bill” protests are continuing in towns and cities up and down the country.

Support for these actions should become a priority for labour movement activists. The government’s repeated U-turns, from free school meals to workers’ rights, show it is frightened of public resistance even if complacent about opposition at Westminster.

Policing scandals form part of a pattern, and must be used to raise awareness that handing such forces greater powers cannot be a solution when Britain’s overbearing state is increasingly the problem.

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