Monday, January 21, 2008

Edward Thompson and the Growth of Britain's Police State

Dipping into the late Edward Thompson's Writing by Candlelight it begins to become clear how Britain has become an embryonic police state without any serious opposition by the libertarian/left. It also becomes clear that the destruction of freedoms has come not from either that section of the population or from Marxist subversives but from the authoritarian tendencies of the British establishment itself.

Thompson wrote of this trend to the police state during the latter years of Labour's Callaghan premiership. Things were still building-up to Thatcher's final showdown with the British labour movement, peaking in the Miners' Strike of 1984 and their subsequent defeat at the hands of a highly politicized and violent police force. And his warnings came nearly a quarter-century before the quisling Blair who, under orders from Washington DC, implemented 'Anti-Terror' laws which not only scapegoated Muslims but prepared the way for the consolidation of a cosmetically disguised form of totalitarian de facto dictatorship.

Thus in 1979 Thompson was warning us that

the undermining of democracy is certainly going on, and at an inflationary rate. And it is becoming clear from which quarter the wind is blowing. It is blowing from the quarters of ACPO (The Association of Chief Police Officers) and from the barracks of the law-and-order brigade ... not the law-and-order brigade but the defenders of civil liberties are attempting to uphold the constitution and the rule of law.

Writing by Candlelight, p 210

At the time of writing, Thompson wrote of the death whilst in police custody of the protester, Blair Peach. In this context he searches for earlier historical precedents where members of the police force had been found guilty of wilful murder by a coroner's tribunal (see ibid, p. 194). One wonders what Thompson would have had to say about the blatantly wilful murder and subsequent cover-up of the killing of Jean-Charles de Menezes by the notoriously corrupt Metropolitan Police?

Thompson was probably Britain's last radical historian, born in a time when decency and social compassion were still important as political values. It was his generation who fought Hitler and then helped to create the Welfare State, only to see it destroyed forty years later by a peculiarly British form of fascism espoused as 'the free market' by the authoritarian Thatcher and later copied and re-labeled as 'the Third Way' by her New Labour admirer, Tony Blair.

Were it not for Thatcher's victory against the labour movement, 'free market' monetarism and its successor, Blair/Brown's 'neo-liberalism' could never have gained a political foothold, let alone flourished. And it was for precisely that reason the forces of British capitalism had to take on the labour movement and to destroy it. The growing police authoritarianism, endorsed and promoted by the BBC and mainstream media, that Thompson describes in the 'seventies was simply the public face of the eventual coup d'etat against civil liberties that Britain's establishment was preparing its public for.

Thompson emphasises the point by quoting James Anderton, then the chief constable of Manchester, who on a TV programme was asked what was the greatest threat to law and order.

He reassured us that, looking forward 'from a police point of view' to his next ten or fifteen years in the service, he sees no difficulty in dealing with crime, however serious: 'basic crime, as such, theft, burglary, even violent crime, will not be the predominant police feature'. The threat to 'law and order' today comes from 'seditionists', 'political factions whose designed end is to overthrow democracy as we know it' -- persons at work 'in the field of public order', in industrial relations and politics, whose aim is to 'subvert the authority of the state and ... involve themselves in acts of sedition.' That is where he intends, as commander of an 'immense force', to pack his punch.

Writing by Candlelight, pp 209-210

And pack their punch they certainly did under Thatcher's instructions in their brutal despatch of the miners in 1984. The coup d'etat was over, the British police state was born. And under Thatcherism's successor, Tony Blair, it was consolidated and given undreamt-of powers through the pretence of 'Anti-Terror' laws imported into Britain under the behest of the criminal Bush regime. And, resulting from the experiences Britain's rulers had gained in Ireland, ACPO in 1977

decreed that there should be 'a new Public Order Act giving the police power to control marches and demonstrations, similar to police powers in Ulster.'

Writing by Candlelight, p 205

Those powers were readily given it in the Public Order acts of 1986 and 1994 where even the right to remain silent was to be taken as an inference of guilt.

The police in Britain had successfully promoted itself through the constant lobbying of weak politicians into becoming a vastly influential power within the nation.

"As one Chief Inspector has said," writes Thompson, "ACPO "is the one authoritative body the government will go to seek views". (State Research, October 1979).

Today's generation sees the police as an authoritarian force with which it is better not to become involved. Even the colour of its blue uniforms seems to have taken on a darker hue and its peaked caps look more akin to the Gestapo. Not only the younger generation but older ones have, through the experiences of the last three or four decades, come to this conclusion. Gone are the days of the friendly Bobby who would tell you the time or guide old ladies across busy roads. And, if you are a Muslim or a person of colour, you really had better watch your step. The police are likely to be corrupt, dangerous and are certainly not to be trusted.

And yet Thompson reminds us of a time when in Britain it was the police which had to watch its step and not upset the public overmuch.

The angry crowd, in the eighteenth or nineteenth century, could commit depradations -- untiling houses, burning down corn-mills and conventicles, carrying-off waggon-loads of grain, letting off mill-dams, unhorsing police and military -- which makes today's rare affrays look petty.

Writing by Candlelight, p 205

Compare the above to the few peaceful demonstrations that take place in Britain today! The only thing resembling Thompson's descriptions took place in the 1990 Poll Tax Riots or the occasional mid-summer riot. In the Nineteenth Century the British establishment lived in fear of revolution and both the police and the government were obliged to tread carefully. Out of this was born the myth that the Englishman's home was "his castle."

Authoritarian policing was associated with the Prussians or Czarist Russia. In Britain the police were considered to be public servants.

There was a consensus that the British people put a value on freedom and democracy so high that, at the cost of a little inefficiency and certain difficulties in government, the police and army must be kept in their place.

Writing by Candlelight, p 209

There was, as Thompson writes, "a dialectic between notions of law which make up the 'institutions' or traditions [of the individual's freedoms] of this country." Authority, however contemptuous of the angry crowds, was on the defensive as were its police.

By the 1970's all this had changed.

What has been peculiar to Britain, until lately, has not been the fact that we have police but the place into which the police have been put. That is, the police ... have been firmly held in a position subordinate to the elected civil power and have been subjected to certain expectations and rules; and this has been done both by constitutional safeguards and by a continuous running argument turning on precedents and cases, inquests and judgements, in which the public has been one party to the debate.

Writing by Candlelight, p 204

Out of this grew Britain's reputation for being a free country.

For what was remarked upon by foreign observers (including those from Prussia, Russia, and Chicago) over some three hundred years was the peculiar jealousy of the British people towards the central powers of the state, their abhorrence of military intervention in civil affairs, their dislike of state espionage and of any form of heavy policing, their indiscipline and their sensitivity as to the citizen's rights of privacy.
Writing by Candlelight, p 204

Now, it may well be argued that these freedoms were mainly enjoyed by the genteel and not by the ragged poor who might well be transported to penal colonies for attempting to stave off starvation by thieving a loaf of bread or some potatoes. But the point is that those were the values from which were born the myth of the 'freeborn Englishman' who knew how to teach Johnny-foreigner a thing or two. Values which when combined with the Kiplingesque nonsense of "the White Man's Burden" provided Britain its rationale for the colonizing of 'less civilised' races. Hence, Westminster was to be seen as "the Mother of Parliaments", the model for democracy.

Ironic then that it was the Mother of Parliaments which finally caved into the incessant pressures of the law-and-order lobby and allowed the police to gain the pinnacles of authority it enjoys today. Ironic but not surprising if one remembers that, whatever the views of the people might be, the job of Parliament is to carry out the diktats of a capitalism which has travelled a very long road since Victorian reformism to the amoral anarchy of the New World Order's 'neo-liberal' de facto imperialism. The very New World Order that the likes of Anderton foresaw as the goal to be achieved once the 'seditionists' had been finally put down.

In this new order, the police have sought to become not only a national institution but a moral authority. As Thompson warned,

What is alarming today is that the police are attaining to a position in which they can actually manufacture what is offered as 'public opinion', and are offering their occupational needs as a supreme priority beneatch which, not they, but the British public must be put in place ... That is what is new ... What is new is the very powerful public relations operation which disseminates these notions as an authorized, consensual view -- an operation carried on out of our own taxes; which presses its spokesmen forward on every occasion upon the media; which lobbies inquiries and Royal Commissions, constantly pressing for larger powers; which bullies weak Home Secretaries (and boos them when they cross their wishes); which reproves magistrates for lenient sentencing; which announces unashamedly that the police are in the regular practice of breaking judges' rules when interrogating suspects; which slanders unnamed lawyers and lampoons libertarian organizations; which tells judges how they are to interpret the law; and which justifies the invasion of the citizen's privacy and the accumulation of prejudicial and inaccurate records ... This is new. This is formidable.
Writing by Candlelight, pp 200-201

Thompson goes on to observe that as a historian he knew of no other time when the police had had "such a loud and didactic public presence," offering themselves as a distinct interest, even a prime national institution and when politicians and newspaper editors "have submitted so abjectly or ardently to their persuasions." Whilst in power, Thatcher set in motion swingeing cuts in schools, social services, libraries, universities, research, nursery schools, law centres ... everything except police pay and military spending. "She entered our money in a public subscription in support of the priorities of the police."

Thatcher's model for Britain was not just authoritarian, it was of a police state where the police would, in effect, replace the power of the Church to become the new moral authority,

that we should be instructed as to what value we are to put on freedom and democracy, and be instructed by the police. And that the police are to be seen as, somehow, for themselves, rather than as servants to us, so that we are to be instructed by the police as to what is to be our place.
Writing by Candlelight, p 201

When we hear the smug lies emanating from our senior police officers today, of the ongoing 'need for vigilance against terrorists', blah, blah, we can see how the police have 'tuned the pulpits' and replaced the age-old sermons with new sermons of fear. Together with the politicians, their purpose, like religion, of control remains unchanged. And as in the Dark Ages, the screws of their new Inquisition grow tighter.

Certainly 911 and 77 provided the architects of Britain's police state the events to justify the bringing-about of this new Dark Age. Events which look increasingly likely to have been deliberately staged by Britain's secret services in collusion with others in order to bully the public into submission. If two words characterise the method used by the senior politicians, the secret services and the police in order to have brought about this new totalitarianism they are bullying and terrorism. No longer afraid of the public, of the danger of revolution hence the need for reform, our rulers see us as no more than sheep to be controlled and herded around. In the last few years, it is the Muslims that have been used as the scapegoat for the implementation of this new totalitarianism.

But the real enemy, as it has always been, is you, me and democracy.

(To be Continued)


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  1. Anonymous5:59 pm

    Didn't you know that all coppers are bastards? They've always used the wet towels when they felt it necessary; it's just that since Thatcher they have stopped pretending otherwise. The only reason anybody becomes a copper is because he/she is a jackbooted little fascist at heart.

  2. Yes, the old refrain, "All Coppers are Bastards" has an ever more authentic ring to it.

    The point is, however, that at least one generation has grown up since Thatcher who need reminding of what preceded Blair's police state.

    Edward Thompson was probablty Britain's only radical historian and his passing is much lamented. We need more public figures like him to spell out the treacheries being committed by our 'leaders' in the name of "security".

    The only security that is being protected is that of a corrupt capitalism which is now collapsing all around us.

  3. Anonymous4:38 pm

    Why you just can't trust a Scotsman, and this is a Muslim Movie.