Police State Britain. Are we there yet?

Last Saturday’s march and rally, the occupation of Fortnum & Mason’s and the smashing of  a few bank windows has got the entire Tory world in a spin. So much so, that some of them (Telegraph commenters mainly) are calling for the banning of this party and the proscription of that organization.  But this government is so desperate to cling on to power that it will use any means necessary to silence its critics and rubbish the names of those who call for justice. Meanwhile the opposition seems to be sleepwalking into a trap that has been laid for them by the Tory press and the government. It’s as though the 1980’s never went away.

But it seems the state is up to its old tricks again.

Lenin’s Tomb blog believes that police agents provocateurs were allowed to smash windows while their uniformed colleagues stood by and watched. This clip from the BBC on Liberal Conspiracy shows a man in a hoodie crossing a police line. He looks like a police agent. I have also heard unconfirmed reports of how journalists from a certain tabloid newspaper paid people to commit acts of vandalism elsewhere. In paying people to carry out acts of vandalism for the sake of, what seems to be, a gruesome headline, it helps to manufacture consent in the public mind, which is good as a  nod and a wink to the  government who, in turn, grant the police more draconian powers to control, contain and destroy the ‘menace’ or ‘enemy within’. This is newsgathering and guess what? It’s always been that way. You get me the pictures and I’ll bring you the war. If you see what I mean…

There’s no truth like the untruth.

Dan Hannan writing in the Daily Telegraph is pushing his and Carswell’s idea for elected police chiefs as a solution.  Their case for elected police officials is, in my view, poorly made and, in the case of his blog, opportunistic and smugly self-congratulatory. Here Hannan puts the boot into anarchists and the Socialist Workers Party

So, which is it? Did the police provoke gentle marchers with their fascistic heavy-handedness? Were they heroic in the face of intolerable provocation from thugs? Or were they a bunch of pantywaists, standing idly by as anarchists (an odd name for people dependent on the state for their livelihood) and Socialist Workers (few of whom seem to work) vandalised private property?

Thing is, Hannan seems to think that all anarchists and members of the SWP are idle. That actually isn’t true. Many anarchists and Swappies actually have jobs.

It’s much easier to be ignorant. That way you never have to think.

Furthermore there are many flavours of anarchism, some of which – like anarcho-capitalism – Hannan would doubtlessly approve. Perhaps he needs to meet people outside his own circle to get to grips with that concept. Fat chance. The elected sheriff idea merely underlines how out of touch these Tories are. Borrow some idea from the States, apply it here and claim that it’s in the name of  ‘democracy’ or otherwise claim that it’s done to devolve more power from the centre.

We get to the meat of the blog here

The Bill to place our constabularies under locally elected representatives will be presented to the Commons this week. I’m obviously delighted, having been pushing the idea of elected sheriffs for the better part a decade (although Carswell will have you believe that he thought of it first).

Yes, another crazy idea from The Plan has been transformed into a bill. While this doesn’t appear prima facie to indicate Hannan’s desire to see some kind of police state, the office of ‘sheriff’ would arguably be open to anyone that claims to have a ‘cure’ for the ‘cancer’. In times of manufactured fear, this could be the very thing the that right has been yearning for.  As any miner (NUM need only apply) from the 1980’s will tell you, the police are always on the side of the state. If this idea is pushed through (it’s a white paper at the moment), they will also be on the side of whatever party they happen to belong to. For instance the elected commissioner could be responsible for

Appointing – and, where necessary, removing – the Chief Constable.

Also

Elections
2.12 The Government wants candidates for Commissioners to come from a wide range of backgrounds, including both representatives of political parties and independents.

Do you see what I see?

This government will use any means at its disposal to blacken the names of those who take part in legitimate protests – even if that means relying on fabricated evidence and employing agents provacateurs to bolster its case for proscribing certain groups and outlawing certain forms of political activity. Even the TUC Leadership fell into line and condemned the action of a “minority of hooligans”.  The simple fact is that the Tories don’t like UKUncut and its innovative approach to protests. The group has done a great job of drawing attention to the fact that certain businesses, some of them loyal to the Conservative Party, have been using offshore addresses to avoid paying tax in this country. Add to this Sir Phillip Green, the millionaire owner of Topshop, who has been given the role of ‘efficiency czar’ and you have a situation where the oligarchs call the tune. These oligarchs will use whatever means at their disposal to press the government to take a tougher line against anyone who opposes them.

Does that sound like a liberal democracy to you?

It isn’t one that I recognize.

The use of agent provocateurs is nothing new. Recently at the G20 protests, Lib Dem MP, Tom Brake, alleged that police agents provocateurs  were employed to besmirch the name of the protesters.

Of course this sort of tactic has its origins in the 19th century when the state routinely resorted to such methods. The so-called Six Acts were enacted in the aftermath of the Peterloo Massacre and were designed to crush dissent and stifle debate. The Six Acts included,

  • The Training Prevention Act (or Unlawful Drilling Act) (60 Geo. III & 1 Geo. IV c. 1)[1] made any person attending a meeting for the purpose of receiving training or drill in weapons liable to arrest and transportation. More simply stated, military training of any sort was to be conducted only by municipal bodies and above.
  • The Seizure of Arms Act (60 Geo. III & 1 Geo. IV c. 2) gave local magistrates the powers to search any private property for weapons and seize them and arrest the owners.
  • The Misdemeanors Act (60 Geo. III & 1 Geo. IV c. 4) attempted to increase the speed of the administration of justice by reducing the opportunities for bail and allowing for speedier court processing.
  • The Seditious Meetings Prevention Act (60 Geo. III & 1 Geo. IV c. 6) required the permission of a sheriff or magistrate in order to convene any public meeting of more than 50 people if the subject of that meeting was concerned with “church or state” matters. Additional people could not attend such meetings unless they were inhabitants of the parish.
  • The Blasphemous and Seditious Libels Act (or Criminal Libel Act) (60 Geo. III & 1 Geo. IV c. 8)”, [2] toughened the existing laws to provide for more punitive sentences for the authors of such writings. The maximum sentence was increased to fourteen years transportation.
  • The Newspaper and Stamp Duties Act (60 Geo. III & 1 Geo. IV c. 9) extended and increased taxes to cover those publications which had escaped duty by publishing opinion and not news. Publishers also were required to post a bond for their behaviour

The Newspaper and Stamp Duties Act had the effect of creating a newspaper industry that was loyal to the state. In that regard little has changed. The industry is dominated by Tory-supporting titles, all of them with connections to arms manufacturers and financial institutions. The Seditious Meetings Act, for example, prevented free association and meetings could be broken up – often with violence – on a whim. Agents provocateurs were employed to stir up trouble and spies were used to obtain intelligence on seditious persons. In the 19th century, Britain was a police state in all but name.

2011 marks the centenary of some rather important events. Winston Churchill sent troops into Tonypandy to crush a riot. He ordered gunboats to be moored at Liverpool and Hull. Troops were ordered ashore at Liverpool, where they acted with the police to crush the transport strike. Churchill was also present a the Siege of Sidney Street, where excessive force was used to kill a pair of Latvian anarchists. Then, as now, the word on the collective typesetter of the press was “anarchists”, which became synonymous with a bearded bomb-thrower. A lunatic. A swivel-eyed zealot.

The word is now liberally used by politicians and the press to conjure up images of fear or as threats to individual ‘liberty’. It’s lazy and it’s weak.

In 2011 a range of measures under Terrorism legislation can be invoked in situations where the government feels protests have gone too far and, more importantly, property is being damaged. Section 1 of the Terrorism Act 2000 defines terrorism thus:

(1) In this Act “terrorism” means the use or threat of action where-
(a) the action falls within subsection (2),
(b) the use or threat is designed to influence the government [or an international governmental organisation][2] or to intimidate the public or a section of the public, and
(c) the use or threat is made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious [, racial][3] or ideological cause.
(2) Action falls within this subsection if it-
(a) involves serious violence against a person,
(b) involves serious damage to property,
(c) endangers a person’s life, other than that of the person committing the action,
(d) creates a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public, or
(e) is designed seriously to interfere with or seriously to disrupt an electronic system.
(3) The use or threat of action falling within subsection (2) which involves the use of firearms or explosives is terrorism whether or not subsection (1)(b) is satisfied.

My italics. This act can be used to fit any definition of terrorism imaginable. It is intended to be that way. Judges and the police can interpret it any way they like.

They call it the letter of the law.

Those who cling to the neoliberal economic model, who tell us that there is no alternative, do so from a position of philosophical and intellectual weakness. They refuse to consider an alternative by insisting that none of us has an alternative. Their spreadsheets tell them that they are right and anyone else is wrong.

It requires no thinking on their part.

The Tories want a smaller state. A smaller state that has no welfare state and no public services. Their idea of the smaller state is one in which only the repressive functions (the police and security apparatuses ) are left intact. A police state where the legislature exists to rubber stamp the will of the oligarchy.

Are we there yet?

Finally, the Sun, always on the side of law and order, demands that the “rent-a-mob” be “nail[ed]”.

Sweet dreams.

EDIT: 30/3/11 @ 0927

This article from The Independent says

Scotland Yard plans to increase the use of stop-and-search powers on the day of the royal wedding, the next major test of policing methods in the capital, as well as stationing more officers at rail and Tube stations to spot possible troublemakers

And

In the Commons, Ms May backed the use of football-style “banning orders” against people suspected of planning to use legitimate protests as a pretext for violent action. They would be barred from travelling to demonstrations and could be arrested if they refused to comply. Ms May also urged police to make wider use of existing powers to confiscate masks and balaclavas from marchers.

Anyone who tells me that this country isn’t fast becoming a police state is a liar. We need to fight this.

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Filed under Government & politics, Law & Order, Policing

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