Confrontational: Theresa May has made an enemy of the police. They’ll be taking solace from the thought that one day they might be asked to arrest her. [Image: Daily Telegraph]
Does anybody remember when the police were the Conservatives’ best friends? This was back in the days of the Thatcher government, when she needed them as political weapons against the unions.
She gave them generous pay and pension deals, let them move out of the communities they policed (providing a certain amount of anonymity – people no longer knew their local Bobby personally), and put them in patrol cars rather than on the beat. In return, she was able to rely on their loyalty.
The same cannot be said today. Current Home Secretary Theresa May wants you to think the police service is out of control.
In fact, it isn’t. The problem for Ms May, whose position on human rights makes it clear that she wants to be able to use the force as a tool of repression, is that our constables have found better ways of upholding the law.
This is why May’s tough talk on reforming the police rings hollow. She wants to break the power of the Police Federation, our constabularies’ trade union – but her attack is on terms which it is already working to reform.
She has demanded that the Federation must act on the 36 recommendations of the Normington Report on Police Federation Reform in what appears to be a bid to make it seem controversial.
But the report was commissioned by the Federation itself, not by the Home Office. It acknowledges problems with the organisation that may affect the wider role of the police and makes 36 recommendations for reform – whether the Home Secretary demands it or not.
One is left with the feeling that Ms May is desperate to make an impression. She has been very keen to point out that crime has fallen since she became Home Secretary – but this is part of a trend since Labour took office in the mid-1990s. Labour brought in neighbourhood policing, police community support officers, antisocial behaviour laws, improved technology and (more controversially) the DNA database. These resulted from Labour politicians working together with the police, not imposing ideas on them from above; they brought the police back into the community.
Theresa May’s work includes her time-wasting vanity project to elect ‘police and crime commissioners’, and her time-wasting project to replace the Serious Organised Crime Agency with the almost-identical National Crime Agency.
She has taken a leaf from the Liberal Democrat book by claiming credit for changes that had nothing to do with her, suggesting that police reform only began when she became Home Secretary in 2010.
Is it this attitude to history that informs Michael Gove’s attempts to revise our attitude towards the First World War, as was reported widely a few months ago? If so, it is an approach that is doomed to failure and derision, as Mr Gove learned to his cost. Ms May deserves no better.
There is much that is wrong with the police service – and most of that is due to interference from Conservative governments.
Thankfully, with the service and the Police Federation already working to resolve these issues, all Ms May can do is grumble from the sidelines where she belongs.
Government repression of the people, plans to give corporations the power to overrule national laws, the end of legal protection of our human rights and the continuing horror story that is the Coalition government’s idea of a benefit system were among your top priorities in 2013.
It would have been easy to write a ‘review of the year’ highlighting what I think were the main issues of the year, but this may not have been representative of the feelings of readers.
Instead – borrowing an idea from Pride’s Purge– let’s look back at the articles you, the reader, found most interesting. These are the subjects that we should all watch carefully as the new year progresses and we move ever-closer to the general election of 2015.
While we can see Conservative and Liberal Democrat policies reflected in these stories, let’s also ask what Labour would do. What are the policies of the Opposition on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership? Would the current Labour leadership reverse party policy of the last 100 years and move to restrict our legal freedoms (as suggested by the disastrous decision to support Iain Duncan Smith’s repressive retroactive law on Workfare in March)?
And what about the other parties – the Greens, UKIP, and the new pretenders that have sprung up in protest at the excesses of a government that was never elected by the British people but has set about changing the face of Britain in such a massive way that the UK of 2015 will hardly be recognisable as the same country that went to the polls in 2010? Are they a serious political force, a vote-splitting annoyance that could allow the Tories back into power, or an expression of the nation’s conscience?
A face of evil: Theresa May wants to take away your human rights and leave you at the mercy of government repression.
Tory plans to take away your human rights are moving ahead with Theresa May announcing that they would scrap the Human Rights Act and withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights if they win the 2015 general election, “in the national interest”.
In whose interest? Not yours. Certainly not mine. She’s quite clearly confusing minority Tory interests with those of this country. They do that a lot.
If you want to get humour from the situation, Mrs May made her announcement at a conference organised to find ways of winning broader support in 2015. How badly off-track can you go?
There may, in fact, be a reasonable argument for modifying human rights legislation; we have all been appalled when judges have made decisions in favour of defendants because the alternative would “infringe their human rights” – but this is not a good reason to scrap the lot. It’s a reason to give out guidance on how it should be properly interpreted.
But getting rid of these rights altogether shows that the Conservative Party wants to turn government into an instrument of suppression, grinding the workers and the poor underfoot. Better people have already raised concerns that the Coalition is becoming an Orwellian “boot stamping on a human face – forever”; this would make that future a certainty.
It is likely that Conservative members of the Coalition government – most notably Iain Duncan Smith, Chris Grayling, Maria Miller and Mark Hoban – will fall foul of human rights laws, either in this country or in Europe, if the UK continues to abide by them, and this in itself provides enough grounds for us to speculate about why Mrs May wants to get rid.
As everyone in the UK should know by now, the draconian rules of the sickness and disablement benefits system overseen by Smith and his cronies has led to the deaths of thousands of people who had a right to expect a reasonable level of care from their government. If efforts to seek justice through the UK’s legal system fail, then there is likely to be an attempt at international level. The Tories could fend this off by removing the UK from the convention, although it seems likely that the International Criminal Court might then take a position on the matter.
Scrapping your human rights provides the Tories with many more opportunities for evil, though. Let’s look at what we could lose.
The United Kingdom helped to draft the European Convention on Human Rights, just after World War II. Under it, nation states’ primary duty is to “refrain from unlawful killing”, to “investigate suspicious deaths” and to “prevent foreseeable loss of life”.
As you can tell from the behaviour of the Department for Work and Pensions, the Coalition government has been reneging on this obligation – wholesale – since it came into power.
Is killing disabled people – or rather, allowing their deaths when this outcome can be clearly foreseen – in the national interest? Do you have any family members or friends who are disabled? Do you know any who have died as a result of this government’s barbaric policies? What do you think of that, and of the fact that withdrawing from the European Convention and scrapping the Human Rights Act would mean this government would get away with it?
Article 4 prohibits slavery, servitude and forced labour – in other words, the government’s Mandatory Work Activity or Workfare schemes. The government could try to weasel its way out of accusations relating to this, by saying these schemes are labour “considered to be a part of a person’s normal ‘civic obligations'” but the argument against this – that they have not served the interests of the person but of the companies to which they were attached – is strong. These schemes have been worse than useless at getting people into employment but an excellent money-making scam for the businesses concerned, including the ‘Work Placement Provider’ companies that receive government money for very little.
Article 6 provides a detailed right to a fair trial, including the right to a public hearing before an independent and impartial tribunal within reasonable time, the presumption of innocence, and other minimum rights for those charged with a criminal offence. The government’s current attempt to push through laws allowing “secret courts” to hear evidence against defendants – which they defendants themselves are not permitted to know and at which they are not allowed to be present – is a clear violation of this.
Article 8 provides a right to respect for one’s “private and family life, his home and his correspondence” – and of course Mrs May would be in violation with her “Snooper’s Charter” that would allow the government to look at your emails.
Article 10 provides a right to freedom of expression, which means that, if Mrs May has her way, anti-Conservative websites like this blog would be swept away and its author could be imprisoned (for an indefinite period of time, as the protections under Article 6 would no longer apply).
Article 11 protects the right to freedom of assembly and association, including the right to form trade unions. The Tories have always hated the unions, even in their current, very nearly toothless, form. They would relish the opportunity to make unions illegal and remove the rights of all employees.
There are more, but you get the gist. The Human Rights Act of 1998 is the British legislation that makes the European Convention effective in the UK, as far as is possible, meaning that breaches of it may be remedied in British courts, rather than the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
So that’s what Mrs May means, when she says she wants to scrap these laws. If you have been paying attention, you should be terrified.
You may also be questioning her definition of “the national interest”!
It is clearly a controversial move, and this is why the Tories are taking a “softly, softly” approach to it. They’re putting it out now, two years before the general election, to test the waters, and they know they’ll probably get a reaction against it.
Suppose something happens over the next two years that gives them an opportunity to say – and they will – that “restrictive European laws on Human Rights have prevented us from acting in the public interest”? Won’t that sway the opinion of the Daily Mail-reading public against the very rights that protect them?
It’s a strategy that has worked in the past. By the time the election arrives, you can expect the Tories to have worked the nation up to fever pitch about it – to the best of their ability.
It’s a trick.
They think you’re turkeys and they want you to vote for Christmas.
Having Mr Bean in the Cabinet – or at least his alter-ego, Rowan Atkinson – might not be as ridiculous as this image suggests. He talked more sense in a 10-minute presentation about free speech than the Department for Work and Pensions has in the last two and a half years.
Some of you may be aware that police invaded the home of a campaigner for Disabled People Against Cuts, living in Cardiff, just before midnight yesterday (October 26).
Apparently she had been accused of “Criminal acts against the Department for Work and Pensions” – being that she has been highlighting the deaths of sick and disabled people following reassessment by Atos and the DWP for Employment and Support Allowance.
No charges were brought against the lady concerned and it is generally considered that this was an act of intimidation.
Since then, I have been informed of three other incidents in which police either visited campaigners at home or stopped them in the street to, in colloquial terms, “put the frighteners on them”. Two were vulnerable women with mental illness, one of whom lives alone.
The forces allegedly involved were South Wales, Dyfed Powys and North Yorkshire Police.
I don’t know what legislation these constables were quoting as the legal grounds for these intrusions. It seems likely it may have been the Public Order Act, section five, which states, “(1) A person is guilty of an offence if he: (a) uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or (b) displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting, within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.”
But this applies only if a person has been the victim – not an organisation like the DWP.
If it is the Public Order Act, then this provides an opportunity to quote Rowan Atkinson’s speech at the ‘Reform Section 5’ Parliamentary reception earlier this month.
Mention of Mr Atkinson may have already invoked, in your mind, the ‘Constable Savage’ sketch from Not The 9 O’Clock News, in which a police officer is berated for arresting the same man on charges of “Walking on the cracks in the pavement”, “Walking around with an offensive wife”, and “Looking at me in a funny way”, amongst others.
If it didn’t, go and watch the speech because he makes free reference to that sketch in it.
“I suspect [I am] highly unlikely to be arrested for whatever laws exist to contain free expression because of the undoubtedly privileged position that is afforded to those of a high public profile,” said Mr Atkinson.
“My concerns are… more for those who are more vulnerable because of their lower profile – like the man arrested in Oxford for calling a police horse ‘gay’.”
He said: “Even for actions that were withdrawn, people were arrested, questioned, taken to court… and then released. That isn’t a law working properly. That is censoriousness of the most intimidating kind, guaranteed to have… a ‘chilling effect’ on free expression and free protest.”
He said: “The reasonable and well-intentioned ambition to contain obnoxious elements in society has created a society of an extraordinarily authoritarian and controlling nature. It is what you might call ‘the new intolerance’ – a new but intense desire to gag uncomfortable voices of dissent.
“Underlying prejudices, injustices or resentments are not addressed by arresting people; they are addressed by the issues being aired, argued and dealt with, preferably outside the legal process.”
Of course, this all makes the police look even worse than they’ve been made to seem in recent weeks. First the Hillsborough cover-up came out into the open, then the (many) Jimmy Savile cover-ups, and now – yet again – it seems the government is using police services across the country as a tool for political repression.
The ability to rely on an impartial system of law and order underpins the whole of British society. Use of the police in this way erodes confidence in law and order and, therefore, in society itself.
Police intimidation of those who speak out against the injustices of the DWP and its Atos employees is not only an attack on free speech; it is an attack on the entire philosophy on which our society is based.
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