Why Tories might be happy to cut police
As I have already written, these cuts could create strange bedfellows. Its odd to think I could defend the rights to work of a desk admin who has processed the stop and search forms from a demonstration I have attended. But is there a reason Cameron and Clegg might be happy to lose a front-line police that shows they have, in fact, learnt from the history of the 1980s and the miners’ strikes?
When Thatcher went to war over the miners, she ensured that police forces were in a prime position to recruit more foot-soldiers for her activities. So it seems peculiar that, given the hanging cloud of union radicalisation the winds of cuts are likely to blow in, Cameron and Clegg would be proposing anything that could reduce front line officers and their backroom assistants.
But one aspect of the economy has moved heaven and earth since the 1980’s – the world of the private security firm. From bouncers in nightclubs to night watches in offices and factories, companies now accept that they should pay for someone to protect their interests with their physical presence. In fact, many of those who work in, or run, the private security sector are ex-soldiers and ex-police.
The experiences of Policing under New Labour were of accountability issues and bad publicity. If ‘government’ learnt anything, it was that using public servants to guard your assets is a politically dangerous choice, as public servants are deemed to be “accountable”, and the public feels it has a right to pursue cases through a variety of channels to hold police officers to account.
Take the case of Ian Tomlinson. Between the IPCC and the Director of Public Prosecutions, we have had 2 rounds of enquiry that might not have been possible had the person involved been a member of private security. After all, there is no requirement for a member of private security to wear large visible numbers, only a tiny ID card that can easily be moved too quickly to read actual details from.
Would the officers at Orgreave have been as easy to pursue through the courts had their identities been better hidden? Would the officers in the riot squad who are now “the subject of internal disciplinary actions” be facing such actions if they had been private employees? I have already noticed a rise in the use of private security by city centre managers to control situations once the sole duty of the Police.
If you want a vision of what policing in social conflicts could look like, go no further than the film “On the verge”, where the police are clearly in cahoots with a rent-a-cop of dubious reputation, and indeed seem happy to be reliant on his efforts. Such policing has had a big impact on the Smash EDO protests. What if such ‘policing’ is to be employed in smashing strikes? It will save the government money – they only pay by the hour when they need the presence. It will also save the government embarrassment, as the blame can land on private shoulders, beyond the “social contract”.
As to redundant police officers, those who wish to remain in a position of power and authority, the real bullies, will be snapped up to fill those exact positions. The prospect of nights wrestling drunks out of nightclubs will not be enough to put them off. And with police forces devolving powers to private security under New Labour, trained police could be seen as valuable recruits, though they will lose all Union rights and their hard-fought conditions. They won’t really be winners at all.
But the prospect is dire. Unaccountable rent-a-cops, freed from the paper trails of public policing and the need to “play by the book”, empowered to defend corporate greed with few moral ties. If the CCTV tapes get misplaced (as usually happens), pickets and protesters will have absolutely no recourse against their attackers. It is a dangerous situation and one we should watch closely.