- Iain Donnelly
Is it now time for the British police to seek the right to take industrial action?
The events of the weekend in Clapham have been both depressing and predictable in equal measure.
Depressing, because yet again the British police find themselves in a no-win situation; trying to walk the tightrope of enforcing hastily cobbled together legislation that many politicians and policy-makers themselves felt free to ignore. Boris’s bike ride seven miles from home. Dominic Cummings given Boris’s fulsome support after his drive to Durham to ‘test his eyesight’. Meanwhile, the police are expected to enforce rules that have changed so many times, creating complete confusion about what people are or are not allowed to do at any moment in time.
Predictable, because increasingly these events are infiltrated by a small number of hard-left activists who deliberately choreograph a confrontation with the police in front of the cameras, knowing full well that the mainstream media will show carefully edited and misleading headlines the next day.
Your initial reaction is often the wrong one...
My initial response to the headlines the next day was angry, incredulous and horrified at the sight of women being manhandled and arrested. However, very quickly I heard some truly disturbing accounts of appalling behaviour by some of these ‘peaceful protesters’ from my extensive police network. Female officers told that ‘it should have been you who was abducted and murdered’. Male officers having women screaming in their faces and calling them ‘rapists and murderers’. Police vehicles damaged and spray-painted with ACAB (All Cops are Bastards). However, this was not reported by the media. Of course it wasn’t, because for some strange reason that I have never properly fathomed, many journalists hate the police.
Take a look at these and listen to the disgusting language being directed at police officers on Saturday evening, and ask yourself if this is acceptable, and whether this honours the memory of Sarah Everard?
Did the Met get it wrong?
If I have any criticism of the Met today, it is that they blundered straight into an obvious trap set by activists and yet again find themselves on the back foot. At the risk of sounding like one of Cressida’s ‘armchair critics’ I think the better response to all this would have been to keep well away and eventually everyone would have got cold and bored and gone home. Wading in to ‘enforce the Covid regulations’ was always going to end badly. If there was clear intelligence that this was going to happen then for goodness sake tell people. Tell the media beforehand that 'We have intelligence that activist groups are planning to hijack this event' so when it happens no-one is surprised.
The questions that I would ask of every politician now busy throwing the police under the bus would be;
In your opinion is it now OK for hundreds of people to pack tightly together in a crowded space in England?
If not...what would you do to stop that from happening?
I will hazard a guess that none of them would actually answer those questions.
The police have been painted as the villains for too long now
What happened to Sarah Everard was an abomination. The fact that a police officer has been charged with her murder adds a whole new level of horror, and every police officer in the UK is now feeling ashamed that one of their number is alleged to have done this terrible thing. It goes against every reason why most people join the police. They want to help the public.
The UK police service is one of the most benign police organisations in the world. They still overwhelmingly patrol unarmed and often they pay for this with their lives. Fifty-two police officers have died violent deaths on duty in England and Wales in the last 30 years, and hundreds more have sustained life-changing physical injuries. Police officer and staff numbers were slashed by 44,000 by Theresa May, police stations closed all over the country and budgets decimated. They have incrementally been tasked with dealing with all sorts of things that historically had nothing to do with policing and which means that today they are too busy trying to pick up the pieces of a broken society to investigate your burglary. The public no longer really understand what the police are there to do, and the police themselves have lost any true understanding of what their job is. Their core ‘Mission’ of preventing crime and disorder has become lost in a tsunami of conflicting expectations and demands. Too many senior police leaders acquiesced to continuous mission creep, rather than pushing back against it.
The police have been condemned for stopping and searching too many young black men in the midst of a gun and knife-crime epidemic that continues to take the lives of scores of young black men. They then get condemned for ‘tolerating the murder of young black men.’ if they don’t do enough. Sadiq Khan flip-flops between saying that he will ‘do everything he can to reduce stop and search’ and then when he sees the bloodbath unfolding in front of him, he promises to ‘increase stop and search’. When almost any bad thing happens now, the police are in the firing line and cannot do right for doing wrong. Police resignations have increased by over 100% in the last few years. Suicides and mental health issues have sky-rocketed in policing, such is the stress that officers now feel trying to do an almost impossible job with inadequate resources. Between 2016 and 2020, 8658 officers resigned, many citing stress and mental health issues.To add insult to injury, unlike health workers, the police were given no priority status in the Covid vaccination rollout, needlessly putting their lives at even further risk, and this still hasn't been rectified.
The 20,000 new officers promised by Boris will actually need to be nearly 60,000 to replace those retiring and resigning. If you do the maths, this means that in three years time, over one third of the UK police service will have less than three years service; a truly worrying thought. Most police officers don't become fully competent until they have about four to five years in the job. Another legacy of the Cameron/May period was the substantial detrimental changes to police terms and conditions of employment. As a result of these changes, it is very unlikely that officers will stay in the profession for long enough to become highly experienced and skilled. So, who is going to have sufficient professional experience and the necessary knowledge to investigate the most serious of crimes like murder and terrorism? Not very many of them I'm afraid, and that will have a devastating impact on public safety very soon.
I believe that the media and politicians declared 'open season' on the police in the UK after the totally unfair branding of them as 'institutionally racist' by Judge MacPherson in 1999. The British police are the best in the world, but the British establishment, with their reckless, spiteful attack on policing under David Cameron and Theresa May, and the media with their selective coverage of incidents, their contempt and their lies, really don't deserve them.
We need to remember that these are the same politicians who squandered £37 billion on a Test and Trace system that made no difference to the trajectory of infection and was described as 'ineffective' by the Public Accounts Committee. Worth noting here, that the brand new, state of the art Royal Liverpool hospital will cost £429 million. Therefore the hopeless Test and Trace system (overseen by another of Boris's cronies, Tory Peer Dido Harding) could have paid for about seventy new hospitals in the UK. These same politicians also awarded lucrative PPE contracts to their cronies, without any proper due diligence process.
The chattering classes will reap what they sow very soon unless something fundamental changes in the way the police are treated.
So, what is the answer to this?
I’m sorry to say that I think it is probably now time for rank and file police officers to seek the right to take industrial action. Time and again, journalists describe the Police Federation as the ‘police union’. It is not. The police do not have a union and they are forbidden in law to take industrial action. The Police Federation is a professional body that represents their interests, but it has no power whatsoever. It is crystal clear to me that this horrible treatment of an entire profession by dishonest politicians and journalists needs to stop. They need to understand that if police officers are continually condemned for doing an incredibly difficult job…there will be consequences. If the government are not going to support men and women who routinely put themselves in harm’s way on behalf of the public, then those men and women should have the right to withdraw their labour in the same way as firefighters, teachers, doctors and nurses. Why should the police be treated differently to them?
People need to remind themselves that the police are the very best of people in the main. They are human beings who need to feel that what they do is valued and that they will be supported.......but it hasn't felt that way to those actually in the police for a very long time now.