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Call the police?
Policing in the UK is clearly broken. But what should Labour do about it?
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About a year ago, my laptop was stolen from a space I was rehearsing in for my play. It was a desperate moment for me. The venue called the police and did everything they needed to do.
Within 30 minutes, there was a crime number issued and then an email telling us that the case had been closed. No officers attended the scene of the crime. No investigation was undertaken.
Everyone knew that the only thing we had ever expected from the police was that crime number for the insurance. No one believed for a moment that there was going to be an investigation of the crime - never mind an arrest or resolution.
Last week, there was much rightful condemnation of the way the police handled the policing of the Coronation. Personally, I got a little galled by the focus on the innocent bystander arrest. Not because that wasn’t appalling, but it gave the media a narrative that intimated that some of the protestors should have been arrested and that lumped in those arrested from Republic who were not there to disrupt and those from Just Stop Oil who - let’s face it - probably were.
Following the rushed Public Order Act, there was a focus on over-policing and a sense that visible policing had slipped from being about reassurance of the public to a chilling silencing of reasonable dissent and protest.
There was also a story that the Police and Crime Commissioner for Cleveland used his powers to trigger two visits from police officers to opposing candidates in his council elections. This follows multiple reports of police officers visiting people’s homes following complaints of non-criminal ‘hate speech’ against feminists who campaign in favour of single-sex spaces.
Following the Casey Report we also know that the police are institutionally sexist, racist and ableist. So we are asking the same people that we know to be too often led by their own prejudices to adjudge our own. However you feel about the issues involved - asking a police force to monitor non-crimes should be worrying to liberal thinkers. Never mind this police force. Never mind at a time when they are solving fewer than 6 per cent of burglaries.
David Lammy, in response to a caller to his LBC show, said that Labour’s priority can’t be simply unpicking everything the Conservative government has done wrong. I agree with that as a sense of framing. Labour wants to govern - not merely to unwind the damage of the Tories. But in doing so, we should have a vision of what we want to offer from the police and how that should work.
But that means we should have an answer about what we do and don’t want the police to do. What their priorities should be and how a Labour vision for this can be delivered. At the moment, we simply talk about police numbers with no thinking about who any new recruits are, what they should focus on and how the system can and should be managed.
On a personal level, I think there are lots of things that are crimes in England and Wales that shouldn’t be. I also think there are lots of things that are technically crimes but are all but decriminalised in how they are treated at the moment. The fact is, I am more worried about pushback on what I say on Twitter than I am convinced anyone who steals from me will be under any criminal sanction. However, what I am not going to talk about here is what should and shouldn’t be a crime. That’s for another post.
The question at the moment is how does Labour get beyond simply trading numbers of recruits with the Tories to a deeper promise about what we can and should expect from the police?
When it comes to the left’s discussion of the police, there is all too often a great deal of noise (a lot of it with an American accent) and too little signal. ‘ACAB’ and ‘Abolish the police’ are not only slogans that don’t actually mean what they call for, but are also not representative of the attitudes of communities they seek to serve.
For me, I think we should go back to first principles and ask ‘What do we want from the police?’
The police should be there to enforce the laws made by Parliament. This is made harder when Parliament makes bad laws. Laws designed to send a signal to newspapers and not to criminals. So we need to play our part in making sure that we don’t focus on messaging bills that might win a few good headlines, but actually make policing harder.
The police are there to keep civilians safe. All civilians. We should all be able to expect equal and clear treatment under the law and by law enforcers. We are a long way from that now.
And that should be it. We should not be asking the police to intervene in social issues or to monitor and judge speech. We should not be expecting them to act as unofficial social workers trying to intervene in areas of housing or mental health but should instead be investing far earlier in the pipeline to stop these areas that affect anti-social behaviour from reaching the point at which the police might be seen to be getting involved.
I don’t think I am particularly unusual in what I want. These basics are pretty universal. Though I do accept that as a middle aged, white woman, I am in a different position in terms of how I am treated than many of my neighbours. And therefore my levels of trust in the police (shattered though they have been both through their inaction in my own case and my response to the litany of allegations against them when it comes to sexual abuse cases) are probably higher - or at least started from a higher baseline.
That is another reality that we will need to deal with when it comes to Labour reassessing the police and their role in society. That while we largely do have shared societal attitudes to the need to police crime and enforce the law, we simply do not have a uniform response to seeing the police.
That can only be changed by changing the police forces themselves.
Here, I believe that Labour can be led literally from the top, by looking at the approach Keir Starmer took when he worked to completely change the Police Service of Northern Ireland. This was a complete shift of culture, management and attitude.
That cannot have been easy. And it wasn’t done under the glare of a hostile political media or in the midst of dozens of other political priorities. But it does give Labour a successful blueprint to work from.
Labour need a message that talks about what a successful police force does beyond crude number crunching.
A successful police force solves crimes. Crimes that we, as a nation, agree to prioritise.
It also needs a narrative about how a successfully policed nation feels.
That means that women and black and ethnic minorty people are not as afraid of the police as they are of criminals.
Both of these things are important to ensuring that Labour manages a police force that is able to be tough on crime. Has the political will to be tough on the causes of crime. And has the permissive structure to do so in a way that ensures that all communities feel the equal benefit of that - and not an unequal burden.
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What I’ve been up to
No reviews this fortnight. Lots coming up this week though! I also don’t think GB News have clipped my - obviously amazing - contributions so no footage of me being the last bastion of common sense there either!
However, we do have two excellent episodes of House of Comments for your delectation. Firstly, I interviewed Professor Tim Bale about his book The Conservative Party After Brexit. Then Charlotte and I had a barney about the responses to the local election results.