They are using Tasers at Dale Farm

Why it is right to be critical of the police.

Our society not only tolerates the sort of people who want to wear uniforms and want to use weapons against civilians, it actually employs them to do so. And today some of these people may well be using Tasers against travellers at Dale Farm.

Of course, having a professional and trained police force is better than the alternative, and in no sensible way can we be described as being in a police state. However, there will be those who read the first paragraph of this post and will be outraged at my apparent disdain. The police do a difficult job, they will say, and one should just be grateful for what they do. One should not be so dismissive, others will remark, especially if you do not know the pressures and stress that the police face routinely. The feature that many of these responses will share is they are non sequiturs: they deal with something which has not been said, and criticise objections which have not been made.

There are many people -- not just police officers -- who do not want to hear any criticism of the police and will immediately seek to close it down. Any adverse comment about the police will mean that one is either a dangerous anarchist wanting a lawless and brutal society, or a naive fool not realising just how lucky they are to be kept safe. It is easy to be brave from a distance. And so on. One must always remember the thin blue line.

Such responses are part of a wider problem. As a society we are actually not very good at holding the police to account, and -- frankly -- the police are not very good at taking criticism. Accordingly, we have a situation where the police are generally left to get on with their work in return for them generally not misusing their rights and privileges. The failure of any efficient mechanisms for scrutinising the police then only become obvious with a suspicious death or some public order failure which cannot be ignored. In the meantime, the police can get away with, say, casually exceeding their powers or taking payments from private investigators as long as our streets are safe and they respond promptly to 999 calls.

One can wonder how long this unofficial social contract can last. It surely is not sustainable, especially with modern communications. The police have been caught out repeatedly lying in the aftermath of fatalities. Their attempts to spin and evade legitimate concerns about misconduct are legion. Individual police officers often threaten those who criticise with libel actions, whilst chief constables employ ever-growing (and often unhelpful) PR departments. And, as for the police complaints commission, one can be surprised that its formal name includes the word "independent". But it may be that an age of deference is passing.

It is right that in a liberal and democratic society the State has a monopoly in the use of coercive force against citizens, but this monopoly has to be balanced with accountability and transparency. Those who rush to rubbish anyone questioning the police, or are quickly dismissive of those complaining of the use of force, are in fact not helping serving officers. They are instead entrenching a needless lack of effective communication. The abuse of libel and the over-use of PR professionals are similarly undesirable features of modern policing. However, policing ultimately requires practical co-operation and implicit consent. Wise police officers know this.

The more openly critical we can be of those who have the power to coerce us, the better. And the more the police can explain their decisions and justify their actions, the better. After all, they can have nothing to hide; even the ones wearing paramilitary uniforms and using weapons at Dale Farm.


David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman. He also writes the Jack of Kent blog and at The Lawyer.

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman and author of the Jack of Kent blog.

His legal journalism has included popularising the Simon Singh libel case and discrediting the Julian Assange myths about his extradition case.  His uncovering of the Nightjack email hack by the Times was described as "masterly analysis" by Lord Justice Leveson.

David is also a solicitor and was successful in the "Twitterjoketrial" appeal at the High Court.

(Nothing on this blog constitutes legal advice.)

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The 7 brilliant arguments Theresa May once made against Brexit

Just in case you missed them. 

“Just listen to the way a lot of politicians and commentators talk about the public,” the Prime Minister Theresa May told the Conservative party conference in October. “They find your patriotism distasteful, your concerns about immigration parochial, your views about crime illiberal, your attachment to your job security inconvenient.

“They find the fact that more than seventeen million votes decided to leave the European Union simply bewildering.”

Of course, there was a time not that long ago, when May too found the idea of Brexit pretty bewildering herself. Nicknamed “submarine” during the EU referendum campaign for her low-key support for Remain, she nonetheless had made up her mind it was the right thing to do. 

In a recording obtained by The Guardian, she told an audience at Goldman Sachs that “the economic arguments are clear”. She continued: 

“I think being part of a 500m trading bloc is significant for us. I think one of the issues is a lot of people invest here in the UK because it’s the UK in Europe. 

“I think if we were not in Europe, there would be firms and companies who would be looking to say do they need actually to develop a mainland European presence rather than a UK presence.

But if that hasn’t convinced you, luckily May also made a public case for Remain on 25 April 2016. Here are some of her best points:

1. There’s no such thing as total sovereignty

At conference in October, May said Britain was leaving “to become, once more, a fully sovereign and independent country”. 

But in April, she said that “no country or empire in world history has ever been totally sovereign”. Nation states, she said, have to make a trade off between agreeing to cede some sovereignty “in a controlled way” to prevent a greater loss of sovereignty in an uncontrolled way, such as “military conflict or economic decline”. 

2. It's safer to Remain

In her conference speech, May said she wanted a Brexit deal to include “co-operation on law enforcement and counter-terrorism”. 

In April, though, the then-Home secretary thought it would be a lot simpler just to stay in the EU. She predicted that while a Brexit Britain would still share intelligence, “that does not mean we would be as safe as if we remain”.

For example, May helpfully pointed out, a Britain outside the EU would have no access to the European Arrest Warrant, which allowed her department to extradite more than 5,000 people from Britain to Europe in the last five years. 

She also distinguished between the EU’s freedom of movement rules, and border checks, declaring: “Some people say the EU does not make us more secure because it does not allow us to control our border. But that is not true.”

3. Rules are better than no rules

At conference, May said Brexit would mean “our laws made not in Brussels but in Westminster”. Anyone who believed they were a “citizen of the world” was in fact “a citizen of nowhere”. 

Back in April, she had a more nuanced view. She said Europe had “stumbled its way to war in 1914” because of the “ambiguity of nations’ commitments to one another”. 

She declared: “Nobody should want an end to a rules-based international system.” Although, she did add that reconciling these international systems with democratic government was “one of the great challenges of this century”. 

4. It could break up the UK

In her speech at conference, May took aim at the Scottish Nationalist Party when she blamed “divisive nationalists” for threatening to drive the UK apart. 

When she spoke in April, though, it seemed she might be talking about a different set of nationalists. “If Brexit isn’t fatal to the European Union, we might find that it is fatal to the Union with Scotland,” she warned. 

Scots are more likely to be in favour of the EU than voters in England and Wales, she noted: 

“I do not want the people of Scotland to think that English Eurosceptics put their dislike of Brussels ahead of our bond with Edinburgh and Glasgow. I do not want the European Union to cause the destruction of an older and much more precious Union, the Union between England and Scotland.”

5. Brexit endangers Britain’s financial services industry

In her conference speech, May described London as “the world’s leading financial capital”. 

But according to May circa April 2016, it might not be for much longer. She warned that outside the EU: “There would be little we could do to stop discriminatory policies being introduced, and London’s position as the world’s leading financial centre would be in danger.”

6. Negotiating trade deals won’t be easy

May is a believer in free trade – her conference speech was peppered with references to it – and she has appointed Liam Fox as International Trade secretary to broker new deals.

And she knows how hard that will be. In her April speech, she noted Britain would have to replace 36 existing trade agreements with non-EU countries: “While we could certainly negotiate our own trade agreements, there would be no guarantee that they would be on terms as good as we enjoy now.”

7. Nor is staying in the single market

Even in April, May was clear she thought Britain could survive Brexit, but she was not sure whether it would do so better off.

As she put it: 

"The reality is that we do not know on what terms we would win access to the single market.  We do know that in a negotiation we would need to make concessions in order to access it, and those concessions could well be about accepting EU regulations, over which we would have no say, making financial contributions, just as we do now, accepting free movement rules, just as we do now, or quite possibly all three combined.  

"It is not clear why other EU member states would give Britain a better deal than they themselves enjoy."

Couldn't agree more, Prime Minister. 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.