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Laurie Penny: What the Ian Tomlinson case tells us about the police

When it comes to the relationship between law enforcement and citizens, it’s still a one-way street.

While we're on the subject of Britishness, here's something we can all feel proud of: cops without guns. That we don't yet live in a police state where officers of the law can shoot first and ask questions later, or where innocent people can be killed at random for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Because that would be awful, wouldn't it? That would change the entire nature of the contract between state and citizen. Nobody would want that.

By the way, it has just been announced that the police officer responsible for the death of Ian Tomlinson at the G20 protests last year will not face any criminal charges. The director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, announced this morning that the Metropolitan Police officer who was caught on video attacking the 47-year-old father-of-nine with a baton, and shoving him to the ground, will not face criminal charges, because of conflicting evidence in the post-mortem reports.

You know, those post-mortem reports, the first of which seemed to confirm that Tomlinson had died of a heart attack, as per the initial police account, an allegation that was undermined by the second report, conducted on behalf of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), which found that Tomlinson died from internal bleeding.

Tomlinson's family wanted a charge of manslaughter brought against the officer in question, but the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is adamant that there is not sufficient evidence to conclusively prove

a causal link between the assault on Mr Tomlinson and his death. On that issue, there is disagreement between the medical experts.

Hypothetically speaking, one might imagine that a disagreement between medical experts would be easy to engineer on any matter, given a compliant coroner or two -- even if there were video, CCTV and post-mortem evidence suggesting that, contrary to police reports, a certain innocent bystander was knocked violently to the ground and prevented from receiving proper medical assistance as he collapsed and died of his injuries.

Hypothetically speaking, one might imagine that it would be simple to get your tame experts to disagree about absolutely anything, especially if that disagreement were likely to impede embarrassing and uncomfortable further inquiry, of the sort that might challenge the gradual erosion of innocent citizens' right to feel safe when the police are out on the streets.

The announcement comes five years to the day after the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell Tube station, south London, on 22 July 2005. Again, in that case, nobody was charged in connection with the death of the innocent Brazilian.

The Tomlinson and de Menezes families are currently gathered outside Scotland Yard -- a building with more CCTV cameras than the whole of Finland -- to stage a protest, along with concerned members of the public. Last night, I spoke to some of the protesters as they were preparing for their demonstration. Even before the announcement had been made, the organisers were firmly convinced that the CPS would "find some technicality or other to make sure that no charges are brought".

No officer of the law has ever been charged in connection with the death in of a civilian in police custody or at a protest in Britain or Ireland. And clearly, even in the digital age, when the public can use technology to hold wrongdoers to account, like the state, there is no reason to interrupt that pattern.

The message is clear: video evidence is the prerogative of the state alone. The police watch us, and our attempts to watch them back are fundamentally suspect, especially when we happen to catch them doing something a bit naughty, like, just by way of example, pummelling an innocent newspaper salesman to death. Let's not rock the boat, eh?

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.

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After the leadership battle, immigration is Labour's new dividing line

Some MPs are making a progressive case for freedom of movement controls. 

After three brutal months of infighting, culminating in another sweeping victory for Jeremy Corbyn, the buzzword at the Labour party conference is unity. But while Corbyn’s opponents may have resigned themselves at least temporarily to their leader, a new fissure is opening up.

Considering it was sparked by Brexit, the Labour leadership contest included surprisingly little debate about freedom of movement. In the immediate aftermath of the EU referendum, Corbyn declared he was “not afraid to talk about immigration”.  Owen Smith, his rival, referred to the “progressive case against freedom of movement”. But ultimately, the contest embodied a clash between the will of the membership and the parliamentary Labour party. 

Now, though, the question can no longer be dodged. What position should Labour take on freedom of movement? And is it time for a fundamental shift on immigration?

Labour’s 2015 pledge to “control immigration” was widely derided by its own party activists – not least when it appeared on a gift shop mug. Apart from making a rather authoritarian present, one of the flaws in this promise was, at the time, that the only way of really controlling immigration would be to leave the EU. 

But an increasingly vocal group of MPs are arguing that everything has changed. Heavyweights from the Miliband era are now, from the back benches, trying to define limits to freedom of movement and immigration. Chief among them are Rachel Reeves and Chuka Umunna. 

Reeves makes her case from an economic perspective. She argues that freedom of movement from the EU has depressed wages (the cause and effect is disputed). At a Resolution Foundation event during Labour conference, she recalled visiting a factory in her constituency where workers complained the jobs went to foreigners. 

Umunna, on the other hand, argues unease with immigration has a cultural element as well. He has said that immigrants need to stop leading “parallel lives”. At the Resolution event, he declared of Brexit: “This isn’t all about economic equality – it is about identity politics.” Umunna's tough talk on integration may coincide with his bid to chair the Home Office select committee, but his observations about the underlying distrust of immigrants rings true. 

How Labour copes with freedom of movement depends on which view prevails. It is possible to imagine the party coming up with an answer to the freedom of movement question that involves Corbynite economic themes, such as protecting wages, labour rights and restrictions on agency recruitment. Lisa Nandy, another speaker at the Resolution event, rallied the audience with a story of workers on low wages standing “in solidarity side by side” with migrant workers. It would be a distinctly left-wing argument that critiques the Government’s tolerance of zero-hours contracts and other precarious employment practices. 

But if, as Umunna suggests, Brexit is also an articulation of a deeper anti-immigrant feeling, Labour is entering more dangerous territory. On a tactical level, it is hard to see how the party can beat the May Government when it comes to social conservatism. It undermines any attempt to broker a "soft Brexit", which many of Labour's members, who voted Remain, will want. 

And then there's the prospect of the party most closely associated with ethnic minorities condoning xenophobia. Labour activists point out that some of the Brexit backlash is plain old racism. Speaking at a Momentum rally during the leadership contest, Diane Abbott, the shadow health secretary and one of Corbyn’s closest allies, declared: "Anyone who tells you maybe you have to do something about these Eastern Europeans, it's not about skin colour, what we've seen since the Brexit vote gives lie to that. 

“If you give ground to anti-immigrant politics, it will sweep away all of us. And we cannot give ground to that stuff. You cannot as a Labour movement take a position that one part of the working class is a problem of another section of the working class."

More pragmatic MPs too, still remember the ill-fated immigration mug. They see the new “tough on immigration” line as an uneasy alliance between working-class MPs on the Labour right, and a group of middle-class metropolitans who have spotted a gap in the market and jumped on it. Should this second attempt, Labour MPs will have achieved nothing except alienating their activist base. 

Ultimately, the initiative lies with Corbyn. If he can set out a radical agenda for protecting workers’ rights, he may be able to bring the party with him. But if this fails to shift opinion polls, immigration could be the next issue to disunite the party.