A question of restraint

What prevents police officers from killing protesters?

On the Today programme this morning, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, was defending the police handling of yesterday's student protests.

Asked about the idiotic attack by protesters on the car carrying the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, he praised the "restraint" of the firearms officers who were present.

The implication appeared to be that, but for this "restraint", the protesters would have been shot dead properly. The commissioner furthermore described the restraint of his officers generally, not by reference to the officers following training, policies and procedures, but in terms which meant he could commend the officers' moral qualities.

The impression one formed, listening to Stephenson, was that it is a matter of simple discretion for his officers not to be more heavy-handed, or even lethal, in dealing with protesters. Any lapse would be understandable, and merely a moral failing of the officer.

One test of a liberal society is the point at which killing protesters becomes acceptable, at least to those with the power to do the killing.

This morning it seemed clear that, unless the commissioner misspoke, or one simply misinterpreted him, that point is now at the discretion of any police officer with a gun.

David Allen Green is a lawyer and writer. He is legal correspondent of the New Statesman and was shortlisted for the blogging section of the Orwell Prize in 2010.

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 big problem for the NHS? Local government cuts

Even a U-Turn on planned cuts to the service itself will still leave the NHS under heavy pressure. 

38Degrees has uncovered a series of grisly plans for the NHS over the coming years. Among the highlights: severe cuts to frontline services at the Midland Metropolitan Hospital, including but limited to the closure of its Accident and Emergency department. Elsewhere, one of three hospitals in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland are to be shuttered, while there will be cuts to acute services in Suffolk and North East Essex.

These cuts come despite an additional £8bn annual cash injection into the NHS, characterised as the bare minimum needed by Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England.

The cuts are outlined in draft sustainability and transformation plans (STP) that will be approved in October before kicking off a period of wider consultation.

The problem for the NHS is twofold: although its funding remains ringfenced, healthcare inflation means that in reality, the health service requires above-inflation increases to stand still. But the second, bigger problem aren’t cuts to the NHS but to the rest of government spending, particularly local government cuts.

That has seen more pressure on hospital beds as outpatients who require further non-emergency care have nowhere to go, increasing lifestyle problems as cash-strapped councils either close or increase prices at subsidised local authority gyms, build on green space to make the best out of Britain’s booming property market, and cut other corners to manage the growing backlog of devolved cuts.

All of which means even a bigger supply of cash for the NHS than the £8bn promised at the last election – even the bonanza pledged by Vote Leave in the referendum, in fact – will still find itself disappearing down the cracks left by cuts elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.