Why did the police send Kennedy undercover?

The efforts of the police to undermine democratic protest expose the ugly political realities of Bri

Ed Ballard misses the point in his blog on the undercover cop Mark Kennedy's infiltration of a group of climate-change activists. The question is not "Was it worth it?" but "Why was it done?"

The answer to that question reveals something rotten in the state of Britain, something the vast majority of people are completely unaware of – the reality of the political nature of policing in this country.

All long-term campaigners on a range of issues – from the environment to the arms trade to animal rights – know, and have known since they began protesting, that the police are not the neutral body they pretend to be, but act on behalf of powerful vested interests: the corporations whose profits they defend and the government that is in bed with those corporations.

Indeed, the revolving door between the corporate and political worlds means, as far as protest is concerned, that they are one and the same.

An exaggeration? Afraid not. Only those who have never protested regularly nestle in the kind of blissful ignorance that allows them to question that this is the true state of play. A scratched head about why on earth the police would waste such vast resources on a bunch of "tree-huggers" is indicative of the successful propaganda that has constabulary spokespeople stating regularly, and with a straight face: "We are here to facilitate peaceful protest."

As long as this lie receives the oxygen of mainstream media validation, the public has no chance whatever of seeing the country as it really is. Warning: when the Met is silent, and when the Director of Public Prosecutions refuses to speak, as in this case, there is a nasty smell in the air that a wise person will follow to its source.

If the cap FITs

Something that smells very bad indeed, and is typical of the kind of strategy used constantly against campaign groups, is the policing of the movement against the arms manufacturer EDM MSM in Brighton. Want proof of the offensive odour? Try the Sussex force's own video footage, acquired and brilliantly combined with activist and CCTV images in the jaw-dropping documentary On the Verge. And be sure to reach for a nosegay as police "intervene" at venues due to show the film.

Feeling woozy yet? Step forward, the FIT team! Or Forward Intelligence Team, the police photographers who routinely turn up at perfectly legal protests and film completely innocent people for having the temerity to exercise their democratic rights.

This unit and its dubious operations provide probably the most convincing evidence of the police's view of campaigners as elements that are dangerous to the state. Only if you have had its camera inches from your face while knowing you have done absolutely nothing wrong can you know how laughable are police pronouncements on "facilitation".

How sinister and Orwellian that word becomes when one knows the truth behind it. So, it is in no way surprising that the police attempted to shut down the activist response to FIT recently, the FITwatch website, with an email to the web host. Unfortunately for them, the content was mirrored almost immediately on over 100 other sites, rendering their efforts useless.

Netcu, the National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit, is another police organisation with a malodorous miasma surrounding it. Netcu was the source, in 2008, of a "green smear" story in the Observer (which was subsequently withdrawn, so obvious was the attempt to create panic about environmentalists). The article "revealed" that "a lone maverick eco-extremist may attempt a terrorist attack aimed at killing large numbers of Britons".

But the problem was that there was absolutely no evidence to back up this hysterical statement apart from the campaign group Earth First's perfectly reasonable claim that the world suffers from overpopulation. And just to clarify who exactly qualifies as a "domestic extremist", George Monbiot wrote soon afterwards that the villagers of Radley who had campaigned to save the local lake from being filled with ash by npower were just the sort of terrorists the state says we need to be protected from.

In the United States, too, a response to state repression of the environmental movement has resulted in the website Green is the New Red, which today reports: "The justice department warned as early as 2003 that the FBI's obsessive focus on animal rights and environmental activists, the 'number one domestic terrorism threat', would leave more dangerous threats unchecked."

So, wonder not why a police officer was sent deep undercover into an environmental campaign group. These protesters threaten powerful interests and bring with them the added "danger" of a social conscience, as well as the seed of a new kind of society, one that puts people and planet above profit. That cannot be allowed to take hold, now, can it?

Alison Banville is a campaigner on human rights, animal rights and environmental and political issues.

Nicola Sturgeon and Tony Blair. Photo: Getty
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Nicola Sturgeon's SNP, like Tony Blair's New Labour, is heading for a crash landing

The fall of Tony Blair should be a set text for anyone wishing to know what happens next to the SNP.

If there was one thing the SNP and New Labour had in common, it was the hope. Both offered themselves as a burning torch of optimism to publics that had become tired of the same old gang running things in the same old way. Both promised a fairer, more equal society and a fearless embrace of the modern world with an appealing freshness and energy. The voters bought it: both won big, repeatedly.

The thing is, if you’re elected on a mandate to be different, you’d better be different. In many areas, for a long time, New Labour managed to be just that. The smiling PM with the huge majority pushed through radical policies, some of which even worked. Tony Blair’s methodology was so successful and so convincing that the Conservatives and the Lib Dems reshaped themselves in his likeness. Arguably, a form of New Labour won in 2010 and 2015.

But, as they say, it’s the hope that kills you. When the inevitable attritional realities of governing start to weigh, when you make, as you will, bad decisions, when the list of enemies grows long, when you’ve just had your time, you’ll fall like all the rest – only, when you’ve soared so close to the sun, you have that much further to plummet.

The fall of Blair and of Labour should be a set text for anyone wishing to know what happens next to the SNP. Sunday night’s debate between the Scottish party leaders was, I think, a foretaste of what’s coming – a public that until recently was politically and emotionally invested in the Nats is growing restive. In time, this will turn to disenchantment, then anger, then revenge at the ballot box. This is the unbreakable cycle of democratic politics.

Some of us have warned since the start that the SNP had over-promised and could only under-deliver. Its raison d’etre is independence; everything else - literally everything else - is just another brick to build the path. And so education reform cannot be either radical or unpopular, even if it needs to be so to work, because the SNP cannot afford to alienate teachers or the teaching unions or parents. Bricks, you see. Same with the NHS and doctors and health unions and patients. All the separatists have done – all they could have done, given their nature - is deploy the rhetoric of the radical while in reality body-swerving hard choices and conflict at any cost. And where they have found themselves taking flak, they’ve pointed south to Westminster: "it’s no’ our fault, it’s theirs".

But voters show signs of wearying of the predictable blame game and waking up to the time-limited strategy of show-over-substance. Middle Scotland is either ignored or maligned by the middle-class socialists who drive the nation’s political debate, but it is where elections are won. The SNP has secured the support of enough of these people to win every recent election in style, but somewhere along the way the party seems to have forgotten this was a mandate not for independence, but for good government. Ten years in to SNP rule, each new audit of public services seems to wail like a warning siren – things aren’t just not improving, they’re getting worse. The SNP is not keeping its part of the deal.

So, during Sunday night’s debate it was Nicola Sturgeon, not Ruth Davidson or Kezia Dugdale, who found herself in the audience’s cross-hairs. It will have been a strange experience for a woman more used to public adulation and a clamour for selfies. There were the teachers, who complained about the damp squib that is the Curriculum for Excellence, the SNP’s flagship education policy; who pointed out that a fifth of primary pupils are leaving without basic literacy and numeracy skills; and who warned that lowering the standard of exams in order to push up the pass rate was not a mark of success.

Then there was the nurse who said she had been forced to use a food bank (the existence of which has been used repeatedly by the SNP as a stick with which to beat the Conservatives and Westminster): ‘I can’t manage on the salary I have [which is set by the Scottish Government]. You have no idea how demoralising it is to work in the NHS. Don’t come on your announced visits, come in in the middle of any day to any ward, any A&E department and see what we’re up against.’ She delivered the evening’s killer line: ‘Do you think your perceived obsession with independence might actually cost you… in this election?’

The list of reasonable criticisms is growing and will grow further. The ideological obsession with free university tuition for Scottish students is increasingly seen as a sop to the better-off, while in England the fee-charging regime has seen the number of students coming from poorer families climb. Ms Sturgeon’s demand for a quick second independence referendum, when a worried middle Scotland was focused on what Brexit might mean for its future, was tone deaf.

The SNP has another problem (one that New Labour, for all its flaws, didn’t face): its doctrine of infallibility. The Nats’ constitution explicitly prohibits its elected members from criticising the party, its policies or each other. While total unity is useful when you’re on the climb, it starts to look bonkers when the cracks are showing. Allowing public self-criticism, far from being a sign of weakness, is a necessary vent for inner tensions and a sign to voters that a political party is something more than a cult.

That ‘cult’ word has long dogged the SNP and its supporters. The party has tried hard to normalise its electoral appeal while keeping the flame of independence burning bright, but it has been a difficult balancing act. The pro-independence mob is an ugly thing when it is unleashed (and it has suited the leadership to open the cage at times). Claire Austin, the nurse who criticised the First Minister on Sunday, has found herself at its mercy. Immediately after the debate, the Nats briefed (wrongly) that she was the wife of a Tory councilor. The SNP branch in Stirling said Tebbitishly that if she was having to use food banks "maybe she needs to tighten her belt a bit more?" Joanna Cherry, a QC, MP and the SNP’s Home Affairs spokesperson, was forced to publicly apologise for spreading "Twitter rumours" about Ms Austin.

The ravening horde has largely kept its head down since the 2014 independence referendum, but we now see it hasn’t gone away - it is not enough for the SNP’s critics to be debated, they must be destroyed. This isn’t the behaviour of a normal political party: it’s the behaviour of a cult.

I might be wrong, but I have a feeling that when the SNP does fall it will fall quite quickly. Its belief in its infallibility, its inability or unwillingness to do self-deprecation or apology, will increasingly aggravate voters. There is nothing to suggest the current public policy failings will be addressed, and plenty of signs that things will get worse. How, then, do you arrest your fall?

The SNP offered hope and promised it was different, and the voters believed. The sense of betrayal could make for a very hard landing indeed.

Chris Deerin is the New Statesman's contributing editor (Scotland). 

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