At the BBC we used to do our public order training alongside the Metropolitan Police. As they practised dispersing “rioters” on a mocked-up council estate in Gravesend, we practised hurling interview questions at harassed unit commanders. Nearby, every so often, a volley of automatic gunfire would go off, as the elite specialist firearms unit MO19 were put through their paces.
The unspoken question was, of course, why does the Met spend so much time and energy practising being at war with London’s population? Thanks to the Casey Report we have a definitive answer. Mentally, the force is in conflict with the values of the very society it is supposed to be policing.
That’s what it means to say the force is institutionally racist, misogynist, homophobic and corrupt. Yes, there are plenty of white racists in London, and misogynists and homophobes. But the ethos of the city and the ethos of the force policing it are seriously at odds.
Louise Casey has focused in her investigation on the management failures: austerity, elitism, chaotic human resource management, “initiativism” and profoundly weak leadership. The main solutions will be managerial and organisational. But until we identify the deep social roots of the toxicity that’s infected the Met, we risk a cycle that we can’t afford.
The Casey Report is not just Macpherson 2.0 – it is much worse. When William Macpherson, investigating the force in 1999 after the murder of Stephen Lawrence, found the Met to be institutionally racist, we were only ten years into the grand experiment of atomising civil society in the name of free market economics. The bent coppers alleged to have colluded with racist murderers were archetypes from a London that barely survives.
Today’s London is mobile, mercurial and complex. It is a fragile system-of-systems kept together by the willingness of a super-diverse population to put up with each other’s differences. Societies where networks have replaced all hierarchies and traditions only work if the state obeys the law. Unfortunately, it is clear the Met is failing in that regard.
I’ve seen some brilliant policing and met some brilliant officers from the Met. But what they’re up against is clear: the force has developed the ideology of an occupying army. It is 81 per cent white, 71 per cent male and the majority of its officers don’t even live in London. Meanwhile, the Conservative Party in power has not done anything to combat an ideology that otherises the London population. To the contrary, it has waged war on “wokeness” – with the help of an army of white, male tabloid journalists.
Why did the racism, misogyny and homophobia coalesce into a bigger toxicity, thwarting all attempts at managerial reform? Any politics student can tell you the answer: if the Met was a political party, its internal culture would be classified as far-right, whatever its official policy documents said.
I reject US-style calls for abolition of the police – such statements are facile, and Casey’s recommendations must be enacted – but there is a strong case for breaking up the institution of the Met specifically. Not only does its close protection unit need to be re-formed, and MO19 re-vetted; the Met needs to become an ordinary city police force, under democratic scrutiny and control.
That could mean transferring its national functions – anti-terror, close protection, armed patrols at airports – to an expanded National Crime Agency with national powers, and placing the Met at the same operational distance from the Home Office as all other forces.
I don’t underestimate the political cost: Britain has avoided the kind of specialist forces France has – the CRS and GIGN – precisely to maintain policing by consent. But the Met needs to relearn what normal policing means for Londoners, whose consent it has come close to losing.
This article was originally published on 21 March 2023.
[See also: The Metropolitan Police is a danger to women]