Invincible summer |||

A letter to my MP

It appears clear there are difficult questions to be answered about the death of Ian Tomlinson, and there must be an inquiry into it, and what responsibility the Met. may bear.

Not just into Tomlinson’s death: please get answers too about the police’s policies and practices in political demonstrations. There are worrying reasons to believe these contributed to Tomlinson’s death and, if not challenged, will lead to others.

Peaceful expression of dissent is an essential part of our society. We are unlikely to keep it if demonstrators’ lives and liberty are at risk from police action.

Supt Hartshorn, who “heads the Metropolitan Police’s public order branch” announced the police were “preparing for a ‘summer of rage’” (The Guardian 23 Feb). Alarmist forecasts such as Hartshorn’s prepare the public for policing that provokes the predicted behaviour, encouraging calls for still harsher measures. Observers at the recent G20 demonstrations contrasted the behaviour of demonstrators with the aggressive police tactics, and the combative behaviour of particular police formations. Are we paying the police to escalate public disorder?

The practice known as ‘kettling’ is most worrying. Apparently if you and I take part in a demonstration we need to be ready to be confined for hours and charged by lines of riot police.

The context for all this appears to be the steady criminalisation of protest. The police so routinely invoke powers granted to them to combat terrorism that no aspect of their work now escapes its shadow. Police ‘forward intelligence units’ openly photograph political meetings and claim their work to be routine.

We were always a better society than our policemen think we are; their work gives them the worst of us. We have always had to restrain them from their habitual view of us as either criminals or possible criminals. But by refocusing on us as terrorists and possible terrorists, they have discovered a wide indulgence.

I read that Whitelaw, as Home Secretary, scoffed at policemen seeking powers to deal with IRA bombers, and asked if they were too soft to catch terrorists without protecting civil liberties.

We cannot afford this indulgence; not the lives, and not the freedom. As Philip Pullman said at the Convention on Modern Liberty, we are a better nation than our government thinks we are.

I look forward to your questions in the House.

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