Policing is in turmoil and it all could have been avoided. Officers are demoralised and are leaving. I am not going to get into the detail of recent events, but I do want to look at the deeper underlying issues.
Firstly, I will raise the question about the government’s response to the disease. It says something about the nature of our politicians that their response to a public health issue is to legislate. Why would that be their first response? Doesn’t it seem more appropriate that information and education would be a more sensible response? The rush to legislation is illustrative of the commitment to the nanny state. Politicians do not trust people to think for themselves or look after themselves, the state needs to do it for them and therein lies the root of the problem. Did they think through the consequences of trying to legislate for trying to control mass social behaviour?
The paramount question is “is there consent?” The government has to convince people there is a problem in order to engineer consent for serious restrictions on civil liberties. There was a lot of uncertainty in the early days of the outbreak, which is why they probably delayed doing anything for a week. But unfortunately for them the uncertainty about the problem has only grown. They have manipulated figures to try and demonstrate a problem with an infection that is very little different from normal seasonal influenza. In fact, at some point last year, they decided to conflate Covid and Flu figures, I suspect because the PCR test cannot tell the difference between them. Experience has shown the PCR test is being misused, even its inventor says it is not fit for this purpose and it is often quoted it “will find anything if you repeat it often enough”.
There is obviously a nasty infection doing the rounds, but it is not at abnormal levels of hospitalisation. The public have seen through the government deceptions and hence there is a very low level of consent to the restrictions they have imposed. This was the fundamental mistake in the governments approach to dealing with the disease. Legislation should not have been seen as the answer. They were not alone though, almost every government in the world has resorted to legislation. Personally, I think the government should have given advice and education and let people manage their own behaviour.
This is where the police come in. The police are particularly unsuited to enforcing restrictions on civil liberties in the way that politicians have demanded. The laws are confusing, and many forces have interpreted them in particularly enthusiastic ways, using drone technology to hound people or setting up physical roadblocks to prevent travel for example. Some police officers seem to make their own interpretation of the laws and some officers relished the opportunity to release their authoritarian inner selves. In many cases the police have behaved quite brutally. However, it’s not solely the politicians who are at fault. I think there would be more consent to the enforcement of the politician’s laws has the police been seen to be enforcing the restrictions equitably. I remember watching the brutal way the police ended anti lockdown demonstrations in Trafalgar Square while failing to take action against Black Lives Matter demonstrations and religious celebrations involving thousands. It was definitely one rule for them and another for us. I believe this is the root cause of the resistance to police enforcement of the Covid Laws.
As for events last Saturday on Clapham Common, if I had been policing it, I would have done nothing. There was no need to intervene. It may be that the event was hijacked by left wing activists from the SWP and BLM but there was little implication beyond the site itself. All the police did was create a “cause celebre. They were outwitted tactically. They missed an opportunity to turn a blind eye as they have done on other occasions.
The police should be taking out of enforcing Covid restrictions and the easiest way to do this is to abolish those regulations. There is precious little evidence they have made any difference. But they have destroyed the reputation of the police.
Mike Speakman, Retired Deputy Chief Constable
Party Spokesman, Policing and Law & Order