Monday, December 01, 2008

The limits of policing

It seems there is a silver lining to the shocking trampling of parliamentary democracy by the Metropolitan Police in their arrest of Damian Green MP and ransacking of his home and offices. Parliamentarians have finally discovered a limit to the authoritarian "nothing to hide" rhetoric of Blair and Brown. Blinking, they survey the several thousand new criminal offences they have created over the last decade; the vast new powers they have given the police; and the culture of fear Labour has stirred up as a blunt electoral wedge against the opposition. (As an aside, theories of cognitive development suggest that at around 11 years of age children should be able to imagine the consequences of events for others without direct personal experience.)

It will be interesting to see the details of this episode emerge over the next few days. How will the Speaker of the Commons explain the permission given to the police to enter Parliament? Did the police lie to the Serjeant at Arms? Were search warrants required? Did the Home Secretary authorise the interception of Damian Green's communications, in contravention of the Wilson doctrine?

As Jackie Ashley comments in today's Guardian: "all parties should take this opportunity to stand back and ask what kind of policing we want in this country. Yes, there is a terrorist threat which is both real and complex. Yes, it is right to look at police powers, as well as to support a larger and more sophisticated security service. But this does not mean we need to follow the US model, with local politics and local policing becoming synonymous, and the growth of an invasive, super-policing agency armed with extreme surveillance techniques, operating above the reach of mere MPs."

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