Once again, Britain has been rocked by the foul stench of terrorism, and although London was the site of the atrocity, the people affected were of course predominantly commuters from the wide area inhabited by London’s workers. Whilst George W. Bush, the American President, spouted yet more hypocrisy about compassion and not yielding to people who would impose their beliefs and way of life on others, The Queen, Prime Minister Tony Blair, and the Mayor of London Ken Livingstone each said pretty much the same thing, that the terrorists would not prevail, that they would not change our way of life that we proudly live in Great Britain. Winston Churchill once said much the same thing about the threat of the Axis powers in the Second World War.
Unfortunately of course, our way of life is already threatened, and has already changed. In many ways, therefore, the terrorists have already won a victory; however this victory has been perpetrated over us from within. Just take a look around: the UK’s Police forces have unprecedented powers and autonomy, and have even started to look and behave like paramilitaries. Their power grows, under the overwhelming force of common sense in this, our democracy, our coalition of the meek. Of course we need greater security in the face of the growing threat from extremists. But we should not lose sight of that which has been lost.
When I was six years old, I wrote a small book entitled “All About Me”. At the end, upside down – whoops – a drawing of a police panda car and a friendly-faced British bobby accompanied my statement that, when I grew up, I would like to be a policeman. A number of my friends also wanted to be policemen. Of course we did: Policemen help people; they’re a force for good. They’re heroes, in the mould of Dixon of Dock Green.
How times have changed. I would not be proud to be a police officer now. I am so glad I didn’t follow my childhood whim. More telling is the complete and utter lack of ambition amongst my sons’ generation towards a police career. My sons have said a great deal about what they’d like to be when they grow up, as have all their friends. However none of them want to become policemen. And if so few children of nice families want to become policemen, what sort of material does that leave today’s police recruiters with?
The police no longer command the respect of the man in the street. Little wonder, when all the man in the street sees of the police is the aggressive-looking individuals in paramilitary-style uniforms driving around in police cars, walking around eyeing passers-by suspiciously, or, as I saw just the other week, six of them bringing down one shoplifter in the street with, I have to say, undue force, whilst shoppers tried not to look or get involved in any way.
Two days before I wrote this, a Police CCTV van was seen in my road, a quiet suburban road that peters out to a dirt track, in which nothing much happens. I’ve seen the same van hanging round a lot in my kids’ school road. On this occasion, the camera, mounted atop the van, was for some minutes pointed directly at my flat, at approximately the right height to look directly through my second-floor windows. “Smile” said a happy smiling face pictured on the side of the van; “You’re on CCTV”.
“No”, I say, I shall not go smiling towards a future in which our police force is free to harass people, detain, or stop and search people without reason and film people without their consent. These are direct and outrageous contraventions of our civil liberties, but we all accept that they’re necessary to protect us from the dark forces of Al Qaeda and other extremist organisations, don’t we? Hang on a moment… Al Qaeda in my quiet little road? I think not. So what the hell are the police doing using CCTV in a quiet little village backwater in Brighton, where clearly, nothing untoward has occurred? Who, exactly was using the camera, and for what purpose? Have our police turned into peeping toms?
Power corrupts. People in uniforms, as anyone else, entered their jobs because there was an attraction. If that attraction was a power or control over people, one has to ask the obvious question. Should people who want power and control over other people be allowed to have that power and control? When those people are given greater and greater powers in the face of a perceived threat from without, there has to come a point at which we question from whence the real threat originates. Beware of the enemy within.