The Strong Arm of the Law
I’ve given Sir Ian Blair the benefit of the doubt since he became Commissioner of the Met. I’ve liked his insistence on community policing and his zero tolerance for racism and homophobia in the force. However, the fact that he’s thick as thieves with his namesake should really have alerted me to his true colours. As last night’s Reith Lecture displayed, Sir Ian is that most curious of creatures – a wholly political animal who understands little of politics.
I daresay the prestigious lecture – the first to be given by a senior policeman for 30 years – was fixed up before the Government’s defeat on 90-day detention for terror suspects, but I’m equally certain that Sir Ian saw it as another tactical move in his masterplan. Knocked back on this massive arrogation of police powers, Sir Ian remains unrepentant about proposing and then lobbying for it. He muses that it’s the public’s responsibility to launch a debate on the “shoot-to-kill” guidelines, which led to the death of Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell tube station in July. He asks us Londoners whether we want a July 6 police force – 90% unarmed, on the beat – or a July 7 police force – hi-tech untouchables who will zap the baddies.
Such apparent openness by Britain’s senior police officer is just that: apparent. On the very day that it was disclosed that de Menezes was shot with dum-dum bullets (ordinance so lethal it’s outlawed under the Geneva Convention), it’s a little crass for the head of the Met to tell the public we’re failing in our civic duty. The truth is that no one knew anything about the shoot-to-kill policy before July 22 except the police themselves. And while we’re at it, why is it taking so long for the IPCC inquiry into this killing? On the one hand Sir Ian asks Parliament for three months to browbeat terrorist suspects, while on the other he can’t get his own officers to ‘fess up in four.
No, Sir Ian may have our best interests at heart but he also has a steely grip on his own. He wants to be good cop and bad cop at the same time. He’ll play to whichever gallery he’s facing in his drive for more arrogation of power. With the upcoming reorganisation of constabularies, the Met more than ever will be the leader of the police pack, and its top dog will be that much closer to heading some kind of national force. The only kind of transparency Sir Ian is promoting is entirely inadvertent: we can see his motives crystal-clear.
Defeater of the Flux
According to the Queen – or at any rate her speech writer – the Christian Church speaks “uniquely” to our need for meaning in an uncertain world. Opening the General Synod this week, the Queen gave a rousing defence of her position as Supreme Governor of the established Church, striking down those who feel such a status is incompatible with being the Head of State of a multi-faith society. So far as I can see, the established Church has had nigh on half a millennium to convince us of its unique insight. In 16th century London less than 30% of the population were churchgoers – despite nonattendance being fineable – and now this incentive has been removed hardly anyone wants to go at all. Far from representing timeless verities, if the Church of England has any virtue it’s that it’s cut its moral garb to suit the times. It’s changed its creed, rewritten its Bible, and moved to accept female and gay priests. At the rate it’s going it’ll have to disestablish itself on moral grounds alone, and the sooner this happens the better.
Destroyer of Stereotypes
On Tuesday I had a brief but intense conversation about Christianity in fifth-century North Africa. No, I wasn’t at the General Synod along with the Queen, but at Goldsmiths College in New Cross. And this wasn’t a gathering of learned divines, but a celebration of the work of an astonishing project called Open Book. Set up by Joe Baden four years ago, Open Book aims to get people from offending, mental health and addiction backgrounds into further education. So far they’ve managed to do just this with almost 100 students. The man who told me he was boning up on Medieval Latin so he could do a doctoral thesis on St Augustine had been a drug addict for 30 years, in and out of jail. I also spoke to a former armed robber who’s doing a sociology degree and a playwright on day release from HMP Ford whose work has been commended by the Royal Court Theatre. I wish that the people who are so blinkered about the possibility of rehabilitating offenders could see the work organisations such as Open Book do. Yes, of course criminals need to be punished – but by educating ex-offenders we help them earn a living, pay their debt to society, and stop them from creating more victims.
Nurse! The screens!
To the Almeida, where the statuesque Ronni Ancona, together with a fine cast of British comedy actors, brought tremendous vigour to Moliere’s The Hypochondriac. This was high farce played with low cunning, and Moliere’s satire on the credulousness of patients and the finagling of their doctors felt as fresh today as when it was bottled 250-odd years ago. Not so fresh was the set, which consisted in part of some 40 jars of preserved excreta. On television or in an art gallery such a display would have doubtless provoked outrage, but us theatregoers are above all that – especially in the circle.