For once I’m tending more towards conspiracy rather than cock-up. Mostly I view conspiracy theorists as the anoraks of the secularised world — seeking for shadowy, omnipotent forces to revere in a postlapsarian world of disturbing chaos. But the recent debacle in Forest Gate, whereby 200 armed, chemically suited policemen stormed a house and maimed an innocent man — who just happened to be a Muslim — have got me thinking.
A couple of days after the shooting, when it became apparent that the “hot” intelligence the Met had trumpeted was nothing more than hearsay, I ran into Ian Hislop, the editor of Private Eye, outside his office in Soho. After some acquaintance-style chitchat, I averred that the whole Forest Gate debacle smacked to high-heaven of the kind of inter-agency conflict bruited about by John Le Carré in his Cold War thrillers, and that I wouldn’t be surprised if MI5 had set the coppers up. Far from disabusing me of this, Ian all but concurred: “Funnily enough,” he said “Francis Wheen was making precisely the same point just now in our editorial meeting.”
Now, a fortnight since, the fact that these two men have been released without charge, and that the police clearly did cock up (even if their actions were the result of someone else’s conspiracy), is steadily being buried beneath a lava flow of bureaucratic “inquiry”: the truth entombed, only to be accessible millennia hence by the disputatious political archaeologists of a future era.
That the Met, MI6, MI5 and heaven knows what other shadowy “security agencies” (what a choice euphemism this remains), should be engaged in a turf war, using the terrorist threat as a weapon with which to smite each other, should come as no surprise. There’s an easy comfort — much cleaved to at all levels of society — that this kind of carry-on imploded along with the collapse of the Berlin Wall; after all, with no enemy to defect to, how could all those spooks and plods exercise their undoubted capacity for treachery? But this is nonsense, the whole farrago of the Kelly suicide — and its aftermath — exposed the extent to which the political class try to ride the bucking bronco of “intelligence”, ever fearful that the damn nag will toss them off.
Ever since 9/11 we’ve been admonished that there is a real, present and even grotesque threat to the welfare of each and every one of us. The police and the powers-that-be regularly inform us that this or that terrorist threat has been thwarted, and that for sound “operational” reasons we cannot be allowed to know the details. Yet when we get to actually hear about this Bin Laden-busting, it almost always turns out to have been a cock-up. Now, with the end of the Blair regime in sight, there’s little reason for those cloak ‘n dagger horseys to go on being bridled. With the knives already out for “Sir” Ian Blair at the Met, can it be long before a fair few are plunged between the “Sir” Paul Smith-suited shoulders of our un-beloved leader?
Watch this space.
Will Self, 29 June 2006