Tales of the City: Is this a copper I see before me?

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The Independent Culture
It really is grounds for despair when you discover that not only are you the same age as the Prime Minister, but you're the same age as the head of Scotland Yard. (It'll be the Archbishop of Canterbury next.) Not only was Sir Ian Blair, the new Metropolitan Police Commissioner, born a few months earlier than I; he also went to Oxford and read English in the same year as I did. Gosh, that makes me feel ancient.

Oxford in the early Seventies was full of hash and acid and long greasy hair and Black Sabbath greatcoats. Students were more likely to be planning a demonstration of the need for a central students' union than planning to join the police force. The police were the natural enemy of the druggy student.

Sir Ian was evidently made of unusual stuff. His appointment means that the capital's police force is, for once, in the hands of a well-educated, middle-class, arty intellectual, a person who'd slot in perfectly well in the Groucho brasserie or the Babington House bar.

His interests are "skiing, tennis and theatre," his pronouncements are strikingly liberal (he is against arming the police and against installing knife-and-gun scanners outside schools), and his public profile suggests he'll soon be sought out as a guest on radio panel-shows and Newsnight Review. Unfortunately, virtually his first target is the coke-snorting, professional-class "weekend drug-user", the kind of chap in whose social company he might normally expect to be spending his time.

More significant, however, may be his literary bent. A profile revealed (in awe-struck tones) that someone had seen Sir Ian at a dinner party where Ian McEwan was a guest. The knight was discussing Richard Dawkins's views of evolutionary psychology with the novelist and was "holding his own".

Blimey. This is serious. The Metro-politan Police is in the control of a guy who once read Beowulf in the original, and stayed up all night trying to finish Tristram Shandy. What would it mean for London if the influence of his English literature degree started manifesting itself? Would you find police interrogators relinquishing their thumbscrews and truncheons and subjecting their victims to half an hour of Spenser's The Faerie Queene until they confess? Will Sir Ian hurl Shakespearean insults - "The devil damn thee black, thou cream-faced loon" - at his more nervous young recruits before sending them into battle in the next globalisation riots?

Will the criminal fraternity learn to dread Sir Ian's stertorous Oxford voice, heralding a dawn raid by kicking down the front door and quoting John Donne ("And now, good morrow to your waking souls!")? Will Sir Ian address the annual Police Federation conference and examine the problem of antisocial behaviour by asking at the start: "Was it not La Rochefoucauld who said, `Il n'y a guere d'homme assez habile pour connaitre tout le mal qu'il fait...'?" I would love to think so.

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