What a few days the Met Police has had. It has appeared gripped by a collective personality disorder, and has issued several confused messages. One of its boys – actually a 53-year-old, PC Keith Wallis – admitted that he lied about what the Tory MP Andrew Mitchell had said when asked to get off his bike outside Downing Street.
The MP, then a Cabinet minister, got cross and was rude. Some coppers claimed he’d called them “plebs”. Mitchell denied the claim. He was disbelieved by his peers and the PM duly sacked him. Now he is vindicated and parliamentarians seem shocked that British policemen, the best in the world, could have behaved so dishonourably.
Our governing classes really do live in a disinfected, triple-glazed, fortified belvedere. They must know that our police can lie, can treat citizens unfairly, have infiltrated benign campaign groups, can target minorities, can make up stories in courts, can pick on victims to harass. But this time, something bad – though not that bad – happened to one of their own. That and only that has brought on the apoplexy and dyspepsia.
On the other side of the tracks, the mixed race family of Mark Duggan were stunned by an inquest jury verdict of “lawful killing” by a police officer. So were most black Britons. Though I agree that the jury’s decision must be respected, I too was dismayed. Were the family being punished for the riots? No shots were fired by Duggan, though to its shame, the IPCC, the police watchdog, had leaked this false information to the press. An independent witness saw a only BlackBerry in Duggan’s hand. There were other discrepancies between the police and witness accounts.
Duggan was involved in crimes and misdemeanours. But without trustworthy evidence, we can’t ascertain whether he was a small-time crook or a hardened, violent criminal. Even if he was the latter, he should have been tried, not gunned down. That unethical Obama strategy for terrorists should never be taken up by our law and order agencies. I stress I am not disrespecting the jury or the process or all police officers. But the inquest has left a cloud of uncertainty hanging over Mr Duggan’s death.
Only black MPs – David Lammy and Diane Abbott – felt able to say that the verdict was baffling and contradictory. And they were blasted by some jingoists. As I will be, too. So be it. The matter is too urgent to be censored by the rabid right. Post-inquest Tottenham activist Stafford Scott spoke a big truth: “It feels as if we are living in a parallel universe from mainstream society. What is seen as justice by the mainstream is experienced as injustice by the marginalised.”
Does that matter? Yes, hugely. What is practised on one group, is then extended to everyone else. Remember that. In 2009, Ian Tomlinson died after being hit by a policeman. When the children of the middle classes were tyrannised by cops during student demos over fees, their parents felt what many black families regularly feel.
Top of my hero list of last year was Charles Walker, a Tory, and vice-chairman of the 1922 Committee. In December he delivered an extraordinary speech in the Commons. He spoke of his shame over the number of black people who have died in custody and detention: “We have allowed the causes of these deaths to go unaddressed... If we are to bring this community closer to us, we need to understand the hurt we have caused in this place and institutions of the state have caused.”
The police have caused the greatest hurt. The racially biased stop-and-search practice carries on. Same old promises are given and not kept. Only 10 per cent of the Met is non-white, and hardly non-white officers figure in the top jobs. Individuals who do break through the glass ceiling are left cut and bleeding and hurt further by their audacity. Racism in the forces is part of the culture. Certain groups are hounded, while others are not. Gun and gang crime is high among young black and mixed-race men. But not all black and mixed-race men are gang members and felons. Basic really. Many churchmen are child abusers. But coppers don’t behave as if all churchmen are all potential child abusers. Criminologist Jock Young, who very sadly died last week, described in his book, The Exclusive Society, the demonisation and dehumanisation of certain sectors of British society by law enforcers.
Personally, I owe the police my life several times over. They protected me when I was seriously threatened and when I needed urgent medical help. They did the right thing when I passed them information about the paedophile Stuart Hall. But I still say the service is not what it should be, what it must be. It is mistrusted by too many Britons. After last week, that trust, low as it was, has diminished further. And so we all feel less safe than before.
Unattractive, but appealing?
When I look at Francois Hollande, I see a dull, bespectacled, balding bloke with a gormless smile, a Homer Simpson look alike, only without the humour. OK, that’s unkind, lookist, not fair. But be honest. We are all asking the same question: How does a man who has so few obvious physical attributes become such an object of passionate desire? Sarkozy, short and a bit lizardy, had no problems pulling, either. Power must be the ultimate aphrodisiac.
Hey chaps, all of you who joined gyms, bought or got new face products and designer clothes, don’t bother. It’s a waste of time and money. Women need none of that to be turned on, to be seduced, to become practised mistresses. Hollande, almost 60, is allegedly having an affair with an actress 20 years younger, and yes, gorgeous. Just a few months back, Hollande’s present partner, the first lady, was at war with his former paramour, mother of his children. Both of them are gorgeous too. Maybe he is a demon lover. Or the women - a politician, journalist and actress - though professionally brilliant, have modest aspirations when they choose men. Not surprising really. In France, feminism is still just a conversation in cafes, and sexual games are played and won mostly by men.