Issue 241 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published May 2000 Copyright © Socialist Review

Stack on the back

Frank about the Old Bill

As Dobson joins the thin blue line, Pat Stack pursues the credibility gap

Frank Dobson looks a sad and sorry man these days. A little while ago those of us who hated the sharp suited and dull witted New Labour clones would probably not have had Frank very high up on our hitlist. He appeared to have worked his niche nicely--sufficiently Blairite to slip into the cabinet, but sufficiently human, humorous and, well, beardy, I suppose, to not be seen quite in the same light as the Mandelsons,Byers's and Hoons of this world.

All that has changed. Watching Dobson attempt to smear Ken Livingstone for being too left wing is to watch a pathetic and inept politician sell every last ounce of credibility. To take just one example--Dobson's attack on Livingstone for being hostile to the Metropolitan Police. Why would Dobson think this was a liability for Livingstone? Surely there has never been a time when the standing of the police in London has been lower?

We have had a succession of undetected and bungled racist murders, most famously the Stephen Lawrence case, and the finding that the force is guilty of institutionalised racism. So being critical of the police does not exactly qualify you as the new Lenin. Indeed, I would rather Livingstone was considerably more critical of them. And so discredited have the Met become that all attempts to salvage their reputation have looked ridiculous.

The idea of a counter-offensive by the police is not new. For example, ever since their release the Birmingham Six have had to endure a West Midlands Police inspired whispering campaign saying the six were guilty all along, or if they weren't guilty of that bombing they probably carried out others. This is all utterly disgusting tripe of course, but it's necessary from the point of view of the police, the judiciary, and the hangers' and floggers' brigade in order to justify incompetence, violence and corruption.

Similarly with Winston Silcott. When he was recently awarded damages for being an innocent victim of the justice system, the opinions of PC Blakelock's widow were instantly sought, and her views on Silcott were released. Why? PC Blakelock, you may remember, is the man Winston Silcott was eventually cleared of killing. Silcott's current sentence has, or should have, nothing to do with that case, yet by continually producing the widow of a man killed by a person or persons other than Silcott you are meant to be left in no doubt that the police were right all along.

Following the attacks on the Metropolitan Police contained in the Macpherson report, the Met knew that they dare not attempt to attack or discredit the Lawrence family. So the Met, the Police Federation, right wing journalists and the 'law and order' enthusiasts began putting it about that the impact of the Macpherson report was making it difficult for them to go about their day to day work. The implication of this was that black youth were now roaming the streets laden with bad intentions, and no longer hindered by fear of the thin blue line.

The tactic was simple. Have you been burgled recently? Blame Macpherson. Have you had your handbag nicked? It's down to the Lawrence report. Have you had your car stolen? Well, all this 'political correctness' means we are standing idly by whilst the perpetrator is joyriding up and down the road in front of our station.

However, as we were all being informed about the care and anxiety of the force about stopping blacks, two amazing events took place. Firstly Neville Lawrence, Stephen's father, was, stopped with a friend by police investigating a robbery. The only way in which Neville's description apparently tallied with that given by eyewitnesses was that they had the same skin colour.

Then John Sentamu, the Bishop of Stepney, and ironically the only black member of the Macpherson inquiry, was also stopped. The officer who stopped him refused, despite repeated requests, to explain why he had done so.

Now you can't help but wonder whether this is normal behaviour. How many other people who have had a member of their family murdered have been the subjects of police suspicion? Has the late PC Blakelock's widow found herself being stopped because somebody reported that a crime was committed by a white woman?

It's not as if Neville hasn't been highly prominent. There can surely not be a cop in London who hasn't seen his picture or at least heard of him. Do other high profile victims get the same treatment? Do the parents of, say, Leah Betts go around anxiously hoping a crime hasn't been committed in the fear that if it has they can expect to be stopped and quizzed about it? Somehow I doubt it.

Similarly with bishops. Do the Met have a high stop and search rate of bishops? For the purposes of this column I made repeated attempts to contact the Met press office to find out how many bishops they had stopped in the last five years. Sadly I could only get silence, but I think we all know the answer, don't we?

Now if these events happened at a time when fear of 'political correctness' was hampering cops from stopping blacks, one wonders what will happen when they begin to regain confidence. Presumably they will start ramming the gates of African embassies and dragging ambassadors and diplomats down to the station for questioning about a break-in at the local off licence. Or the next time Cameroon come to play England at football we can expect the Met to charge onto the pitch and arrest all 11 players and the subs bench because a handbag was stolen in the area.

Imagine how awful it would be if the mayor of London were to be critical of such actions, because until such time none of us will be able to sleep easy at night knowing the police are powerless to defend us. Maybe Frank's election slogan should have been 'Make London safer, bang up a bishop.'

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