Dead Men Left

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Two Blairs for the price of one

According to the Telegraph...

Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, admits today that he urged chief constables to lobby MPs to support the Government's anti-terrorism proposals.

In a letter to The Daily Telegraph he says that on Nov 3 - the day after the Government realised that it was likely to lose a vote on giving police officers 90 days to hold suspects without charge - he approached the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo).

Mr Clarke says he "suggested to Acpo that chief constables write to MPs in their police authority area, making themselves or relevant senior police officers available to MPs, of all parties, who wanted to know their local police attitude on these issues". He says he "naturally made clear that this should not be on a party political basis" and denies that the Government sought to politicise the police.

Exiled mentions the role of the police during the miners' strike in his comment on this report, and it's absolutely true that the police have never been the neutral defenders of law n order their own mythology holds them to be. It's a feature they share with any other branch of the state.

What stands out, however, is the way New Labour have made the police force's political role - leaving aside questions of institutional racism and so on - far more explicit. There has been a happy meeting of minds in recent years, with ambitious senior officers, like the lamentable Ian Blair, more than happy to intervene in domestic political questions on the government's side.

The drive to politicise supposedly neutral arms of the government is a good example of New Labour staying true to its Thatcherite heritage. Security services, the senior civil service, and the massed ranks of the quango dwellers have all been criticised for their servility to New Labour.

I wonder, however, if there hasn't been a fresh urgency granted to Blair's efforts here by longstanding left-wing criticism of the British state. Tony Benn, in his Cabinet diaries from the 1970s, makes clear his opinion that senior civil servants all but deliberately obstructed a Labour government from fulfilling its manifesto promises - they were too radical, and were clobbered by the permanent civil service as a result. In a nicely New Labour twist, tying chunks of the government machine more closely to the ruling party could be presented as an honest attempt to undermine the state's inherent "anti-Labour" bias.

(I'm away until next weekend, and updates here are likely to be limited as a result.)