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One reason why the police are dangerous, undemocratic and stupid

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Anthony Barnett (@AnthonyBarnett) is the co-founder of openDemocracy and author of The Lure of Greatness.

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): The arrest of Damien Green, early blogged by Tom (below), included a police search of his office in the House of Commons. Let's assume that there was no political direction or permission, even of an informal kind. This makes it an even more dangerous attack on democracy given that his crime was to expose wrongdoings - as he should. What do the police think they are up to? If the answer is 'just doing their job' it means they have lost any belief in parliamentary democracy. Before we get coldly outraged by this - as we will - we have to ask: is there any basis in the experience of the police for ceasing to believe in parliamentary democracy?

I think there is. The police spent many months and a huge amount of money investigating the cash for peerages scandal. They interviewed the Prime Minister twice, something that had never happened before to a serving premier. The reason is obvious to everyone. Parliament and Downing Street was a crime scene. Peerages were indeed being sold for cash. I recall watching Blair saying (but I can't find the link or the transcript) in a press conference that of course individuals who assisted political parties with large sums might be ennobled and there was nothing wrong with this - provided it didn't take place in the same transaction. The cynicism was transparent.

So there is a very strong and recent experience in the upper levels of the police that politicians get away with breaking the law. Even more annoying, when the police fail to make a case against them stand up strongly enough for a court of law, they are then attacked by the same politicians for wasting public money.

Thus the arbitrary, corrupt and despotic behaviour of New Labour under Blair has now bred an arbitrary and despotic police command. We are reaping Blair's failure to believe in democracy. 

Which makes the widening of the intrusive extension of state powers that we are now witnessing all the more a matter for profound concern. Lacking a deep belief in public values and democratic accountability, as they evidently do, those who use these powers will desire to expand them - if only in order to protect themselves from the inevitable abuses generated by their own all too human incompetance. 

This adds a new urgency to the fight for a principled modern liberty that is exercised by us as free citizens governing our own democracy. We can't just look to 'parliament' to do this.

I am working with Henry Porter (see his blog in Comment Is Free) and others on a Convention on Modern Liberty that will call on all those concerned to debate the issues and what to do next. The event and associated meetings around the country is still under construction. A combined effort is going to be needed.


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