Friday, 15 August 2008

Whose Law Is It Anyway?

Anyone who followed the recent Camp for Climate Action at Kingsnorth could have a range of views of the policing of that event. It could be anything from: “The police successfully prevented an extreme element from injuring protesters, police and horses” to “a legitimate and necessary protest went ahead despite an extreme element within the police force, who were committed to suppress it”.

For me, my experience of the policing of the camp is something I'm having some difficulty accepting. As a councillor in Cambridge, I work closely with the police and know the intentions of officers are overwhelmingly genuine.

My experience at the camp was therefore rather unexpected. In many areas, the police stopped even bothering to obey the law or justify their actions. They resorted to psychological measures, on most mornings at 5 a.m., assembling van loads of riot police at the gate as if ready to invade the camp. The most bizarre of these actions was to send a number of police vans down the road at 3 a.m. on Wednesday morning, sirens blazing. When the got to the gate, they stopped and played “The Ride of the Valkyries” (theme from Apocalypse Now) over their loudspeaker before silently disappearing back to their temporary tent city (complete with stables and a swimming pool).

Have I been asleep while law after law has given the police so much power and so little responsibility? Are our police so conditioned to obey from above that they'll willfully break the law themselves to carry out an order? I'm dumbstruck!

There is something that now seems more fate than mere coincidence. I went to the camp was to run a workshop. Titled “You call this democracy!”, it looked at how party funding, the voting system, and centralised government give so few people any real voice or influence over climate and social issues.

Looking back now, I didn't realise just how important a topic this is.

We Liberal Democrats, it seems, have a very big fight on our hands. That fight is to wrestle back real accountability and influence for the voters. If we fail, the likely prognosis is that we continue to slide into a scary police state. A state serving, not the interests of the citizens, but instead those of a self-serving few.

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