Public sector cuts: Are the police too keen on putting the kettle on?

We’ve written previously about the apparent enthusiasm for heavy-handed and authoritarian tactics amongst police officers in the UK. A paper by Liberty, (reported here in the Independent) who were brought in as independent observers of the protests against the public sector cuts that took place on March 26th, concludes that while police behaviour was “on the whole proportionate”, officers seem far too ready to hold protestors in ‘kettles’, preventing free movement and potentially increasing friction between protestors and authorities.

Shami Chakrabarti, Liberty’s director, commented that:

“The preoccupation with ‘kettling‘ and political pressure for knee-jerk public order powers continue to threaten the right to peaceful dissent in the oldest unbroken democracy.”

Given that the police are employees of the public sector, we find ourselves wondering what will give first: their loyalty to their employers, or their ability to maintain authority in the face of peaceful protest. Will police officers find themselves joining the protests against slashed public sector budgets on their days off, or will we move towards a situation where police are no longer regarded as public servants, but as tools of a repressive state?

It seems to us that, with our Conservative-Liberal Democrat government’s determination to force through deeply unpopular cuts, something will have to give. As civil unrest grows, they will doubtless find themselves more reliant on the police to maintain order: will they find that the pressure of dissent is too great, and revise their plans, or will they find ways to exempt the police force from the worst of the cuts and buy their loyalty?

We seem to be on a threshold: the democratic principles that we have come to rely upon are deeply challenged, and fortunately enough of us are aware of the situation to mount a serious challenge to the government’s body blow to civil society. When it comes to shaping the direction of the country, and the way we respond to such abuses, the next few months may well be extremely telling.

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