Panic on the streets of London
Of course, they weren’t actually working. They were there to demonstrate about their annual pay increase being pegged to 1.9 per cent, rather than the 2.5 per cent they think they are due under a previous agreement.
(Funny this, but for some reason the Met Police riot squads on duty didn’t see fit to steam into the crowd outside the Palace of Westminster, batons flailing, as they did with the Countryside March the other year. And is it only me who was willing to pay for a couple of coachloads of tenner-waving ex-miners to be bussed down to provide a bit of sideline abuse?)
Now it’s in our nature to be supportive of the police whenever possible. They are, after all, the people we turn to for protection from the feral mobs roaming our streets. But I sense a recent change in attitude. For a variety of reasons, I don’t think they can now rely on the unthinking, automatic support of the normally law-abiding middle classes any more.
There are a number of factors behind this change. Let’s start with the job itself. Bog standard bobbies begin training on £21,000 a year and can soon rise to £32,000. Sergeants are on £37,000 and Inspectors on £45,000. Add to that a gold-plated, index-linked pension, a retirement age for many of their early forties (and that’s if the notorious ’bad back’ doesn’t get them first), as much overtime as they want and, according to street legend, all the free drugs they fancy, and you can see why it’s an enviable career for many.
Then there’s the more serious point of the dislocation of the police from society, and the subsequent support of that society. This begins in an almost insignificant way with the introduction of speed cameras, but results in the widespread criminalisation of the middle classes and the resentment that engenders. At the same time, the mythical bobby on the beat and the cop car on the motorway disappear from sight. For most of us, our only exposure to the forces of law and order these days is the sight of a fat girl in a fluorescent jacket waddling down our High Street sticking parking tickets on cars. And that’s when they’re not standing by watching our children drown in lakes because they haven’t completed the ‘getting wet’ module of their Health and Safety training.
And when we do come across the real thing in operation, it isn’t always a pleasant experience. I went to a football match in Birmingham the other week and was horrified by the way ordinary, middle aged, middle class fans were bullied and harassed by the assembled massed ranks of Robocops, complete with masks, helmets, body armour and shields. Old school football fans often complain that their game has been gentrified by the prawn sandwich brigade. That demographic change clearly hasn’t made its way into the thinking of the West Midlands Police (whose chief constable, incidentally, earns £163,908 - considerably more than the Prime Minister).
And then we have the mayhem on our streets. It currently seems that hardly a night passes without an innocent father-of-three being kicked to death by a gang of feral hoodlums, most of whom seem to have been released on bail for similar offences the previous day. As with the onset of speed cameras, this isn’t entirely the fault of the police, but once again our confidence in their abilities is undermined.
Even the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith (salary just over £100,000) openly states that she’d be scared to walk the streets at night, conveniently forgetting that a couple of burly, gun-wielding bodyguards accompany her wherever she goes. Maybe she’s frightened of Wee Gordy Broon’s body snatchers lurking in alleyways waiting to relieve her of her vital organs without her permission.
Perhaps she should be more frightened of the police. Company director Andrew Wilson collapsed seven miles into the Great North Run last year and began thrashing around as he was having a seizure. A policeman who came to his assistance was accidentally head-butted and promptly arrested Mr Wilson for assault and carted him off to the nick before he could receive medical treatment. After 13 court appearances - at a cost of approx £20,000 - Mr Wilson was cleared of all charges.
Even worse, a chap who went into a diabetic coma on a bus in Leeds last year was shot twice with a Tazer by armed police because he “failed to respond to their orders”. Their precipitate action was excused because the suspect, a white male bistro-owner and son of a magistrate who has been dependent on insulin for 20 years, was carrying a rucksack and may have been planning to blow up the … err ... empty bus.
So there we have it. The distance between us and them increases, as does our disenchantment and fear. (I think I’ve told you before how I tried to report a suspicious character lurking around the village at our local police station - opening hours, 2pm until 4pm, Tuesday to Thursday. The copper behind the desk wouldn’t open the door because he was “eating his sandwiches”.)
And so you get distinctly unhelpful columns like this appearing in local newspapers while every sensible householder hides a golf club behind their front door and a machete under their bed. It’s not great, is it?
Mind how you go.