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Labour won’t fix Britain’s police problem

BLM policing has already arrived in Britain.

May 25, 2024 - 8:00am

Among the many inauspicious circumstances surrounding Rishi Sunak’s announcement of a general election this summer, an overlooked factor was that his campaign for re-election was launched the day after the police were told to make fewer arrests because Britain’s prisons are full. With raw sewage and disease polluting Britain’s coastline, waterways and tap water, as well as crumbling infrastructure and public health, many citizens are already well-versed in the decay of the country’s public services. Yet surely the state’s unwillingness to maintain law and order by arresting and indicting those who break the law must rank highest among the many examples of institutional failure today.

The Labour Party has promised to recruit 13,000 more police officers if elected to office, and overcrowded prisons are reportedly among the top five problems that an incoming Keir Starmer government expects to have to tackle. Yet only a few brief years ago, the Labour Party was less effusive about boosting Britain’s police forces. After all, it was only a few years ago that Starmer signalled his support for the global Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests by being photographed symbolically “taking the knee”.

This ostentatious gesture in the midst of a rolling wave of mass protest subverting the strictures of lockdown at the time indicated the profound unreality of Britain’s public debate on racism and policing. For while Tories criticised Starmer’s participation in the public rituals of the American empire, it was those same Tories who had already been implementing the BLM programme for at least 10 years — the programme of police abolition.

As with most radical projects today, its tenor is conservative insofar as the theory of abolitionism draws from the authority of the past more than it looks to the future. In this case, the anti-police campaign borrowed the 19th-century discourse of opposition to slavery on the grounds that American policing is irredeemably corrupted by its historical origins. The fact that modern British policing emerged as part of the effort to crush the Chartists’ struggle for working-class suffrage rather than colonial slave patrols did not stop our tenured radicals from warmly embracing the latest ideological export from the imperial metropole.

But here, too, Britain’s radicals were as behind the curve as ever, for it was the ruling Tories who had in fact been stripping back Britain’s police forces ever since Theresa May was Home Secretary from 2010-16. It was this period of austerity which saw a reduction of 20,000 police officers as part of the drive to reduce state spending.

How do we explain this convergence between Tory austerians and BLM radicals? The answer is neoliberalism — the dominant paradigm of national government, predicated on stripping back the state in favour of the market. The delegitimisation of public authority, and with it the belief in any collective capacity to steer society, is part-and-parcel both of austerity and the progressive radicalism that dominates campus politics.

Doubtless Theresa May does not see herself as the pioneer of BLM policing in Britain, just as Britain’s BLM campaigners don’t see themselves as the loyal foot soldiers of austerity in public services — yet they are. That is the way ideology works. The traditional parties of both Right and Left have contributed to perpetuating the erosion of public security in Britain today.

We will not escape the vortex of state failure until we have a politics that is dedicated to nation-building rather than public decline. In the meantime, the choice is clear: if you want to further erode national policing, you can vote for either the Tories or Labour.


Philip Cunliffe is Associate Professor of International Relations at the Institute of Risk and Disaster Reduction, University College London. He is author or editor of eight books, as well as a co-author of Taking Control: Sovereignty and Democracy After Brexit (2023). He is one of the hosts of the Bungacast podcast.

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Peter Beard
Peter Beard
29 days ago

Excellent analysis, it identifies the paramount problem of a centrist government, combining worst of the left with the worst of the right.

Adrian Smith
Adrian Smith
29 days ago

Great photo which shows Starmer for exactly who he really is – a nice enough chap who has no real principles but will go along with anything he thinks will be popular with what he thinks is his target demographic. His woolly back tracking (we still do not know what his and more importantly Labour policy really is now) on trans women are women shows he will just bend in any wind. Even where he tried to hold a principled firm line on support to Israel he has bent, hijacking parliamentary process to get him out of an uncomfortable position where he would have to really stand by his principles.
Anyone who thinks that with a majority of over 100 seats and a whole load of new woke MPs, Starmer won’t be completely overrun by them into reversing all the minor victories against woke we have had just recently, then going much further down the woke Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole is deluding themselves.
2024 could very easily be 1984 40 years too late and there is nothing we can do about it other than hope the nightmare only lasts 5 years.

El Uro
El Uro
29 days ago
Reply to  Adrian Smith

I would have preferred to see them both in doggy style position to better suit their principles.

Pip G
Pip G
29 days ago

Does this offer one of the ‘changes’ Labour can make without needing lots of money?
Four areas: (1) The Police Force where removing bad officers, focusing them on crime, and reducing bureaucracy would not require money, but the voters would welcome. (2) the Courts and Prisons are overwhelmed. No votes in it but again voters like it. Exhibit 1: the Secret Barrister. (3) the NHS, where administration is terrible. The useless but expensive IT systems could be improved and staff re-motivated. (4) Water: without nationalization Labour could prosecute polluters and stop passing huge profits to the owners.
There is a concern that Labour will manage decline, reacting to the latest economic statistics, and do little of substance. If Labour works on a limited number of lower cost initiatives it may surprise us.

John Lammi
John Lammi
29 days ago

Does anyone call themselves a “neoliberal “? I don’t think so

ChilblainEdwardOlmos
ChilblainEdwardOlmos
28 days ago
Reply to  John Lammi

It’s out of favour and style, but plenty of economists did until quite recently. It’s an economic philosophy that has b****r all to do with liberalism. Thatcher, Reagan, Clinton, Blair, GW Bush, Obama, etc. all neoliberals.

ChilblainEdwardOlmos
ChilblainEdwardOlmos
28 days ago
Reply to  John Lammi

Wow. I didn’t know that words were automatically asterisked on unherd! “Sheiiiiiiiiit” – Clay Davis

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
29 days ago

I need antiemetic medicine each time I come across this wonderful photo.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
29 days ago

What will Labour fix, I wonder?