Rise of the Fingermen

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Our politics is punctuated most heavily by what it lacks; the absence of a unified, clear voice of criticism. Indeed, this voice could be a great strength of of conducting politics, particularly in contrast to reactionary collective actions or the populist fronts symptomatic of Latin American or Middle Eastern politics. Our dissenting voices are pluralist, and rightly so, albeit resulting in a fragmented, weaker opposition.

Now is when a unified, strong voice is most required. This article is an exposition, albeit restrained by word limits, of what is being taken away, that which we have a duty to demand back. We are all aware of the impending destruction of the NHS, the lack of pensions for many, the loss of welfare for the ‘squeezed middle’. The scope of this systematic pillage has now expanded (although not a novel issue) to the police force. Although many services such as phone line manning are now subject to private company control, the precedent is leading to serious discourse about a Nozick inspired alternative: armies of hired men placed as the dispensers and guardians of law and order. The invisible hand is to be institutionalised and provided with batons. I am more than aware of the savings this would make, and is in fact already making, yet economic benefits should only be considered once a much more fundamental question has been sufficiently dealt with – does the decision we are taking to privatise the police begin to resemble in any way a step towards historically evident horror; human misery; atrocities still fresh in the minds of the living; and, a general decline in our progress as a civilisation? I believe the answer to be yes.

The soon to be entrenched introduction of elected Police and Crime Commissioners appears a step in the direction of accountability and responsibility within our police force. Clearly thus the proposed £1.5 billion contract drawn up by West Midlands and Surrey Police is, as suggested by Lord Prescott recently, ‘a fundamental change in our police system’, cast merely as another budgetary requirement, masking the fact that it would mean an unprecedented acceptance of something we would intuitively find abhorrent: private contractors ensuring our safety. More worrying still, they will be charged with keeping us in line. While the British Security Industry Association has said such transfer of duties as is proposed would extend only to those where a warranted officer is not strictly needed, keeping the power of arrest and detention for employees of the Police Force, this represents a precedent that is both dangerous and not worth making, even if simply for the benefit of saving an officer the five minutes of taking a statement. Transfers such as these, as well as of duties including crime scene cordoning and witness statement collection, amongst others, have been approved by the home office.

While the reforms are small, they seemingly signify a syntax change in how we talk about justice, turning it from a concept we hold at the basis of our humanity and controlled by the national sovereignty of the people, to a commodity to be subject to market influence. Deep rooted societal bonds with such a continuously loyal and trusted institution are rendered to the withered association between consumer and provider; national affiliation mutated to corporate worship. Such things are arguably inevitable given the snowballing nature of political success if even the slightest facet of the duty to protect society is turned over to those who view it as profit rather than a matter of privilege and duty.

Many have criticised budget reforms proposed this week on several fronts. While cuts to the police have largely been accepted and seem to be receiving little scrutiny in comparison to the cut in the top rate of income tax and the slashing of corporate taxes, this acquiescence can only be short lived. The economic cost of the cuts are £1.7 billion, a mere 0.1% of GDP. It is the sociological cost that will come to bear most heavily and the human cost which needs most attention.

Here is the tragedy of our nation as it exists today. The pillaging of our most cherished national institutions is resisted at the spearhead by a former cabinet minister who proposed similar reforms while in office, and his voice is all too solitary for comfort.

Article by Jack Cowell. Edited by Marc Geddes.

Further reading

Robert Nozick (2001) Anarchy, State and Utopia, Oxford: Blackwell.

Alan Travis (2012) ‘How long before private firms police the streets?’, The Guardian, 13 March. Available online: http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/mar/13/how-long-private-firms-police-streets.