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Masters and servants: the state at work

The notion that the police are, or should be, “public servants” is an admirable ideal. Unfortunately, it bears little relation to reality, as the policing of the G20 protests have proved.

Some in the liberal media, like The Observer, see the main role of the police as “keeping the peace”, describing them as “our police”, a neutral body which, according to the paper’s editorial yesterday, should not become the enforcers of government policy. This also reflects the views of Nick Hardwick, chair of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) who told the newspaper that the police should be the public’s servants “not masters”.

The IPCC, however, is part of the same set-up that includes the police. It’s “independent tag” is purely nominal. Just like the Metropolitan Police, it had to adjust its statements on the death of Ian Tomlinson, allowing a second post-mortem. Hardwick runs a lame-duck organisation that, it will be recalled, did nothing to prevent police from evading responsibility for the cold-blooded killing of Brazilian electrician Jean Charles de Menezes on the Underground.

Hardwick, like The Observer, wants to limit the angry popular reaction to the policing of the G20 and other actions. So far the IPCC has received more than 185 complaints relating to G20 of which almost 90 were from alleged victims of – or witnesses to – police force. A further 52 relate to complaints about police tactics such as not letting people through an area.

Over the weekend, more graphic video shot by the Climate Camp showed further evidence of police brutality. Today, it emerged that another branch of the state had handed secret police briefings to the energy corporation E.ON in the run-up to last year’s camp near the Kingsnorth power station in Kent. Officials from the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) gave the company detailed information about protesters and their plans.

Kevin Smith, a spokesperson for the Climate Camp, said:

The proposed coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth is a source of both international climate embarrassment to the government and reputational damage to E.ON, so it comes as no surprise that they are colluding to undermine the growing social movement of people in this country who are determined to prevent it from happening ... We demand to know who is responsible for passing on this information and see them held accountable.


Liberal MP David Howarth, who obtained the emails, said "it is as though BERR was treating the police as an extension of E.ON's private security operation". Mr Howarth, you have hit the nail on the head – even if you don’t want to draw the conclusions from what has been established.

The apparatus of the capitalist state is at the disposal of the corporations and capitalism in general. From time to time, this means using force and mass arrests to intimidate and break up lawful protests; it also involves handing over unknown sums of taxpayers’ money to banks who have helped wreck the economy. Ministers and their cronies abuse the same state machine to destroy and smear opponents, as revealed in the notorious Damian McBride affair.

Far from acting as public servants, the institutions and personnel of the state are indeed our masters and it will remain that way whatever the outcome of inquiries and investigations that are allowed to try and take the heat out of the situation. They will be used to obscure the real issue in society – that the limited democracy we struggled for has been eroded by an authoritarian state that is beyond reform. How ordinary people have to become their own “masters”, in order to create new democratic forms beyond the present state, is the subject of A World to Win’s open discussion this Wednesday. Come and join the debate.

Paul Feldman
AWTW communications editor
20 April 2009