Thursday, 19 November 2009

Bring Me My Pad of Scouring Steel

T'other night I finished re-watching Peter Jackson's film version of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy. It was fun but excessively hurried and choppy. I've seen the extended version once, which was much more coherent, and engaged my emotions and sensawunda far better. I really must get the upgrade some time pretty dashed soon...

One thing I won't find in any film version is the dénouement section called the Scouring of the Shire. In the book, the hobbit heroes ride back home in triumph - to discover that their idealised little England has been spoiled and oppressed in their absence by a petty strongman who has closed down all the pubs, set his thugs 'gathering and sharing' everything in sight, and plastered every available surface with long lists of mean-spirited Rules. Our heroes respond with proper contempt - sending the first thug they meet howling into the night, tearing up Rules, trespassing on state property, and committing many other such acts of anti-social behaviour. The witnesses are frightened by their daring, but do not seem exactly put out.

But the Chief has sneaks everywhere, and soon his Big Men come storming down to set Frodo and Co. straight on the New Order of Things. They do not take well to the comprehensive cheeking they get in return:

"So that's your tone, is it? Change it, or we'll change it for you. You little folk are getting too uppish."

They try to adjust our heroes' attitude, and find that the little folk are feeling even more uppish than they thought. The Chief is overthrown in a swift popular revolution, and his ruffians slain or sent packing. This has been the news from Middle-Earth.

In our larger and less idyllic version of England, it is reassuring to see that some things still hold. The Chief's Big Men know what to do when little folk get uppish over here, too. The Cambridge News brings us this tale of an elderly householder who was seized from his home in a dawn raid by police, three days after... swearing at a housing official who was trying to order him about on his own ground. This, after the zealous Plods had already visited him and questioned him about the matter on the day it occurred.

The Cambridge cops are clearly very, very over-resourced indeed. There must be no serious crime in their area at all! Let us by no means put more bobbies on the beat, lest more of them be made available to deliver object lessons to unruly peasants accused of cheeking their betters!

Of course, it is possible that the Council creature's version of events is closer to the truth than Mr Catcheside's, as reported above. Supposing this for the sake of argument, can anybody yet convince me that this was anything other than a straightforward political raid, intended solely for the purpose of cowing an uppity subject? They will only need to satisfy me on the following points:


* That had Mr Catcheside complained to the police of being similarly offended by a Council creature, the same action would have been taken.

* That descending upon Mr Catcheside's property in full force at buggery past five in the morning, is either a customary or a reasonable way to deal with any such allegation.

* That the police really do consider accusations of common assault to be a 'serious matter', and not for instance a no-crime or mere 'anti-social behaviour'.


If that last is indeed the case, maybe they could extend this stern seriousness to such other infractions as rape and violent campaigns against disabled kids by gangs of gutterspawn cowards. Possibly the Cambridge police force already does so. Certainly this episode does not fill me with any confidence that they are among those who have their priorities right in these matters!

Since raising the shire to run them off with pitchforks and arrows is neither a credible, nor even a particularly inviting, response to this little sample of political terror low-tar ultra-lite, what is to be done? Clearly, the good folk of Cambridgeshire can judge their coppers better in the round than can I.

The Conservative Party would like to see this addressed by allowing local people to elect their own police chiefs. One obvious danger is that the police will simply be nudged further towards acting as a purely political militia, especially come election time. One perhaps less obvious opportunity is that they might collectively be less vulnerable to the most dangerous source of this pressure - namely, the sovereign national government. At this point I'm somewhat sympathetic to the suggestion, on the grounds that most of the obvious abuses it might entail appear to have happened pretty much untrammelled without it. But I don't think it will improve things overmuch.

In particular, it seems guaranteed to throw up a breed of police chief worthy of standing alongside the great statesmen of contemporary Britain. That's agin it! So rather than deny this vote, may I suggest that we give people another alongside it?

Alongside each name might appear the proposed police take from local taxes, which they would not be permitted to vary except by standing in a new election. All funding from other sources would, necessarily, be strictly illegal.

If we are not to be allowed either to choose our overseers, or to maintain a Hobbitry-in-arms in order to discourage the Big Men from thinking too Big for their boots, then at least we can demand the option of cutting off funding for the helicopters and tasers and door-knocking squads in the dark hours, should they start directing those things at us on the grounds that we are getting too uppish. And this greater equality of force will, in the usual way of the world, breed a corresponding improvement of police manners, so that we can all be jolly good friends again!

Some might complain that this rosy picture is not in fact plausible, and that no such reform would be permitted even if it were so. Especially if it were, cometh the voice of the cynic.

I reply that it is, at any rate, an easy improvement to imagine, and well worth thinking through. Also, it is a peaceable, lawful, and eminently democratic suggestion for which I cannot possibly be arrested.

'Scuse me, must sign off here. Somebody at the door...

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