Artillery Row

He won’t take the knee

Has Robert Peel been reincarnated as the Chief Constable for Manchester?

“But officer, if you are not on your knee, and wearing a rainbow lanyard, how do we know that you are on the side of the oppressed, the intersectional, the poor, downtrodden graduates of minor universities?”

“I’m sorry madam, may I call you madam?  I am on the side of the law.”

The promotion of Stephen Watson as the new Chief Constable for Manchester comes as a shaft of light cutting through the murk of muddled thinking. He has said two things that will resonate with millions and will cause consternation amongst thousands:

I would probably kneel before the Queen, God and Mrs Watson, that’s it… The public are getting a little bit fed up of virtue-signalling police officers when they’d really rather we just locked up burglars.

It sounds like the first blast of the trumpet, but not only does it strike an astonishingly different note than the honky tonk tunes played by other constabularies. Stentorian and self confident it also marks a huge departure in that he makes a very public statement that he would kneel before God. A very courageous statement in the current climate in itself. But it is his approach to policing that strikes the eye.

One almost feels that as was once the case, each new officer in the Manchester Metropolitan Area will be issued with Sir Robert Peel’s 1829 Nine Principles of Policing. It is worth our while looking at those principles and deciding whether or not to accept that they should remain at the core of policing, or be junked as impossibly dated.

What is clearly apparent is that Peel’s principles are at heart about consent. Famously it described the police as merely the citizens in uniform, or that “the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence”.

His success or failure probably rests upon the level of support that he gets from Andy Burnham

Underlying this basic thought is an understanding that the police rely, entirely on the goodwill of the populace, if they wish to carry out their basic duties. In order to fulfil their functions and duties they are “dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect”.

Hammering home this rather modern idea of respect they go on “to secure and maintain the respect and approval of the public means also the securing of the willing cooperation of the public in the task of securing observance of laws”.

Most importantly the police’s duty is not to follow fashion, trends or public opinion but to “preserve public favour, not by pandering to public opinion; but by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to law, in complete independence of policy, and without regard to the justice or injustice of the substance of individual laws, by ready offering of individual service and friendship to all members of the public without regard to their wealth or social standing, by ready exercise of courtesy and friendly good humour; and by ready offering of individual sacrifice in protecting and preserving life.”

To do this they must “refrain from even seeming to usurp the powers of the judiciary of avenging individuals or the State, and of authoritatively judging guilt and punishing the guilty.”

It also makes it clear that the use of coercion is always a case of diminishing returns, more a failure than a success.

All this was echoed by Mr Watson, when he spoke to the Telegraph this week:

I do not think that things like taking the knee, demonstrating that you have a commonality of view with the protesters that you’re policing, is compatible with the standards of service that people require of their police.

Officers could put themselves in a difficult place because if you demonstrate you’re not impartial, and you then have to make an arrest, how on earth do you assist the courts to come to just judgment as to you having executed your powers of arrest in an appropriately impartial professional manner?

Nick Buckley OBE, the Manchester homelessness charity leader, who was refenestrated by his charity after his initial cancellation, was cautiously optimistic about the new Chief Constable’s chances of following through with his agenda:

He has a test in August, Manchester Pride. If the Manchester Force police the event, with good humour and decency, but do not end up as part of the entertainment. If they do not dress up as bumblebees, and paint their cars and shoelaces with rainbows, but if they do their job in ensuring public order, then he has a chance. 

Maintaining order, maintaining dress codes and maintaining respect is their job. If LGBT etc police want to take part in the parade itself, fine, but on their day off, as part of the parade itself, but those policing it, it is not their job to cavort and entertain. I wish Watson well, but I am yet to be convinced it is more than rhetoric.

His success or failure probably rests upon the level of support that he receives, not from the people of Manchester, who I am certain are delighted by his comments, but from Andy Burnham, the newly re-elected Mayor. Burnham has wisely kept himself out of the culture wars hitherto, but Mr Watson’s appointment may force him to take a side. Will Burnham’s ambitions for national leadership in the Labour party allow him to support his Chief Constable? That rather depends on the power of fashion at Labour HQ, and it is there that we will see if this experiment in policing will survive or be smothered.

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