One photo that elegantly encapsulates the appalling decline of British institutions is surely the Greater Manchester Police Gay Bee. The rainbow-coloured bumblebee outfit, worn by a police officer on a Pride march in Bolton in 2018, attracted ire from the public amidst the force’s many failures to deal with rocketing crime rates. Sadly, GMP’s Gay Bee did not buzz about in isolation. He has been joined by countless officers taking part in Pride marches, adorning their uniforms in rainbow designs. Even response cars were getting an LGBT-friendly lick of paint.
It’s not just sexual politics that the police have been slammed for adopting. In 2020, few incidents disturbed me more than the sight of police officers kneeling in front of protestors in central London as they defaced Churchill’s statue on BLM marches. More recently, the police have idly stood by as far-left environmentalists have grafted to grind our economy to a halt. When they have been more active, they have often used their powers to clamp down on the “wrong” ideas, such as arresting people for silently praying or for tweeting about transgenderism.
The embarrassing spectacle of political campaigns being co-opted by the police was recently (and briefly) covered by a minister when Home Secretary Suella Braverman set out her plans for “Common Sense Policing”. Speaking at the launch of an interesting new think tank call the Public Safety Foundation, Braverman took a swipe at politically-motivated constables, detailing her opposition to officers handing out cups of tea to eco-maniacs who had glued themselves to motorways or police chiefs spending precious resources on divisive critical race theory training.
Former police officer Harry Miller was one of those selected to question the home secretary after her speech. Miller, himself a former police officer, has achieved some prominence after a series of victories on police overreach, particularly regarding freedom of speech, after he was investigated for his gender-critical views. He asked Braverman if she could “define what it means to be political and why it’s important for the police to stay out of anything that is political?”
Braverman’s response cut to the heart of the politics-in-policing crisis. She said: “What is political? Contested issues … issues where there is a legitimate debate and where freedom of expression and lawful exchange of views should be not only allowed but actually encouraged.”
For adherents, these beliefs are written in the codex of the universe
The home secretary gave two examples of “contested” areas where the police had taken a side: “critical race theory” and “gender critical issues”. On these fronts, she was clear: “The police should not be getting involved in that.”
The problem for Braverman’s position is that adherents of these political positions do not believe that they are “contested”. For them, these beliefs are written in the codex of the universe. They are natural laws. They are human rights. They are about “existence”, and their defenders are “exhausted” about explaining them to the lay people who haven’t adopted the latest update to the far-left credo.
This framing has been a master stroke by the Left. By defining any discussion of their beliefs as “controversial”, they have automatically put conservative or reactionary forces on the backfoot before they even do anything. For these activists — who control powerful offices in the civil service and, sadly, policing — deporting foreign criminals is “political” and brandishing the trans flag on a police car is simply the right thing to do.
Crippled by austerity and mired in controversy after many of their workforce keep being arrested for rape and murder, it’s fair to say that the Metropolitan police are having a “tough time”. The fury that the police are subject to amidst their failure to intervene with criminals is only worsened when they zip about in police cars adorned in Pride colours to “investigate” people for the grave offence of tweeting a poem, as was the troubling case experienced by Harry Miller.
These nefarious interventions are downstream of a broader infrastructural deference to progressive causes. There are well over 200 “Staff Networks” in the police, created by people who select according to personal characteristics such as ethnicity or religion. Leading examples include the National Black Police Association (NBPA) and the National Association of Muslim Police (NAMP). These groups are expanding, with Policy Exchange finding an 83 per cent growth of national staff networks since the start of the last decade. The think tank claimed that the sectarian lobbying by some networks was “contrary to enabling forces to achieve their core mission”.
This is hardly a surprise. When people gather according to self-selecting identity characteristics, it is inevitable that they will compete with other groups for resources, attention and political achievements. Their lobbying will often fall into politically contentious issues. The NAPM, for example, have recently called for the terms “Islamist” and “Jihadist” to be dropped from counter terrorism policing. Elsewhere, they have campaigned against Prevent, the government’s counter-extremism duty, arguing that Muslims are disproportionately targeted.
In 2019, the NBPA’s president said their ambition was to keep “race on the agenda” in policing. They have certainly achieved that. Last year, the National Police Chiefs’ Council published a Race Action Plan that committed “to build an anti-racist police service and address race disparities affecting Black people working within or interacting with policing”. In justifying why the plan is needed, the NPCC said, “Black people experience policing powers disproportionately — for example, they are 7 times more likely to be stopped and searched than White people.” Noah Carl has covered in this magazine how those disproportionate effects are in fact an underrepresentation when you account for crime rates. Nonetheless, all 44 constabularies in England and Wales have committed to the plan. Every year, the NPCC organises a Diversity, Equality and Inclusion conference, an influential and well-attended event.
How can a police force have a group that openly calls for policy activism?
The National LGBT+ Police Network is a similarly effective lobbying organisation. Its officers now routinely attend Pride marches across the country. In 2019, they might have marched alongside Tory prime minister hopeful Penny Mordaunt, who wore her Royal Navy uniform adorned with rainbow-flagged epaulettes. Attendance at these marches, in uniform, is a political act, because the event is a political march. At the last London Pride march, organisers made several policy demands of the government. They wanted a ban on so-called “conversion therapy” for all LGBT+ people, reform of the Gender Recognition Act and an end to the government’s so-called “hostile environment” toward migrants (a hostile environment that issues one million visas a year). These are clearly “contested” political views, but to the activists who demand them, they might as well be law already — so sure are they about their righteousness.
West Yorkshire Police even has a “Green Network”, which exists to give guidance to colleagues on “green/ethical and dietary matters” and “influence West Yorkshire Police policy development in making positive changes in relation to these matters”. How can a police force have a group that openly calls for policy activism?
These examples are just a small drop in a roaring sea of progressive identitarian activism that has captured the police. The curiousness of this whole situation is that political progressivism in the police is rapidly expanding, despite its political boss being the most outwardly conservative home secretary possibly since Michael Howard.
Braverman has lamented the police getting involved in political causes. To her credit, she has achieved some success in curtailing the blob’s tentacled reaches into every policy or briefing. Miller last year successfully campaigned to force the College of Policing to stop recording “trivial” “Non-Crime Hate Incidents”, an obscene Orwellian function of the state, but Braverman has recently committed to more action.
In April, she introduced a new code to “ensure that the police only record non-crime hate incidents where it is proportionate and absolutely necessary” in order to protect a “commonsense understanding of free speech”. This reform is welcome, but it points towards a worrying trend: Tory tinkering where outright radical abolition of the structures that only serve Left-wing interests would be more appropriate.
If Braverman wants to ensure that “contested” political beliefs are truly kept away from the police, she should work to disband the networks of far-left progressivism that give them lifeblood. To win this fight, conservatives have to stop fighting on battlegrounds set by the Left. We don’t want the police promoting these causes just because they’re “contested”; instead we want it prevented because it is wrong. Any other stance leaves the door open for the tiresome politicisation of policing to continue unchecked.
Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print
Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10Subscribe