On 2 September, home secretary Suella Braverman commissioned a review into “activism and impartiality in the police”. However, if you were at all worried that this means the government will take the culture of far-right extremism in the police seriously, you can rest easy.
Hell, she’s not even talking about issues like homophobia and racism in the force. Quite the opposite, in fact. Braverman specifically listed critical race theory, gender identity politics, and even climate activism as areas where the police need to appear more impartial. Of course, she also put scare quotes around “gender identity”.
Anyone remember Casey?
Not that anybody needs reminding, but the Casey Review of the Met came out in March 2023. It followed the abduction, rape, and murder of Sarah Everard by a serving officer. Casey found the Met to be institutionally racist, misogynistic, and homophobic. She also stated, unambiguously, that:
The Met can now no longer presume that it has the permission of the people of London to police them.
But what has Braverman, in her infinite wisdom, decided is the problem with our police? Not the cultures of “blindness, arrogance and prejudice” cited by Casey, no. Rather, the home secretary clearly thinks the police are losing public faith because some of them take the knee or use trans people’s pronouns.
In her letter to HMCI Andy Cooke, Braverman stated her expectation that the police should focus on crime, rather than involving themselves in political matters. So, she commissioned His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) to review police involvement in such activities, and how this affects the legitimacy of policing in England and Wales.
In particular, Braverman pointed to cases where she felt like public confidence had been damaged by police engaging in contentious issues. Specifically, she mentioned policing “gender critical” views on social media, and participation in social campaigns.
The HMICFRS review will cover:
- Policies and processes that go beyond Equality Act 2010 obligations.
- The neutrality of training on such policies and processes, and the organisations delivering it.
- The selection and expressions of groups consulted on revisions to policy, and “what “consideration is given to other groups that may be impacted as a result”.
- The involvement of staff networks in policy development, and these networks’ involvement in “contested political matters”.
- The communication of these issues with the public.
The home secretary expects the report by March 2024. Coincidentally, this is exactly one year after the Casey report was published. I’m not sure exactly what Braverman is expecting to happen here – there hasn’t been some great reversal in police prejudice over the last twelve months. We can’t be expected to believe that, actually, police are now too friendly towards black and queer causes, surely.
Braverman: virtue signalling
However, that’s not Braverman’s motivation here either, is it? For all that her letter hand-wrings about accusations of virtue-signaling in the police, she’s doing some signaling of her own. She wrote:
The British people expect their police to focus on cutting crime and protecting communities – political activism does not keep people safe, solve crimes or support victims, but can damage public confidence.
The review I’ve commissioned will explore whether the police getting involved in politically contentious matters is having a detrimental impact on policing.
There is a very specific facet of the public whose confidence in the police is damaged when an officer dances at a Pride parade or kneels as a symbolic gesture against racism (ignoring, for a moment, the people who are annoyed at police making these gestures because they’re two-faced snakes in the grass). It is the same facet who are not opposed to racism and who are angered by those Pride parades.
Braverman is signaling, and quite unsubtly at that, to these members of the public that she is on their side. As ever, the cries for neutrality aren’t neutral – they’re for the side of the status quo; that is, prejudice.
A world of her own
Beyond this, Braverman’s letter points to a larger problem with our government. It will commission endless reports and reviews in a vain attempt to prove that the world acts precisely as the Tories want it to. When the reports come back stating that the public have lost confidence in the police because of their racism and misogyny, well, the government knows just what to do. We’ll have another report, asking ‘Are the police too woke?’
This is a transparent attempt to manipulate the narrative around police failures. For a year, we’ll have breathless mainstream media reports on cops getting too friendly towards activists – and never mind the beatings. We’ll hear that, in order to maintain neutrality, the police must break away from organisations like Stonewall, and root out Black Lives Matter sympathisers. The cynic in me wants to say that it might even work.
However, even I’m not sure that could happen this time. Braverman is living in a world of her own if she thinks that we’ll just roll over and forget the prejudice and fascism in the force. She might persuade her supporters and client journalists, but there are too many people beyond them who have had enough this time. They will not be silenced so easily.
Featured image via screengrab/Guardian