On 19 October, the New Statesman‘s Stephen Bush wrote a piece on the spycops scandal. But he shouldn’t have bothered. Because The Staggers column he wrote betrays a total lack of understanding of the issues involved.
“Spycops isn’t just one scandal, but two”
The main premise of Bush’s article is that the database reveals two scandals relating to spycops – the undercover officers who have spied on political activists since 1967. His argument is that one scandal is about the “treatment of the women involved”. The other concerns “police and government priorities” because the database reveals only a handful of far right groups infiltrated by ‘undercovers’.
Firstly, there are countless scandals surrounding spycops including civil liberties abuses of all those spied on; manipulation and disruption of political activity; spying on family justice campaigners; spying on elected politicians; police officers stealing the identities of dead children. And these are just a few examples. It’s a long list.
But as people involved in the spycops campaign pointed out on social media, all these points can be distilled into one scandal. Just not either of the scandals Bush identifies. And that’s the scandal of political policing. Kate Wilson, who is currently taking the police to court over her relationship with Mark Kennedy pointed out:
It's funny… however much I tell people I was an active campaigner for 20 years, to the media I'll never be a victim of #politicalpolicing. I'm just an "innocent woman" preyed on by #spycops. Now @NewStatesman says it's not even the same scandal. #institutionalsexism
— Kate Wilson (@fruitbatmania) October 20, 2018
And as others actively involved in the spycops issue highlighted:
@NewStatesman presents a very confused article. It's not two scandals. It's one massive corrupt strategy of #politicalpolicing. Women activists were deliberate targets of #spycops, whether due to their own high profile activism or their position in group/s. *Never* accidental.
— DellaMcQ (@DellaMcQ) October 20, 2018
Meanwhile, the Network for Police Monitoring took Bush to task for his comments at the end of the article about the ‘improvement’ in the controversial Prevent strategy:
And, to top it all, the article makes the case for expanding Prevent – more political policing. Very disappointing
— Netpol (@policemonitor) October 21, 2018
This is the major scandal of the spycops affair. It’s also the major scandal of various policing strands that have gone on for decades. It’s political policing. And it’s labelling people as domestic extremists and infiltrating, manipulating, harassing and disrupting our right to political dissent. As Green peer Jenny Jones points out:
As a Met police-accredited domestic extremist, I can assure the Home Office that the police are seriously misusing their power and their resources – that is not an operational issue, that’s a serious political issue…
The far right
But Bush is also misinformed in his argument over the far right. He states:
Over a 37 year period, 121 groups across the anti-war, environmentalist, anarchist and Trotskyist left were infiltrated by the police: but just three far-right groups (Combat 18, the British National Party, and the United British Alliance) were infiltrated.
Quite simply, this is incorrect. There is some substance to his assertion. But not for the reasons he sets out in the piece. The above is based on the information that has been published to-date by the Undercover Policing Inquiry and compiled by left-wing activists. But we know that undercover police spied on more than 1,000 groups. Indeed, one of the demands of those involved in the inquiry is that the names of all groups spied on are published. Meanwhile, activists and journalists have compiled the database with the information we have. Because, once again, it is down to us to do the work that the inquiry is failing to deliver on.
And as was also pointed out on Twitter:
It does rather misinterpret this last tranche of exposure as well, almost to the point of drawing a line under it – as though we've nearly reached the finish line! Massive over representation of left/anarchist/environmental groups reflects those who have been digging longest…
— BristleKRS (@BristleKRS) October 21, 2018
Whilst there remains likelihood of big disparity towards left, there will be more than 3 RW groups targeted, but currently difficult to research this without informed, inside access to that milieu.
— BristleKRS (@BristleKRS) October 21, 2018
Ignoring the work of activists
Bush’s article also ignores the work of activists in exposing the scandal. He writes:
But now, thanks to fantastic investigative work by the Guardian we know that Spycops is not one scandal, but two…
The Guardian‘s Rob Evans has worked tirelessly on the issue of undercover policing for many years. He has been responsible for breaking the majority of the spycops stories in the mainstream media. And he has worked on the issue with tenacity and compassion, and should be credited for the work he’s done.
But let’s not re-write history. Or indeed, the present. The “fantastic investigative work” Bush refers to was a joint project with the Undercover Research Group (URG) – something Evans makes clear.
And it’s been activists at the forefront of exposing spycops. The scandal started when Mark Kennedy was exposed by activists; activist Helen Steel was responsible for identifying and tracking down the police spy she had a relationship with. The list goes on.
As the Network for Police Monitoring pointed out, this piece is “very disappointing”. It misses hugely substantive issues that make it insulting to those of us who’ve been spied on. It’s also insulting to all the activists who’ve spent years working on the issue and exposing undercover officers.
For decades, the police have been operating a policy of political policing. For decades, they’ve got away with it. This is the spycops scandal.
If the New Statesman wants to cover the scandal in the future, there’s a lot of us around with a lot of experience and knowledge. So it might do better to talk to us first, rather than publish unsubstantiated nonsense that ignores the real issues at the heart of undercover policing.
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Featured image via author’s own and screengrab
The author is a core participant in the Undercover Policing Inquiry.