By Alex Callinicos
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2387

The establishment in a breakdown of trust

This article is over 10 years, 4 months old
Issue 2387

Theresa May isn’t doing very well in the trustworthiness stakes. She is using her position as home secretary to campaign for the succession to David Cameron by presenting herself as tough on immigration and crime.

But last week the Financial Times reported that Cameron has decided to shelve a report drafted by the Home Office on immigration from the rest of the European Union (EU). 

May wanted it to attack “foreign welfare spongers”. 

But according to the FT “officials close to the process say Ms May was inundated with evidence from academics and business leaders supporting the EU’s single market for labour, arguing that it helped to make Britain competitive and was good for the economy.”

Then came the announcement by the UK Statistics Authority that it was withdrawing its approval from the police recorded crime figures. These claim a 10 percent fall in crime since the Conservative-Liberal coalition took office in June 2010.

The watchdog’s chairman Sir Andrew Dilnot said, “There is accumulating evidence that suggests the underlying data on crimes recorded by the police may not be reliable.” 

This follows the prediction by Sir Tom Winsor, chief inspector of constabulary, that he expects to find “a degree of fiddling, some of it owing to dishonesty”, by the police. 

According to Channel Four News, “Dr Rodger Patrick, a retired detective chief inspector with the West Midlands force, is one of a number of former police officers to lift the lid on dubious practices designed to ‘game’ the figures.

“These including under-reporting crimes, getting suspects to admit to large numbers of unsolved offences in return for a shorter sentence, throwing resources at areas where performance is being monitored, and even ‘stitching up’ defendants by fabricating evidence against them.”

May is also in the frame here. According to the Daily Mail, “the Home Office remains operationally responsible for the collection and validation of crime figures from police forces in England and Wales, before they are passed on to the ONS [Office for National Statistics] for publication.”


The key issue here isn’t so much what it happening to crime. The independent Crime Survey for England and Wales, which bases its figures on interviews with victims, estimates that crime has been falling since the mid-1990s.

The scandal is significant as yet another sign of an erosion of trust in key institutions of the state. The Mark Duggan case shows the police are still able to persuade the courts that they can kill with impunity. But their ability to project themselves as neutral public servants is in decline.

One factor in this is the “Plebgate” scandal. Even before the latest revelations, a poll last October found 40 percent agreeing with the statement, “Generally, the police seem to try to cover up wrongdoing by those in its ranks”.

What’s interesting about “Plebgate” is that it pits the Tory party against the cops. For those who remember the Thatcher government this seems quite incredible. 

Thatcher inherited a disgruntled police force whining about pay restraint under Labour. She expanded their numbers, sharply increased their salaries, and generally burnished their prestige.

This was a rational strategy given that Thatcher needed the police to help force through her policies. 

The Met in particular acted as her Praetorian Guard—the bodyguards who protected Roman emperors—in the

year-long struggle against the miners. The cops would wave wads of banknotes at pickets to show how much overtime they were making thanks to the strike.

Cameron and May have, by contrast, buffeted the police with job cuts and reorganisations of pay and pensions. Whatever happened to “Plebgate” former minister Andrew Mitchell seems like an act of revenge for these attacks.

The resulting mess is a sign of the coalition’s complacency about resistance to austerity. But watching ministers and cops fight like rats in a sack doesn’t exactly fill people with confidence in the establishment. 

The frenzy with which the coalition attacks migrants and “welfare cheats” may reflect the fact that it can no longer fall back on unquestioning public trust in the pillars of the state.


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