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Monday 25th
posted by Morning Star in Features

DAVE SMITH asks if anyone believes the anti-democratic political policing units will be impartial when Labour wins the next election

ANYONE attending tonight’s Labour Party fringe meeting on political policing is likely to leave angry after what they hear.

The Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) and National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU) were not set up to detect crime but to gather intelligence on political activists that the state considers to be undesirable “domestic extremists.”

Undercover officers from these political policing units used the identities of dead babies to create false personas when spying on three generations of campaigners.

The police viewed women activists as a disposable commodity to be deceived into long-term relationships thereby providing cover for their spies.

When it was confirmed that the family of the murdered black teenager Stephen Lawrence was kept under surveillance, anyone with an ounce of common decency was rightfully outraged.

In March 2015, the public inquiry into undercover policing was announced. Early rulings stated that the starting point of the inquiry was a presumption of openness — only under exceptional circumstances would restrictions be granted.

Unfortunately, in the past few months, things have gone backwards. There is now a new judge in charge, Sir John Mitting. He appears to be perfectly comfortable with secret courts, being one of the hand-picked members of the legal profession to work in the infamous Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT). This is a judicial body where claimants are not allowed to know what they are accused of, view any evidence or even be present in the hearing. The IPT upholds less than 1 per cent of the human rights claims brought before it.

Since taking over, Mitting has published a series of “minded to” notes on the inquiry website in which the assumption of openness has shifted to a position of virtual blanket support for anonymity whenever the police request it.

At this rate the entire public inquiry will be heard in secret, except when victims will be publicly grilled by the battalion of barristers defending the police, paid for by taxpayers’ money.

The Met Police’s efforts to turn the entire process into a secret inquiry rather than a public inquiry has precious little to do with the human rights of their officers. It is a not very subtle attempt at a cover-up. The Establishment does not want its dirty secrets exposed to public scrutiny.

It is already known that over one thousand campaigns were infiltrated. Despite police spin, these are not terrorist groups intent on violence. They are trade unions, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and anti-apartheid campaigners. Members of the National Union of Journalists appear on the “domestic extremism” database and Labour Party MPs were spied upon in the name of defending democracy.

But the police still refuse to publish the names of the campaign groups that were targeted or even the false names used by officers during their deployment.

What is needed right now is some political scrutiny. The Home Affairs select committee called in the head of the child sex abuse inquiry to explain what was going on in that vital national investigation.

Labour’s Yvette Cooper as committee chair should demand Mitting comes to Parliament to justify why he is “minded to” keep hidden the cover names of undercover officers and the campaigns they targeted.

But there are even bigger questions that Labour needs to ask about the role of Britain’s political policing units.

When I was at school, I was told stories intended for children. I stopped believing in Santa a long time ago. Unfortunately the fable of British liberal democracy still persists in the national psyche, reinforced daily by the hegemonic nature of mainstream media news reporting.

Lets be clear: the state is never neutral in a major dispute between labour and capital. The state is always on the side of big business and the Establishment whenever it comes under pressure from unions or progressive social movements.

This is not just a question of unjust laws and a skewed legal system but about the repressive tools, including the use of undercover spies and agent provocateurs.

The British state especially has honed its craft through centuries of colonialist oppression. In living memory, it committed torture in Kenyan concentration camps and was linked with murders carried out by rightwing paramilitary terror groups in Northern Ireland.

The outrage about the undercover police scandal is understandable but when people are surprised, that is just naivety. This is what the capitalist state apparatus does, it protects capitalism.

Rather than buying into the “British police are the best in the world” fairy tale, it is time the Labour Party took a grown-up attitude towards the coercive aspects of the British state and the swelling number of private companies with contracts for work previously undertaken by the security services.

When Jeremy Corbyn wins the next general election, who genuinely believes that these shady anti-democratic political policing units will somehow be impartial?

The labour movement has been considered “the enemy within” for decades. Corbyn, John McDonnell and Diane Abbott were all targeted by the SDS and NPOIU in the past.

Democratically elected or not, the forces of reaction within the secret state will not stand idly by if a progressive government attempts fundamental change to the way British society is run. Political naivety can be dangerous.

The real threat to democracy in this country is not from left of centre activists currently under surveillance by undercover officers but by right-wing institutionally racist and sexist elements within the political police, security services and military.

The absence of a court martial when a serving army general openly discussed the possibility of a coup against a Corbyn government speaks volumes.

Any future Labour government that leaves the existing repressive state machinery intact will be undermined by elements in its own security apparatus. The anti-democratic units will need to be dismantled immediately.

The task before us is not just to elect a Labour government but to build a mass movement robust enough to defend democracy itself, should the forces of reaction raise their ugly heads.But a necessary step in that process is to recognise the threat of counter-mobilisation in the first place.

  • Dave Smith is secretary of the Blacklist Support Group. Dave Smith and Helen Steel will be speaking at the World Transformed at a session on spycops today at 7pm-9pm at the Brighthelm Centre in Brighton.