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EDITORIAL Doing their duty? What the spycops inquiry reveals about a rotten system

IF THEY have their wits about them, the governors of the BBC will cause the mercurial talents of Jed Mercurio to be directed towards safer subjects than the corrupt functioning of the capitalist state’s coercive apparatus.

Thirteen million-plus is a very respectable viewing figure. The scriptwriter of Line of Duty left our state-affiliated broadcaster with a final episode audience of this gripping police drama that was just a few thousand short of the vote that the winning party gained in the last general election.

An audience this size is a testament to the quality of the script and the assembled talents of a team effort that distinguishes public service broadcasting at its best.

For series after series much of the nation has become transfixed with the drama as successive layers of conspiracy and crime have peeled off to lead us to the inexorable conclusion that at the heart of the police is a criminal conspiracy with organised crime.

At the commencement of their career every constable attests that they “do solemnly and sincerely declare and affirm” to “well and truly serve the Queen in the office of constable, with fairness, integrity, diligence and impartiality, upholding fundamental human rights and according equal respect to all people.”

So, then, in the name of Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the wee donkey, what are we to make of the contradiction between these weasel words and the reality that every day of the spycops inquiry reveals.

The clear evidence emerging — of a routine breach of human rights, a marked lack of respect to all people and an evident lack of fairness, integrity, diligence and impartiality in the policing of protest, in the surveillance and disruption of perfectly lawful political organisations and the supposedly legally protected rights of assembly, industrial action and lawful free speech — gives the lie to this pious nonsense.

What we do know, or at least are compelled to recognise, is not that some police officers are corrupt and betray their oath, but that the system itself is corrupted and irredeemably beyond reform.

So much of the evidence chimes with the common-sense understanding of millions of working people whose interactions with the police provide a complex picture in which an instrument of the state provides both a measure of protection and help but always is freighted with menace.

There is nothing in the continuing inquiry into the spycops scandal that goes anywhere near reducing this. 

Today the spycops inquiry heard evidence from an officer who infiltrated anti-apartheid groups in the 1970s. 

A picture is emerging which does not come as a surprise to anyone on the left or active in the labour movement.

Of course, even direct instruments of the capitalist state, such as the police or the BBC, possess a relative autonomy that allows them to escape simplistic explanations for their functioning and allows each of the human beings captured in their structures a fair measure of human agency.

Indeed, the optimistic definition of a good police force is one that catches more criminals than it employs.

The creatively anti-climatic ending of Line of Duty allows us to step outside of the series’ compelling narrative, to abandon our emotional attachment to the characters, consider the more prosaic reality thus revealed and draw conclusions.

A TV series which deploys these same Brechtian devices to go beyond the banalities of routine criminal corruption to reveal the covert functioning of the police as an instrument of ruling class power may find it harder to evade the gatekeepers of the rich and powerful than did this series.

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