Sir Ian Blair – a right Charlie
The new Met chief's crackdown on middle-class cokeheads is a PC stunt.
The advent of Sir Ian Blair as the new Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police must have given succour to those who feared that the end of David Blunkett’s tenure as home secretary would put paid to the new era of zero tolerance. When Blunkett announced the appointment, he described Blair as an ‘exceptional officer with strong personal conviction and a high level of integrity’ (1), which obviously means nothing more than ‘a man after my own heart’.
So far, Blair has demonstrated these qualities as expected – a drive for community-focused policing (he was apparently ‘instrumental’ in its development) and a nice big slap in the face for middle-class drug users.
The post of commissioner is a decidedly political one, and it might be possible to extrapolate how Ian Blair intends to see out his term from his first principles, so to speak. It is Sir Ian’s next few weeks that will lock him into the history books, or at least the footnotes. But if so, he’ll have to stop playing Whose Line Is It Anyway in the media. For what else is this supposed ‘crackdown’?
Well, perhaps that’s unfair. The amount of media attention that Blair has devoted to his war on cocaine suggests that he does care deeply about this particular issue. It was the first thing he decided to tell the press, and he’s even thought of a name for his campaign – Operation Middle Market (2). True, it lacks panache, and given that he – like all other otherwise apparently sensible middle-aged men – feels the need to refer to cocaine as ‘Charlie’, it’s a shame that he missed the chance to make a cheeky War on Drugs/Vietcong reference. But he’s new to playing the name game – give him time.
Unfortunately, there are the problems with the policy itself. First off, the idea that his targets will willingly buy from his undercover officers demonstrates a sublime ignorance of middle-class drug consumption. The young professionals he’s after don’t buy from street corner dealers or crack houses, but from people they know personally, or have been introduced to by a mutual friend. After all, if you’re shelling out £40 a gram (or £50, according to him) you’re going to want to know you’re not getting tooth powder. So if you need a policeman, just put on a suit and wait until someone offers you drugs – they’ll be the ones trying to charge a tenner over the going rate.
And how will this affect the new ethos of community-focused policing? If everyone knows their local bobbie then he’s going to have to be extremely skilled with make-up to pass as a dealer by night. On the other hand, perhaps the new police recruitment form will stipulate ‘must look a bit dodgy’ as they desperately try to recruit New Scotland Yardies. But then they might stand out a bit in Kensington and Chelsea. And that’s before we even go into the ticklish legal area of entrapment, which could provide some real fun if any of these middle-class targets turn out to be lawyers. Do you know, I’m not sure this one’s a runner.
Quick to link the weekend toot to ‘blood on the roads to Colombia and Afghanistan’ (3), Blair is the ultimate Blairite policeman, putting the PC firmly into PC as he pricks the middle-class conscience of organic anti-hunters. Nobody is above the law. Apparently middle-class drug users are just as guilty as those poor deprived junkies down back-alleys, and we should ‘make some examples’ to demonstrate this (4). As the Sun has it, ‘Sir Ian’s words will be seen as a warning to Britain’s middle-class drug users, among whom cocaine has become more popular as prices have fallen’ (5). Got that, Jacinta? No, because you don’t read the Sun.
Blair’s words will be seen as a reassurance that the police are going to go after Guardian readers as well. Even the choice of drug was indicative, being, as it is, the middle-class drug of choice. Don’t worry on your sink estates, you’re not alone, goes the message; we have drug problems in Islington too and we’re going to do something about it. In our brave new classless world, we get New Labour-enforced liberalism – inclusive, globally minded, and fair.
Now, it might be posited that the point of a fair and equitable justice system is that you don’t ‘make examples’ of people – that is best left to bloodthirsty ideologues and smelly revolutionaries. Totemic examples achieve precisely the opposite of classless inclusive law enforcement. And then there’s the global angle. Leaving aside his clumsy geography (Afghanistan is where the heroin comes from Ian; I think you meant Peru), I’m not convinced that ‘La Violencia’ in Bogota is his remit. And if it is, then God help him, because he’s a lot more to worry about than weekend white lines in Chelsea.
The more one considers this headline-grabber, the more it becomes apparent why Sir Ian was Blunkett’s ideal man for the job. In theory, and on paper, this is a great soundbite. Tough-on-crime Tories will be happy that the law will be enforced across the board; the red-top rednecks overjoyed that them poncy media types will get theirs; knit-your-own-society globalists reassured that we care deeply about the downtrodden campesinos of, um, Afghanistan. And along the way we can move closer to a nice police state, as even the drug dealers will be coppers. Well, perhaps not, but given that Blair wants 6000 more police recruits (6), another 750 CSOs (7) and the use of phone taps to bring suspects to trial (8), it’s not hard to see exactly whose ghost is still in the machine.
But the war on drugs doesn’t work. It might secure more Home Office funding, and provide some media stories, but that’s all it will do. For as long as people want to take drugs, and are able to pay for them, then they will take drugs and pay for them. For all of New Labour’s last term it has been taking vast sums from all and sundry, knocking over old dears for their pensions and throwing it at the Met to ride on the sweet short-lived high of a headline and don’t it feel good? But it’s worse than crack.
The crack high may dissipate soon, but you can get it back with more crack. The headline high needs to be changed every day, induced in different ways, and the longer the addiction lasts the more diminishing the returns. It must be a sign of collective mental decay when people start to blame chemicals for the breakdown of society. But the saddest part is that we all know that no matter how hard officials try to come off it, it will only take one pen pusher to get them hooked again. They just can’t say no.
(1) Sir Ian Blair – the New Commissioner, Metropolitan Police website
(2) Secret policemen to sniff out dinner party cocaine takers, David Leppard, Sunday Times, 6 February 2005
(3) Met chief’s ‘safest city’ pledge, BBC News, 1 February 2005
(4) Middle-class cocaine users targeted by new London police chief, John Steelem, Daily Telegraph, 2 February 2005
(5) New War on Cocaine Users, Sun 1 February 2005
(6) Jasper Gerard meets Sir Ian Blair, Sunday Times, 6 February 2005
(7) More support for the PCSOs, The Job, June 11 2004
(8) Met chief wants phone taps, DeHavilland News Online, 5 February 2005
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