A night of rioting in Bristol.

Yet another set of grim and deeply depressing headlines. 

Police officers with serious injuries. Police vehicles overturned and in flames. Police buildings under sustained attack. Extreme violence and endless vitriol directed yet again at the brave women and men who stand on the thin blue line.

What the hell is going on?

I don’t know whether I’m actually capable of a coherent answer to that question, but I do know that it’s about more than a single night of criminality in a single urban neighbourhood.

It’s about much more than that.

At this particular moment in time, it feels as though police officers are being attacked from every side:

  • By those who think the policing of protests is far too robust
  • By those who think it isn’t nearly robust enough
  • By those who think the policing of Covid regulations is far too draconian
  • By those who think it isn’t nearly draconian enough
  • By feminists
  • By misogynists
  • By anti-racists
  • By actual racists
  • By those who accuse the police of being facists
  • By those who accuse them of being liberal snowflakes
  • By politicians and commentators of every persuasion
  • By those who think one thing
  • By those who think the other

At this particular moment in time, police officers feel damned every which way.

Somehow we have allowed policing to become a kind of punchbag for the rest of us – a focus and an outlet for so much of our frustration and rage. As a society faced with a huge set of desperately serious challenges, we appear to have settled on the police as the ones to blame.

Perhaps it suits us to think that way. Because it means that we don’t actually have to think about – much less do anything about – what’s really going on.

Let me try to explain.

I. We are living in a divided society

British society feels to me more divided than at any previous point in my lifetime. 

Divided between: 

  • male and female
  • black and white
  • rich and poor
  • left and right
  • north and south
  • leave and remain
  • us and them

Shouting has fast become the only means of communication that some of us know and the distances between us are continuing to grow. 

People are angry and they’re looking for someone to blame.

None of it is the fault of the police, but we ask them to stand in the gaps that have opened up between us – and to hold the line.

II. We are living in an unequal society

British society feels to me more unequal than at any previous point in my lifetime:

  • The rich are getting richer
  • The poor are getting poorer
  • The privatisation of profit and the socialisation of debt
  • Wealth and power, privilege and opportunity concentrated in the hands of the few

Research published by Oxfam in January 2021 suggested that the wealth of the world’s ten richest men has increased by half a trillion dollars since the Covid pandemic began.

Meanwhile, the queues at Foodbanks continue to grow. Research published by the Trussell Trust tells us that:

  • From 1 April – 30 September 2020, Foodbanks gave out 1.2 million emergency food parcels to people in crisis
  • On average, during the first six months of the pandemic, Foodbanks gave out 2,600 parcels to children every single day

Poverty and inequality have far-reaching consequences that can take whole lifetimes to overcome. Given that fact, perhaps it’s not surprising that people are angry and in search of someone to blame.

None of it is the fault of the police, but still we ask them to hold the line.

III. We are living in an unjust society

Far too many people in this country are facing forms of injustice that are both societal and systemic. If that hasn’t been your experience, then you are one of the fortunate ones.

Last year, people took to the streets to protest about the injustices of racism.

Last week, people took to the streets to protest about the injustices of misogyny and male violence.

And their causes were just. They were calling attention to some of the most urgent challenges facing this generation.

People are angry and in search of someone to blame.

But blaming police officers for the existence of racism and violence makes about as much sense as blaming doctors for the existence of disease.

None of it is the fault of the police, but still we ask them to hold the line.

IV. We are living in a traumatised society

Far too many people in this country are facing unimaginable levels of trauma.

The trauma of:

  • Domestic violence
  • Sexual violence
  • Child abuse
  • Human Trafficking

And so the list goes on.

Like poverty, trauma has consequences that last a lifetime.

People are angry and they are looking for someone to blame.

None of it is the fault of the police, but still we ask them to hold the line.

V. We have defunded the police

Though none of challenges set out above is the fault of the police, the fact remains that policing stands first in line to respond to the consequences of all of them. It remains the agency of both first and last resort.

The problem is that the Government of the last decade has done untold damage to both the operational capacity of the police service as a whole and to the professional confidence of individual police officers. 

From 2010-2018, politicians cut 44,000 officers and staff in England & Wales alone. And this happened in the face of almost every single piece of expert advice. The Government was warned repeatedly that their short-term cuts would have severe long-term consequences, but they went ahead regardless. 

And look where we are now.

None of this is the fault of the police, but still we ask them to hold the line.

VI. We have defunded every other part of the public sector too

The harm done by austerity is not unique to policing.

  • Listen to what @tinysunbird and @doctor_oxford and @amateuradam and others are telling us about the NHS
  • Listen to what @BarristerSecret and @EssexBarrister and others are telling us about the criminal justice system
  • Listen to what teachers are telling us about the education system
  • Listen to what youth workers are telling us about the young people in their care
  • Listen to what we are being told about the probation service (not least about the desperate failures of privatisation), about the prison system, and about every other part of the public sector.

All of it has been stripped to the bone.

None of this is the fault of the police, but still we ask them to hold the line; to pick up the pieces that everyone else has left behind.

VII. We are led by politicians who repeatedly offer the wrong answers to the wrong questions

Whatever the particular question facing society (whether about Covid or protests or violence or anything else), there will always be some politicians telling us that the answer to it lies in a combination of:

  • More legislation
  • More police powers
  • More prison cells

Politicians call for more of these things because they think that it makes them appear tough. And it affords them the appearance of doing something while actually achieving almost nothing of real and lasting substance. 

None of this is the fault of the police, but still we ask them to hold the line.

VIII. We are led by politicians who are desperate to distract us from the truth

There is plenty going on at the moment that the people in charge would prefer us not to be thinking about:

  • One of the worst Covid death rates on the planet
  • One of the worst economic downturns on the planet
  • The billions of pounds of public money ‘spaffed’ (£22 billion on Test & Trace alone)
  • The catastrophic long term costs of austerity
  • The dawning realities of Brexit
  • The widespread injustice and inequality described above.

Which is why they are so desperate to confect rage about statues and flags and whatever else comes to mind. And some in the media seem only too happy to help them.

It suits them for the focus of our rage to remain on police officers. Because it keeps us looking in the wrong direction.

None of this is the fault of the police, but still we ask them to hold the line.

So where do we go from here?

I don’t know how well I’m managing to make my point here. I’m still trying to make sense of it all myself. Nonetheless, there is no doubt in my mind about the urgent need to start doing things very differently.

  • We need to change the way we think about the world we’re living in
  • We need to change the way we behave
  • We need to change the questions we’re asking
  • We need to look beyond the symptoms to understand the causes of all that is facing us as a society
  • We need to confront injustice and inequality wherever we encounter it
  • We need to confront racism and male violence and every other disease of this age
  • We need to understand trauma and its consequences
  • We need to change the way we communicate with one another
  • We need to build bridges, not walls
  • We need to demand much better from the press
  • We need to demand much better from politicians

Of course, we need to demand better from our police officers too. We should continue to hold them to higher standards than we do anyone else. Precisely because they are the police.

But, at the same time, we have got to stop blaming them for things that have got nothing to do with them.

We need to stop blaming them for things that are not their fault.

And we need to stop blaming them for the failure to fix things that are beyond their control.

This is not on them.

It’s on us.


19 thoughts on “#KillTheBill

Add yours

  1. Just reflect on these 4 issues that have taken place by a Tory Administration during the past 30 yrs. 1,. Care in the community.; Closure of psychiatric hospitals resulting in vast homelessness many of whom had lived in a safe and secure environment. 2, Sale of police housing resulting in police officers not living within the communities they served. 3, Closure of local police stations, thereby loss of local contact with the community. 4, As mentioned, the diabolical cut in police number by Teresa May. Politicians have lost the plot !


  2. The medias also inflame and stir and provoke public perception of the Police. They need to be held to account too. Thank you for your posts. I wish more people read them so that they could open their mind a bit.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I support the police totally in UK Sad they getting so much criticism. I dont think it is justified Too many people bored and ready to blast so many issues Praying they die down when and They have better things to fill their sad lives when lockdown over


  4. all these things are true ,but all have been here since humanity began ,its not how your treated but how you deal or react ,too many people cant walk away to find peace, but turn around and protest ,sue ,fight and destroy the things they cannot accept ,it will be there tomorrow and for the next millenium ,live with it or walk away ,two wrongs dont make a right ,if you cant except reality go where you can , change your job ,partner ,surroundings ,company ,country ,you all have a choice ,police do an amazing difficult but good job 99.5% are praise worthy and diligent ,and we could not ask for more , my heart goes out to them all ,how many apart from all our other services can honestly say they go to work ,if they do work ,for the safety of others ,but fear for themselves daily ,hats off to them all ,and all the powers that are needed


  5. This is an excellent article and I only hope more people take notice of what’s happening, instead of chasing vague I’ll informed conspiracy theories.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. The bit you are missing is what is the “line” the police are being asked to hold and who by?

    You write as though the police are an impartial, neutral body between divided forces and there is no need to pick sides – just encourage everyone to play fair.

    But the reality is that the police are asked by the rich, the racists, the people cutting all public services to “hold the line” of defending their actions against the interests of the broad mass of people in this country (including against the interests of individual police officers). The protest in Bristol was specifically against proposed legislation that will in fact move the line a long way In the direction of preventing ordinary people from contributing at all to political debate in this country.


  7. There is an article in the Daily Telegraph today entitled ‘It’s time for a dedicated riot control police force’. I read it and just shook my head in despair at the lack of knowledge of policing amongst our political/media class. The author wants a .new institutional culture geared towards the specific requirements of public order policing’ as if there isn’t enough organisational and academic knowledge around already. Reading between the lines it’s an excuse to further reduce the number of police, as this force would move around the country to deal with disorder as it arises, even more dangerously it would ‘give the government more input into the decision to hand over responsibility in a given situation to this new force’. I can see this being held over the head to PCC’s and CC’s as a threat. All the old clichés are there including the ‘military style direct recruitment of talent into the officer ranks’. Well direct entry to the police has worked brilliantly so far I’m told. Now, I may be missing something but it seems our full time third force is likely to be a tad under employed. Would it not be better to restore the 20k plus officers lost in the cuts and ensure that mutual aid and intelligence gathering is restored?
    Anyhow, good luck everyone in dealing with the coming s*it show over the summer. I’m too old to be recalled.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Well done for an insightful overview of UK policing issues. The Police “Force” is long gone and now, The Police Service, is only able to attempt to apply a sticking plaster on society’s problems.

    Law and order was always key to keeping the country’s citizens safe.

    The policing oath – Protect Life and Property – has not been forgotten by police officers, however, society seems not to understand what the Force/The Service is empowered to do.


  9. Whether the the two women carrying the banner “Kill the Bill “were referring to the police or the legislation being passed needs to be addressed as in London and possibly elsewhere the police are known as “The Bill” or “Ole Bill”

    Liked by 1 person

  10. What we are doing here is stating the obvious … once you step back and detach yourself from the chaos that is being deliberately propagated. It’s obvious that people in power are muddying the waters to further their own agenda.
    A quote from an in depth analysis of the police forces around the world is that “the police are the people, and the people are the police”
    An old book but still bang on.
    The laws and agendas being enacted are moving the police away from the people and so the people are. Less and less the police. Society is the loser as we all succumb to the desired fragmentation.

    The main thing that unifies the country is that we are all different and fractured. It serves completely the wrong purpose to have Boris from a privileged back ground, stating capitalism and greed made the vaccines such a success and further dividing opinion. Let alone so many other attempts at Churchillian statements.

    We are following America down a dark hole.

    Mayors telling police what to do, terrible.
    Politicians adding sway and pressure rather than through true legal process
    Regional (or USA states) differences being used as budgetary or political leverage like it suits their agenda to fracture the country.
    As you listed, there are just so so many aspects

    The worst worry is that people will just become apathetic and give up and be truly compliant I.e. dictatorship.

    Do not lose faith nor hope people.
    Keep speaking up, catalogues things, form a group, broadcast and communicate reasonably and knowledgeably.


  11. Hello, as a remainer who joined many of the anti-Brexit marches I and many others have good memories of the high quality policing of the marches; not to mention an insightful conversation with one officer outside the Tory Party Conference who highlighted many of the issues around under-funding and the multiple ways police were picking up the pieces of austerity. These days I also manage one of the regional Bylines online newspapers and would love to carry something on these topics in our pages.


  12. A friend recently recommended that I view this article I did and found it to resonate with what I am seeing I.e an increasingly unequal society, a government that wants to look tough (as it erodes the hard fought for right to protest). I posted it on the Gloucester XR page as thought it gives excellent perspective. However I am disappointed to discover that there is inaccurate info. Could you amend this part? I am also deeply concerned by the unprovoked aggression that has been shown in some of the footage of the Bristol protest. https://www.itv.com/news/westcountry/2021-03-25/police-confirm-officers-did-not-suffer-broken-bones-at-bristol-protest

    Liked by 1 person

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