Democracy itself is imperilled when the political sphere is invaded by officialdom - 28.01.22

The Left has shifted from merely attacking the police and the legal system to trying to co-opt them for its political and cultural aims in this article by Charles Moore for the Telegraph.

Yesterday the Metropolitan Police put out a very short statement. They asked for “minimal reference” in Sue Gray’s forthcoming report on alleged parties in Downing Street to matters that the police are themselves investigating. Otherwise, there was a danger, the Met explained, of “prejudice to our investigation”.

Here, in miniature, is an illustration of one of the great problems of running a country nowadays. When people get excited about a political scandal, they reach for the criminal law. That is understandable, because they perceive injustice but, more often than not, it is unwise. Law and politics are quite different things. Mix the two, and worse trouble usually ensues.

Politicians themselves often invoke legality in this way, often for base motives. “Lock her up!” shouted Donald Trump as he campaigned against Hillary Clinton. After he gained office, he got a taste of his own poison when attempts were made to impeach him. When he left office, legal opponents came after him over the riot in the Capitol.

Here in Britain, people who hated Tony Blair because of the invasion of Iraq wanted him tried as a war criminal. During the later cash for honours scandal, he was questioned by the police.

One of the features of such cases is that, though they create much excitement, they rarely succeed. The complication of the story, the unreliability or scarcity of evidence, media over-excitement and the heat of political battle make it hard for a conclusion to be reached.

The point made by the Met yesterday about investigations being prejudiced by other reports usually comes up. The thing tends to dribble away. Lawyers get plenty of money out of it, but that does not mean that the rule of law is well served.

Sensible police officers usually hate such cases. They know that, whatever they do, they will be accused of persecuting the politicians involved or of treating them too gingerly or – for public opinion is usually divided – both. They much prefer to deal with what Ulster police, referring to non-terrorist offences, used to call “ordinary decent crime”.

It is even quite common for police interventions to impede lesser forms of investigation, as seems to be happening now with the Gray report. If something is sub judice, little can be said about it.

Those gleefully chasing Boris Johnson over lockdown parties may now find their hunt stymied by delays and restrictions while detectives search ancient fragments of birthday cake for fingerprints (I exaggerate, obviously, but not much).

There is also a problem of disproportion and the misallocation of police resources. Many regard it as morally very serious if Boris Johnson and staff in 10 Downing Street broke Covid rules. But in terms of the criminal law, the offence is trivial, as is indicated by the penalty – fixed fines of £100. Is Plod’s journey to Downing Street really necessary?

Behind these problems lies a deeper question. Would it in fact be a good thing if the police, or other legal authorities, could bring down the leader of a democratic country?

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Democracy itself is imperilled when the political sphere is invaded by officialdom - by Ch
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