I’ve just been to see Taking Liberties, The Movie (featuring, among others, Rachel North). The Cameo Cinema in Edinburgh now has Wifi, and since I’m One Of Those Guys With a Mac who carries his laptop everywhere like its a sixth limb, I’m able to provide a still-fresh-in-my-mind response.
The film focuses on the culpability of Tony Blair and his administration, in their ironic response to the post 9/11 terrorist threat, that is, the curbing of civil liberties in order to ‘protect’ our freedom. The myriad ways in which this has occurred has been well chronicled online. Indeed, I have asked before (can’t find the link at present) whether the popularity in blogging is linked in some fashion to the frustration at such incursions.
As we saw the slighty desaturated footage from protesters who had filmed the police, and from the police who had filmed the protesters, I found it very difficult not to consider the role of the ordinary policeman, and hard not to feel sorry for him. They are faced with the unenviable task of implementing the ill-considered laws that are handed down by governments. In one-heart breaking scene outside the Menwith Hill facility in Yorkshire, a young and amicable officer finds himself slipping into the illiberal misuse of the Terrorism Act. He is, of course, only following orders (mein Herr), only doing his job, sir, and the film-makers make him look faintly ridiculous – a lackey, a patsy, an automaton. In a similar scene, a couple of fresh young police-constables recieve similar treatment, when they are forced to hand out leaflets warning of the illegality of a protest on Parliament Square.
In a sense, these boys in blue are as much a victim as the protesters who we see suffer harassment, intimidation and unlawful detention. Because in most case, it is not that the ordinary policeman is going beyond the law, or that he is involved in any kind of ideological collusion with a would-be oppressor (although that charge is levelled against some officers in Brighton). It is that the laws are framed in such a way as to invite ridiculous, counter-productive outcomes. Campaigners such as Mark Thomas have become very proficient at designing their protest in such a way as to provoke these outcomes.