The Met Police has found itself in the news again this morning after releasing a statemtent saying it had asked the long-awaited Sue Gray report make ‘minimal reference’ to the events it is investigating. Framed as an effort to maintain standards of legal impartiality and avoid ‘prejudicing the investigation’, many have read the move as an opportunity to help Boris Johnson save face in Parliament and potentially his job in the wake of the Partygate scandal.
The playbook, it’s alleged, has the potential to go as follows: Gray cuts references to the parties from the report (what the report consists of after, or if it will be published at all, is unclear), and at some later point the Met absolve Johnson of any wrongdoing, or at least anything beyond minor infractions that require a slap on the wrist. It might sound conspiratorial, but in the world of Tory politics and the Metropolitan Police, it is far from the most outlandish suggestion.
LBC radio host James O’Brien was one of the first to allege a cover-up—one he attributed to ‘Johnson’s ability to sully and corrupt everything and everyone he comes in to contact with’. He followed this up with a claim that ‘there’s nothing so awful that Johnson can’t make it worse’, but the implication of the first tweet remained the same: that Johnson is responsible for quite how ‘awful’ the Met has newly become. This might seem like an odd line to take so soon after the Sarah Everard case, and everything that went along with it, but O’Brien is far from the only commentator to test it out.
For Liberal Britain, this morning’s announcement encapsulates what they believe to be the great national malaise: individuals corrupting institutions. In Boris Johnson’s case, it began with the media, then spread to government, and has now reached the police.
You only need to look at recent headlines involving the Met to see how wide of the mark this kind of analysis is. On Tuesday, environmental activist Kate Wilson won a six-figure pay-out from the Met after the Investigatory Powers Tribunal ruled last October that the relationship conducted with her by Mark Kennedy, an undercover cop, in the early 2000s contravened her human rights. Last week, Metropolitan Police Detective Inspector Neil Corbel was sentenced to three years in jail for nineteen counts of voyeurism, after it emerged he had filmed women without their consent. Earlier in the month, Met PC David Carrick was charged with twenty-nine offences against eight women, including thirteen counts of rape. This is an extraordinary record of institutional misogyny, and it only accounts for January this year.
For some, that these stories appear in the news is evidence of the Met doing its job: rogue individuals being held to account for their crimes. But it’s hard to accept the full extent of stories of misogyny—only one element of a culture also infested with racism and homophobia—without it being clear that something endemic is at play. This is true elsewhere, too: years before Sarah Everard’s murder, for example, Wayne Couzens’ behaviour toward women was so well-known that he was nicknamed ‘the Rapist’ by his Civil Nuclear Constabulary colleagues. His car was even linked to a report of indecent exposure. They didn’t remove him from the force—they made a joke of it.
In reality, none of this should come as a surprise. This is the same Met Police that killed Jean Charles de Menezes, and whose officers then spied on his family, the same Met that shot Mark Duggan and killed Ian Tomlinson and clubbed Alfie Meadows, causing brain injury. The scandals are not the exception with this institution, they are the norm. And with the Met rolled out regularly to protect the establishment at key junctures, Cressida Dick’s latest intervention is just a novel manner of carrying out a very traditional function.
Last year, the independent inquiry into the investigation of Daniel Morgan’s murder stated that the Met was ‘institutionally corrupt’. Many would say that in an institution granted power over the lives of others along with almost complete impunity for the way in which they use it, corruption is to be expected. It’s not that Boris Johnson has bullied the poor Met into covering up for him—it’s that the Met recognises that if we as a society begin to actually investigate abuses of power and the cultures in which they arise, its own position would quickly become untenable.
With the Covert Human Intelligence Sources Act having formalised the power of the state to authorise its own law-breaking, and the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill soon set to limit our ability to protest, those seeking to separate the reputation of the Met from Boris Johnson’s individual caprice aren’t just wrong in their analysis—they are disorienting you on the nature of the state’s authoritarianism, and how it is likely to shape the coming decade.