I had managed to get all the way through Question Time without succumbing to deep depression. Even my deep-seated discomfort of all things Kirsty Allsopp had not deterred me. (Incredibly cool patchwork pillowslips are as much anathema to me as perhaps a beyond beautiful macrame body bag would be to Kirsty)
So it was that I found myself still watching my TV when This Week came on, with guests Michael Portillo and Jacqui Smith. Inevitably, the Andrew Mitchell saga was discussed. Gategate. Plebgate. Or however else you like to refer to it. To their credit, the actual use of the word pleb towards the armed police officers guarding Downing Street was given short attention and the conversation quickly moved on to the bigger picture. Something our press is finding most difficult, it would seem.
This is where it got really interesting. Michael Portillo said words to the effect of ‘There are so many people in uniforms these days. They all tell people what they can do and what they cant.’ I’m not sure if he actually used the word ‘jobsworth’ but if he didn’t, he should have. That was what he meant. Jacqui Smith and I both raised our eyebrows and then straightened our backs. She got the honour of responding to Micheal. I got the luxury of sitting back to watch and think.
What I thought is that if Michael Portillo feels like that about people in uniforms, then an awful lot of people feel like that about people in uniforms. He doesn’t dislike Police. In fact, he most likely thinks well of Police. When he thinks of Police. The problem became so clear, as I watched Jacqui Smith tell him that what he was saying was a little bit silly (she was more eloquent but I was thinking a lot by this point).
When Michael Portillo looks at a person in a uniform, he sees just that. A person in a uniform. If that person is driving a fast car with blue lights flashing and siren blaring, or if that person is involved in an active arrest, shouting at suspects or perhaps cuffing a prisoner, Michael Portillo’s brain recognises a Police Officer. If that person is guarding a gate or standing on a fixed point or chatting to the public, he just sees a person in a uniform. That person might be an armed officer but could just as easily be a PCSO or G4S guard or security at an airport. His mind does not differentiate any more.
There are so many private security companies who have put their staff into quasi Police uniforms that the distinction is not visually apparent to the general public any more. This is dangerous. For the private company staff and for the Police. Instead of what was most likely intended, that the private staff gained respect and standing in society on the back of their livery, the opposite appears to have happened. Police have been dragged down in the collective national psyche. The ‘jobsworth’ attitude of some people with a tiny bit of perceived power has worn down the goodwill of the nation. The growing list of rules spewing forth from Councils (just think about rubbish collections and the almost evangelical persual of those who don’t follow the ‘rules’) has become mixed up with actual laws.
When the likes of Michael Portillo openly speak of being fed up with jobsworths in uniforms telling people what they can and cannot do, then you know there’s a whole lot more people out there equally and even more confused. The saving grace in this piece was Jacqui Smith who spoke far more sensibly of the importance of the job the officers do and although her poker face wasnt quite intact, it wasn’t bad.