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In conversation with the ghost of Sir Robert Peel

It was a boozy sunny day last week when I met the ghost of Sir Robert Peel, twice prime minister, founder of the Conservative Party, and most importantly, the father of modern policing. Sauntering down middle Meadow Walk with my back to Victor Hugo, opposite the great queue for focaccia in an assortment of corduroy and fluffy bucket hats, I saw a misty point in the air. Suddenly, out of this point, limbs unfurled in sickening swirls until Sir Robert Peel stood in front of me. He was dressed, complete with top hat, in riding gear and his neck was bizarrely misshapen. In my drunken state, I realised he was in the state of how he died – trampled by a horse. He looked like Andrew Neil in a kind of mad way – Andrew Neil in a top hat.

‘Bill, you dog!’ he exclaimed. ‘Just the man I wanted to see! I hear you’re going to write an entirely fictitious article about meeting me. I came to make sure your depiction of me was accurate.’ His flattened Lancashire vowels rang across the Meadows as he cut into his phantasmic jelly with a knife and smeared it on his broken neck. I sipped my Tennents and, realising my rudeness, offered him a tin. He shook his head ruefully, gesturing at his translucent body. Then I remembered the point of his apparition: this was the man who invented modern day policing.

I stated my charge: “You, the man who set up the Metropolitan Police Service! Surely you must acknowledge that the roots of policing are not in crime prevention but riot control? During your time managing the British colonial occupation of Ireland, you sought to create new forms of social control that would allow you to control the ‘outrages’ which until then had been poorly managed by the local militia and the army. Thus, you created the Peace Preservation Force, whose members embedded themselves in rebellious rings and arrested the leaders. After the Manchester Peterloo Massacre of 1819, in which a cavalry charge with sabres killed dozens of protesters, you realised the need for a more professional body to protect the landed gentry’s interests from the wrath of the Luddites, Chartists, and Jacobins. Hence the Metropolitan Police Service. Therefore, the main aim of the police is in managing and producing inequality as well as quashing social movements of those on the losing end of economic and political arrangements. Recent events: a vigil for Sarah Everard which was a protest against systemic violence against women and the protest in Bristol against a new criminal justice bill which effectively criminalises protests, expose how policing itself is the state’s way of maintaining the status quo”. I stumbled slightly as I finished my slurred argument.

“Ha!” he retorted, as he stopped licking the jelly off his neck. “Although you are correct in your diagnosis of the roots of policing, you are wrong to think you can change this. Your modern-day atheist society imbues, through popular cultural depictions, the police with a kind of divine right to enforce the law. It imagines police as heroes who protect us from a Hobbesian anarchy that would surely befall us if they were not present. Shows like Luther and films like Bad Boys II and Hot Fuzz are classical examples.” His face suddenly grew blotches of grey: he was blushing with passion. “That bit in Hot Fuzz where the church spire falls on his head! Ha! Bloody brilliant that is! It’s like a watermelon the way it goes pop!” He managed his passions by spreading some butter on his ruptured clavicle and slurping it up.

My bladder at this point was beginning to suffer: “So if, as a society, we were to acknowledge the true roots of policing and stop the apotheosis of the police, perhaps we could think together of a more suitable way of managing crime prevention? One that doesn’t have at the heart of it the suppression of people who do not work in the state’s interests? Surely that would be the end of policing as you created it”. I was now walking towards the alley left of the library. Behind me, he blenched and began yelling about “conniving Catholics” and their “bloody emancipation”. I started to urinate on the cobbles in a line-up with four other boys. The fumes from our combined piss wafted up to me and slowly Sir Robert Peel faded from my inebriated mind.

Image: Sir Robert Peel via Wikipedia

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