A state that serves and protects the powerful
The self-sacrificing and inspiring struggle by relatives of the Merseyside fans who needlessly died at Hillsborough in 1989 to establish the truth, must add to the erosion of public confidence in state institutions of rule and power.
It was an independent panel, not the state, that finally exposed the large-scale conspiracy to cover up police and emergency service failures at the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.
Panel members fought for the disclosure of the documents that revealed that police altered witness statements and ran a concerted campaign to denigrate and blame the fans for their own deaths.
But we’re not just talking about the police here. Other key sections of the state were involved in allowing the police smear story to stand for nearly a quarter of a century.
The judicial system and the coroners’ court also closed ranks to block the real story from coming out. And Margaret Thatcher, then prime minister, was briefed that "the defensive – and at times close to deceitful – behaviour by senior officers in South Yorkshire sounds depressingly familiar".
The executive arm of the state under the Tories did not want to upset a relationship with the police that had served them well.
The same South Yorkshire police force brutally attacked miners at Orgreave, not far from Hillsborough, during their great strike in 1984. Undoubtedly, the contempt of the police for the working class was a factor in their shocking treatment of the Liverpool fans five years later.
What is at stake here is the nature and role of the state, what and who it serves and what can be done to transform how we are ruled.
Lord MacDonald, former Director of Public Prosecutions and now a Liberal peer, knows more than most about the power of the state to rule through secrecy. He told Radio 4 Today’s programme that the “real lesson is the inability of our state”, after an “operational catastrophe is to be truthful about what happened”.
There is a “tendency”, he added, for “British public authorities to see themselves as apart from the public” added to which was a “very deep and long-standing corruption within our police services”.
But MacDonald’s view of a “a culture of deceit” within the police which is “quite breathtaking” still doesn’t get to the nub of things. The police reflect the nature of the whole state, not just its repressive arm.
State secrecy and deceit is the norm, whether it’s the cosy relationship with corporate and financial power, the lies over the invasion of Iraq, or the hidden agenda over issues like nuclear power or the break-up of the NHS. Vital documents are simply kept under lock and key.
The “public authorities” don’t just see themselves as something separate. They are, in practice, just that. Just ask people with disabilities facing gruelling and distressing “assessment” by the Atos corporation.
Our present state system is alienated from society precisely because it exists not to serve people as a whole but to enforce the status quo. It is more accurate, therefore, to describe it as a capitalist state with institutions that ultimately reinforce each other in defence of privilege and power.
Former New Labour home secretary Jack Straw has blamed “police impunity” on Thatcher. That’s only part of the story. This impunity is to be found in the very nature of a force that is effectively the strong arm of the state. Think about Jean Charles de Menezes or Ian Tomlinson. Or Mark Duggan.
The Hillsborough report will impact on millions of people, not just football fans. Confidence in the police and other sections of the state is already at an all-time low.
A state that cannot and will not protect its citizens, economically, socially or physically, does not deserve our endorsement. Hillsborough is the case for a deconstruction of the present state system and its reconstruction along truly democratic, transparent, accountable lines.
13 September 2012