Sarah Everard: Is ‘Resign Cressida’ really the right move for women?

As the aftermath continues to unfold after the brutal kidnap, rape and murder of 33-year-old Sarah Everard by a serving Metropolitan Police Officer, is demanding the resignation of the woman in charge really the right move for women? – asks Jacob Bradfield

An old-style lantern on a Police Station in London (Photo by Maggie Yap on Unsplash)

Sarah Everard

When the news broke on Friday 12 March 2021 that serving Metropolitan Police Officer, Wayne Couzens, had been charged with the horrific kidnap, rape and murder of 33-year-old Marketing Executive, Sarah Everard, shockwaves rippled across the country.

Vigils erupted amidst huge public outrage and demands erupted for Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis (Metropolitan Police Service, London), Dame Cressida Dick, to resign over a series of failures in relation to this case, previous cases and the aggressive handling of the Clapham Common vigil.

Despite these calls, Dick remained and had her tenure at the helm of Scotland Yard extended by two years.

In light of the sentencing of Couzens to a whole life order on 30 September, resurfaced allegations that his behaviour was well-known as concerning, to say the least, alongside the force issuing advice that women should protect themselves from suspect Police Officers, renewed calls for Dame Dick to resign have emerged.

Met Commissioner, Cressida Dick (Photo: Metropolitan Police Service)

No matter how firm she holds, Dick has serious questions to answer. As the news about Couzens’ sentence dominated the news cycle, former Metropolitan Chief Super-Intendent, Parm Sandhu, was on Radio 4’s the World at One alleging that the force, that Dick said was “rocked” by the events, was actually more aware of the culture that helped Couzens thrive than they like to let on. Something that many observers have commented on in the past.

According to Sandhu, the Met Police is “very sexist and misogynistic” and female officers operate in a culture of fear. One that forces them to make a choice between standing up against a toxic culture or staying silent. In standing up, they risk a predominantly white male force closing ranks to defend each other and being left alone in violent situations, by men that would prefer to see them beaten on the street than risk breaking the dangerous comradeship and unwavering loyalty that covers up so much wrongdoing.

Not only did the Couzens investigation, and subsequent sweep of his phone, reveal messages of a homophobic, misogynistic and racist nature severe enough to warrant potential criminal investigations into five of his colleagues, in official data the culture within the Met is made crystal clear.

More than half of Met Police Officers that were found guilty of sexual misconduct, over the four years until 2020, kept their jobs. One woman every week makes allegations of domestic abuse against an officer or a Met employee, and as we herd from Sandhu, this is just the tip of the iceberg with most sitting under water too scared to come forward.

A Police Officer stands outside Buckingham Palace (Photo by Tom Grünbauer on Unsplash)

The Met have responded to this crisis of public faith by ordering an additional 650 officers out onto the street with extra patrols, but as Ash Sarkar of Novara Media points out: Couzens was not a murderer who happened to be a Police Officer, he was a Police Officer who was able to use the equipment and authority given to him by that office that commit murder – through falsely arresting Ms Everard and placing her in handcuffs. Nor were the cases of Jeffrey Davies, Erling Leask, Derek Seekings or Mark Kennedy, all of whom used their authority as a Police Officer to commit their crimes.

So as these new officers roll out on to the street, one could hope they would be of good quality, but with vetting failures abundant in existing officers I have little faith.

Cressida Dick suggesting in 2019 that, whilst she was outraged at the blatant severe corruption in TV dramas such as Bodyguard and Line of Duty, they had a “net-positive” impact on the force as they made them look “a bit cool and interesting” and “bring in interest and applications” isn’t particularly soothing either. If people that see the sex, corruption and violence of TV dramas as the world they want to be in and this is a “net-positive” for the Commissioner, no wonder the Met is stocked with sexual deviants, thugs and those that cover their back.

Should Dame Dick resign?

Now, I’m no fan of Dame Dick. Her approach to protests of all variations has shown little to be desired in terms of human rights. Her ramping up of stop and search which disproportionately targets black people by 9 times is similarly galling. Her decision to transfer to MI5 whilst Scotland Yard were investigating human rights abuses by the intelligence agency is similarly concerning. The fact she was the Officer in Charge in the operation that wrongfully killed Jean Charles de Menezes, when he was repeatedly shot in the head in Stockwell Tube Station, after being falsely identified as a terrorist, well… I don’t think that requires words. I am no fan of Cressida Dick.

But… if we are looking solely at this one issue. The issue of evident institutional misogyny within the Met. What alternative to Dame Dick do we have? She is evidently failing to grapple the internal culture, but with a staff of over 40,000 people in its four departments, and just 34.9% of these being women, is this entirely her fault?

As we’ve already heard from senior former officers, the culture within the organisation is one which breeds the closing of ranks between male officers, who make up the majority of the organisation. Female representation in the Met is increasing, but only in the form of Police Officers, and even this is fluctuating rather than on a consistent upwards trajectory. Police staff, PCSOs and Special Officers departments have all seen a fluctuating decrease in female representation. From the reports coming from former female officers, I don’t think it takes too much interrogating to see why.

With pressure on Dick from politicians to do their bidding, pressure from the public to act on a whole variety of issues and, presumably, intense pressure from the male-dominated environment that keeps secrets before they can reach her desk. Maybe it is worth just thinking for a second before we demand the resignation of a lesbian woman from the helm – who may, for all we know, be fighting intensely an unwinnable battle against a substantial section of her workforce – before an inevitable straight man rising through the boys’ club takes it back for the comrades.

Then again, she worked for MI5 and is Dame Dick after all, maybe she can’t be trusted, but we should be concerned about demanding resignation when we don’t know the line up. You almost always get something worse than the ‘worst’ that you think you have now.

Extinction Rebellion: All will fail unless it turns it’s focus to the the targets that matter.

Extinction Rebellion has the potential to be an incredibly powerful movement for real social, environmental and political change, but without a focus and determination on ensuring the inevitable collapse of the capitalist system they will neither achieve this nor prevent our extinction. — Zac Arnold writes.

In my mind, there is no doubt that the Extinction Rebellion movement that has surged across the globe in recent months is an immense achievement. Predominantly led from the grass roots with small groups, often referred to internally as “Affinity Groups”, organising their own direct action exercises without restriction. Naturally, however, a leadership free structure is always a difficult thing to achieve in a society so dominated by top-down institutions.

According to the group’s website “Extinction Rebellion is an international movement that uses non-violent civil disobedience to achieve radical change in order to minimise the risk of human extinction and ecological collapse.” The movement was officially launched in London on October 31st, 2018 when an estimated 1,500 protesters converged on Parliament Square, blocking roads at the key London junction, to launch the declaration of rebellion.

The Extinction Rebellion logo flies on a flag during a climate protest (Photo by Gabriel McCallin)

Since October the movement has gone from strength to strength and rightly so. When you have a clear message, a distinct and eye catching brand and an issue that resonates and has an impact on everyone, you have built the foundations for a strong social movement that is radical and capable of enacting real change for the majority.

There is also no doubt that the vast number of hugely dedicated and determined individuals have pinned down the methods necessary to ensure that, although reluctantly, the Rupert Murdoch’s of this world provide them with the coverage in order to make sure the conversation spreads. But none of these things matter unless the movement you are building is focused on destroying the right enemy. That enemy is capitalism.

Now we have reached a pivotal junction in this vibrant movement. Just yesterday, in a letter to The Times, business leaders signalled their support for the Extinction Rebellion action stating that “the multi million-pound costs that the Extinction Rebellion protests have imposed on business are regrettable, as is the inconvenience to Londoners” but they go on to claim that many in the business community support the agenda of Extinction Rebellion, if not their methods.

Whilst this may look like a great milestone in the campaign to achieve such backing from the corporate elite such as the former Chief Executive of multi-national conglomerate Unilever, Paul Polman, but in reality the only way to successful minimise the risk of a climate catastrophe, the only way to do so is to target the heart of the problem. The system.

A placard resting against a wall after a climate protest (Photo by Nick Page

This is where the issue begins. Extinction Rebellion have three clear demands, and nowhere in any of them do they mention the culture of capitalism, the banking sector, the fossil fuel industry. None of these fundamental contributors to the imminent climate emergency are even mentioned in passing and for XR to truly achieve it’s aims, it needs to change this. It needs to refine it’s focus to the right targets and the dismantling of the capitalist class that really fuels this crisis. Ending climate change will require the end of capitalism as we know it, but have Extinction Rebellion got the nerve to bring this about?

As Phil McDuff explained in his piece for the Guardian last month, “we will simply have to throw the kitchen sink at this. Policy tweaks such as a carbon tax won’t do it. We need to fundamentally re-evaluate our relationship to ownership, work and capital”.

The entire capitalist system, as we known it, is built on a foundation of greed and selfishness. It has been built deliberately to line the pockets of the privileged few while the many suffer as a result. Our entire system is rigged in favour of an environmental catastrophe of epic proportions and the only way to stop it is replace it. We need to look at how we earn money, how we make energy, how we work, how we travel, how we do business. Everything needs a fresh start before it is too late.

XR’s Tell The Truth boat blocks a road in central London (Photo by Joël de Vriend)

However, in order to tackle these root causes of climate change, Extinction Rebellion and the wider environmentalist and green thinking community must be willing to pick up the sword and pick the right targets to aim their increasingly large actions. Other campaign groups and organisations such as Momentum and Christian Aid have started the trend in targeting the very source of the problem. Finance.

HSBC have poured £43 billion into fossil fuels over the last three years, not to mention their complicity in other international humanitarian crises such as the ongoing occupation of Palestine. A financial system that floods the climate change industry with funds is the kind of target that we need to be looking at. This is the kind of target that we need to be dedicating our time to.

I have been told that I am not allowed to criticise Extinction Rebellion because we all need to “remain united”. This is advice that I take and discard of. We should never be in a position where we are forbidden from criticising some of the actions of a group because we agree with the overarching cause and method. In my view, Extinction Rebellion have thus far failed to pick all the right targets.

A man films an XR demonstration (Photo by Sean Robbins)

During the first week of Extinction Rebellion’s two week long International Rebellion in London, environmentalists and climate change activists managed to successfully glue themselves together outside the North London home of the jam making, bicycle riding, allotment growing, vegetarian environmentalist and leader of the socialist Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn.

The group of 4, who had splintered away from the main events of the week, said that they wanted Corbyn’s Labour to “go further” than simply “declaring a climate emergency”. They seemed to forget how Labour had shifted in recent years and how Labour has been continuously producing new policies to lead the green transformation. They also seemed to forget how Corbyn is merely leader of the an opposition political party. Not currently in power.

Within the same week protesters managed to super glue themselves to the top of a train and initiate a whirlwind of memes about a flight from Los Angeles. Although I do not agree with targeting a more environmentally friendly form of transport such as trains, at least I can see what they were attempting to achieve on this occasion.

On it’s current trajectory, the Extinction Rebellion movement is managing to fulfil it’s current purpose incredibly successfully. This purpose is to achieve a wider public awareness of the issue at hand and the very real threat of imminent extinction. But now, something needs to take the lead and turn this organised, mass, civil disobedience into the movement to change the world for the better. Whether it be Extinction Rebellion that leads us on this path is yet to be seen.

Police line a demonstration in London (Photo by Sean Robbins)

We are on the edge of what could potentially be a movement that transforms the world for the better, a movement where the many take back what belongs to them. Or, this could fizzle out and we could miss the opportunity of multiple lifetimes.

XR is a thriving socio-political movement that much like Brexit will change the political landscape for the long run but we need to ensure that we take this opportunity. We simply need to ensure that our focus, as climate activists and environmentalists, is placed in the best place to inflict maximum damage and to force action because corporations, the banking sector and the government will not give in easily.

But even with the level of enthusiasm and a strong focus on the capitalist class, this will not be enough to achieve the change necessary. We need to work with trade unions. We need a general strike and we need a government capable of tackling the threats we face but at the moment it looks as though we don’t have a government at all.

Cathedral thought mirrored tower blocks (Photo by Hieu Vu Minh)

UPDATE: Since publication, Extinction Rebellion campaigners have staged an action outside the London Stock Exchange, gluing themselves to the building. It’s a move in the right direction. There is still time, the rebellion is just beginning.

Foodbank Britain: How Universal Credit is hitting this rural area

Zac Arnold writes about the effects of the Tory policy in his Gloucestershire community. This article was originally published by Left Foot Forward.

A selection of long-last food (Photo by Nico Smit)

The negative impacts that Universal Credit is having on ordinary people across the country is a path that has been walked plenty of times by “non-mainstream” media outlets.

The campaign to have the system scrapped entirely is in full swing.

The real impact of this flawed project — of which ex-Tory leader and former secretary of state for the Department of Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, is the architect — is clear. However, it is also clear that Theresa May will not, at any costs, back down on the vanity project of her disgraced predecessor.

The Forest of Dean, a small rural district in Gloucestershire ranked 303rd out of 324 local authorities in terms of social mobility, dragged itself through the full roll out of Universal Credit in November 2017 and the impact was clear within days.

“According to a source at Forest Foodbank, in the days following the roll out of Universal Credit across the district, use of the local foodbank operated by the Trussell Trust increased by 85%”.

Even by early 2018 usage of the foodbank had only slowed to 50% and now, over 12 months later, usage is still up by 30%.

The foodbank source also stated it “doubled the normal three vouchers in six months limit for those who can show us they are transitioning to UC” due to the demand and strain on claimants being so significant, and due to problems with payments not being received on time.

What the Conservative government appear to forget is that the people suffering under this programme are just that. People. People that are vulnerable. People that are struggling to survive. People that need that extra hand and some humanity.

“It appears that the government have no real grasp, or do not want to have a real grasp, on the level of devastation they are causing”.

The source also said foodbank staff “hear many stories of long initial wait periods well over the 5 week minimum, and very punitive sanctions for seemingly trivial transgressions.”

One such story being a “heavily pregnant girl in her early 20s who missed one job centre appointment due to health issues related to her pregnancy, and was sanctioned 47 days money, leaving her with absolutely no money for over a month.”

The foodbank is also falling behind demand despite seeing an 11% increase in donations since last year and they are also experiencing a significant turnover of volunteers.

A source from the foodbank added:

“There is only so much we can do, and it puts a lot of pressure on our wonderful volunteers and volunteer management team, leading to a higher than desirable turnover of volunteers, and we are currently recruiting in all areas, including a manager.”

This is only a small sample of the impacts that Universal Credit is forcing on our communities. On our neighbours. On our families. On our friends. The Trussell Trust estimates that there has been an average 52% increase in foodbank usage in areas where Universal Credit has been fully rolled out with 1,332,952 people receiving emergency food supplies from Trussell Trust foodbanks in the 2017/18 year compared to the 2016/17 year.

In the Forest of Dean, 3368 three day emergency food parcels were handed out to people in need in 2016/17 year alone. This was before the increase in usage due to Universal Credit.

The full roll out of Universal Credit across the country is yet to be completed, with all local authorities set to have transitioned by 2022, and there is already a clear correlation between foodbank usage and the roll out of Universal Credit.

According to the Trussell Trust, the average 52% increase in foodbank usage in Universal Credit roll out areas in the 2017/18 year so far, slows to an average 18% increase in areas where Universal Credit is yet to be rolled out.

Of course, the increased usage of foodbanks is not the only impact of Universal Credit. There are many more, with the likes of rent arrears and eviction included, but these are stories for another day in this saga of devastation.

It is clear that this government couldn’t care less about the people of our country and they have the nerve to pose for selfies at foodbanks in the run up to Christmas.

Zac Arnold is an A-level student from Lydney in the Forest of Dean