Helen Martin: The police state that we are in

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I WAS 15 years old the first time I went abroad. It was 1970, a time when package holidays were just beginning to make their mark for most ordinary people.

The permanent sunshine, the so-blue Mediterranean, the different tastes, smells and scenery were all astonishing. So too was the sight of ordinary beat policemen with guns, something that had been confined to soldiers and cowboys as far as I was concerned.

I don’t know whether it was cause and effect but the Spanish policemen also seemed to have a different attitude ­towards the public from the police back home. They looked as if they expected trouble, not the sort of people you’d want to approach to ask for directions, advice or help ­unless you were really desperate. They had a swagger about them. Perhaps they didn’t ­intend to be intimidating but they were. Or was it all in my mind simply because they ­routinely carried guns?

In those Dixon of Dock Green days there was a saying that if you wanted to know the time, you should ask a policeman. The local police in Scotland were there to look after lost children and reunite them with their parents or help old ladies across the road. Of course we knew they also pursued murderers and caught burglars but essentially they were “go to” people who would help whether you had accidentally locked yourself out of the house or lost your dog. Guns didn’t come into it.

The British had a superiority complex precisely because our police (with the exception of specialist squads in specific circumstances) were unarmed, unlike those in the rest of ­Europe or America. We believed it was a sign of a civilised society. “When British police start carrying guns” was often used as shorthand for the day our society fell apart, but no-one thought it would ever happen any more than “Hell would freeze over” or “pigs might fly”. We were ­policed by (excluding crimina­ls) consent, not by force.

Today, on the edict of Scotland’s Chief Constable Sir Stephen House, hundreds of officers on routine patrols have holstered handguns, apparently as it makes it quicker to deploy them when the “hardware” is required. But it was a quiet, sneaky move that didn’t go through parliament, let alone consult the public. Now the Scottish Police Federation, the closest thing the force has to a trade union, wants ­police cars equipped with Taser stun guns.

Most alarming of all is that the Scottish Government says police weaponry is a matter for the police to decide. The Chief Constable wasn’t required to ask parliament permission for officers on normal beat patrol to carry firearms and nor must the police get approval for the mass issue of Tasers. The Federation adds that having to ask permission would be tantamount to “political interference”, a statement that swiftly turns the world on its head. Who’s in charge?

No-one would deny society has moved on. Police and public face different threats of terrorism, international organised crime, drug smuggling. Perhaps after a fair and reasoned debate we would agree guns were necessary.

But it didn’t happen that way. I feel as if I have ­stumbled into a plot from Life on Mars.

At some point I fell into a deep sleep and woke up to the nightmare of a police state where they call the shots – 
literally – no consent needed.

Tories will bow down to their funders

EMPLOYMENT minister and Tory MP for Wirral West Esther McVey, right, claims there was nothing wrong in accepting a £10,000 constituency donation from the ultimate boss of Everyday Loans because it came from him as an individual and not from his company so no rule was broken. Over the years the same man has given the party £7 million. Adrian Beecroft, who has a huge stake in Wonga, has also given £800,000 to the Conservatives.

What then is the likelihood of a Tory government putting its benefactors – individuals or companies – out of business by clamping down, as we all wish they would, on exploitative lenders charging massive interest on loans to people with bad credit ratings? And what is the point of the rules?

Just charge a fair price . .

CONSUMER group Which? has revealed we could all save ourselves hundreds of pounds a year if we learned to haggle.

Even vast firms selling insurance, broadband, mobile phone contracts and car breakdown cover will yield to a determined customer who holds their nerve, plays hard to get and threatens to go elsewhere. All you have to do is say you’re leaving and you’ll be showered with discounts and better

deals.

There’s only one problem. Half of us would rather eat our own heads than spend an hour pushing option buttons and listening to duff music while trying to get through to the call centre, let alone having the stamina left to barter.

The other half are too busy and fed up with playing silly psychological games and ­engaging in psychological one-upmanship when all we want them to do is charge a fair price in the first place.

Better to be tech-phobic

AS a bit of a Luddite, I feel exonerated. I don’t bank online and I’ve never bought anything online. As each scary hacking story breaks (the latest involving millions of eBay users), I just feel better and better.