Thursday, October 05, 2006

PC in PC row

I once had a friend who was a compulsive negotiator. I’ll call her Beryl because I don’t know any real Beryls and if I meet one in the near future I’d just like to say this – Beryl, this is not about you, ok? So this Beryl. I’d ring her up and we’d have a conversation that went like this,

Me: Do you fancy going for coffee on Saturday?

Beryl: Can’t do Saturday. Can we make it Sunday?

Me: Sure. 11.00 ok?

Beryl: Can we make it 11.30?

Me: Sure. Where do you want to go?

Beryl: You pick somewhere. It was your idea.

Me: What about Pumpkins?

Beryl: Nah. last time I went there the coffee was cold. I want to try that new place in Church Street with the garden out the back.

Me: I know the one you mean. Fine with me. See you there Sunday at 11.30.

Beryl: Actually, could we make that 3.00? I’m thinking of washing my hair in the morning.

Me: Sure. 3.00 it is.

I gave up on her in the end. I know I have taken rather a long time to get to the point but it is this. We ought to be able to trust and co-operate with each other without hard-nosed negotiations and contracts governing our every twitch.

The lead item on the news this morning was the story of PC Alexander Omar Basha from the Metropolitan Police’s Diplomatic Protection Group who is at the epicentre of a national furore after it was discovered that he was excused from guarding the Israeli Embassy for the duration of that country’s recent attacks on Lebanon. Nobody is quite sure of the exact grounds for his being excused from this duty. His wife is Lebanese, his father Syrian. Police have said he was excused on ‘welfare grounds’. It’s a slow news day. You’d think. But no, a full investigation is to take place at the very highest levels. The police obviously have nothing better to do. And we really need to get to the bottom of this, right?

From my limited experience of dealing with police officers I have ascertained that they tend to do and say exactly what they like. I did briefly go out with a policeman once. It’s not that bad once you get over that whole YOU’RE A WHAT!!! thing. Actually, he was a bit of a compulsive negotiator too. It must just be me.

What I do know for certain is that there are more sick notes issued by the Metropolitan Police than £5 notes issued by the Bank of England. So, why single this poor guy out for attention? We seem to have so few rights now that the media need to really dig deep to find one that still exists to challenge. I’m not sure the right to conscientious objection applies if you’ve already joined a service but it should. Critics are already asking if Jewish officers should be excused from guarding the embassy of a Muslim country. Why ever not? Have we so few police that they can’t swap shifts with someone for whom the task in question doesn’t cause personal conflict? Will showing a modicum of sensitivity cause a national security crisis? Has the duty roster been chiselled in by Anthony Gormley?

A couple of weeks ago Marcel Berlins wrote a piece in The Guardian about the contracts that British universities plan to make students sign which will require them to,

‘study diligently’ and ‘attend promptly and participate appropriately’

I was the happy beneficiary of an excellent free education and I’m sure if I was paying £30,000 for it now, I wouldn’t need to be issued with instructions on how to operate it. The Oxford Union has pointed out that these contracts are legally binding and could even allow universities to prosecute students for breach of contract. I can hardly wait for a legal definition of ‘participate appropriately’. Might it be avail yourself of cheap pints at the union bar? Join the debating team, even if you have to argue a case that conflicts with your personal beliefs? Go punting regularly?

No contract which aims to overrule or control our natural inclination towards ethical co-operation is ever going to work. If anything it will ensure that the person forced to sign it will immediately begin scheming to find clever ways of getting around it. By the time I’d got off the phone from Beryl, I’d already planned to be half an hour late, knowing that she would arrive at 3.15. Few things gave me more pleasure than to imagine her sitting there, fuming for fifteen whole minutes. I could get back in touch with her actually …

Lovely PC Mermaid from

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