Politics Magazine

Johnson’s Water Cannon Arrive

Posted on the 27 June 2014 by Thepoliticalidealist @JackDarrant

The Mayor of London has completed the purchase of three water cannon from the German federal police force. The £218,000 weapons cannot be used unless the Home Secretary approves their use in Great Britain (rather than Northern Ireland). Evidently Mr Johnson is sufficiently confident of securing her blessing that he feels able to spend a lot of Londoners’ money on the purchase.

Mr Johnson is not just buying “any ordinary” water cannon either: the reason German police are selling is that they are phasing out that particular model due to safety concerns. They are currently being sued by a man who lost vision in one eye after being attacked with one of the cannon.

Various newspapers report that, since then, Johnson’s weapons have been used by the German police to demolish windows in buildings ahead of raids. This shows the sheer force that they produce: it’s not like being sprayed with a garden hose. These are military grade weapons, a favorite of brutal dictatorships to disperse protests.

Who’s to say that legitimate protests won’t be the next target of British police? Few would disagree with claims that London’s Metropolitan Police are notoriously heavy-handed. It only takes a few violent people to provoke harsh police retaliation on an entire crowd.

Boris Johnson says that the cannon are a vital ‘asset’ in the event of a repeat of riots like those of 2011. But, to borrow from his exquisite vocabulary, we’ve heard similar “piffle” from our politicians before. The terrorist attacks of 2001 and 2005 prompted a massive expansion of police and state power at the expense of civil liberties. We were assured that British police, who were unarmed since time immemorial, would only carry guns “under exceptional circumstances”. Now, in London (albeit not in the rest of the UK), there’s nothing unusual about seeing police officers carrying formidable firearms on day-to-day patrols. Moreover, in the name of the “War on Terror”, politicians tore up protections against detention without trial; imposed restrictions on our democratic right to protest (in case terrorists attack the free world by demonstrating?); and have even legalised secret courts.

Where does it end?

It doesn’t. When the emergency of Islamist terrorists recedes, it will be rioters, or eco-terrorists. Each threat seems to warrant a further expansion of state power at the expense of hard-won civil liberties. Yet no politician is going to reverse this process: not out of some imagined conspiracy to subjugate the people, but because any reversal will be seen as undermining “security”. Look at the debate on nuclear disarmament and you’ll see what happens to politicians seen as ‘weak’ on security.

The introduction of water cannon to London would be a threat because, soon enough, there will be more than three of them, they won’t just be in London and they won’t just be used for riot dispersal. How many similar precedents do we want to set?

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