Last month I blogged what I felt was the likely timescale for the construction of a police state in the UK something the Blair government and now the Brown government seemed set on doing, for example through extending the period of detention without charge to 42 days. Maybe I was optimistic in how long all of this would take as today I encountered the first police checkpoint in the UK that I have been aware of since the Miners' Strike of 1984-5 when police had the right to stop anyone anywhere (including infamously in the Blackwall Tunnel in London, scores of miles from any coal mine) if they suspected them of going to a picket around a coal mine. What I encountered this evening trying to drive through Christchurch which I thought was in Hampshire, but it turns out is in Dorset, reminded me of the one-off TV drama 'Party Time' (1992) written by Harold Pinter and starring Barry Foster. It was set in the near future in which the UK is a police state and many of the guests coming to the party are delayed by police checkpoints. Time passes so quickly that it is odd to think that here in 2008 we are in fact in the 'near future' of people living in 1992, so I guess it should not be too surprising that some elements of that play have already come true. Pinter is an astute playwright.
Anyway, if you have to drive anywhere near Christchurch (and I only had to because an accident had blocked the main road I was taking West), my advice is do not. It may only be temporary but these evening there are police roadblocks on all of the main roads into the town and they seem to be stopping everyone. They are heavily staffed with ten officers at each checkpoint. I saw them with car boots open, they were clearly searching cars. When I questioned the officer he denied there was any terrorist activity in the area. That may be what they always say but more alarmingly, it may suggest that this is now 'normal' police behaviour around the town. I think I was particularly pulled over because people often mistake me for a Pole. Around 1 million Poles moved to the UK in 2006 and the number for 2007 was probably not much less. In the city of Southampton around 20 miles to the East of Christchurch with a population over 220,000, 10% of the people are now from Poland. There has not been any real racial tension, though I see a BNP (British National Party, a fascist party) candidates is standing in Bournemouth next door to Christchurch. This is outside the BNP's normal area of operations in East London and Lancashire, but may represent that they feel a way in there if there is racist behaviour going on.
Anyway, when the policeman spoke to me and heard my middle class English accent he let me go. This suggests that not only do we have roadblocks as normal behaviour in the UK now but that the actions taken at them (for example whether to search the car or not) depends on the nationality or ethnicity of the driver. So, I advise all drivers to stay clear of what seems to have become a mini-authoritarian state of Christchurch in Dorset and especially if you happen to be of East European origins (or, presumably, Middle Eastern extraction too given how obsessed the UK remains with al-Qaeda).
I always hope that when I see signs of the growing police state in Britain that they are an error, that Christchurch police had a slow day and decided to exercise their powers. Who can blame then when you find Poole Council (hang on, that is next to Bournemouth, is there some kind of testing ground for an authoritarian regime going on in South-West England) was using anti-terrorism powers to put surveillance on three families trying to get their children into a particular state school. Anyway, I hope these things are an error, but how many errors can you accept before you have to recognise that the police state is already here?
P.P. I did wonder why Christchurch should be the focus of such police activity and then I looked on the map and realised that it lies very close to Bournemouth Airport and in fact the road I had been diverted on to runs right to the airport. Furthermore, Bournemouth Airport (along with Prestwick Airport) has been one of the airports at which CIA rendition flights on their way to Guantanamo Bay have been stopping. So, though I still believe that the police state is creeping up on us quickly, in this case it looks like the British police were actually acting on behalf of the Americans. Presumably they suspected protests or something at the airport and were keen to keep people, that in their eyes looked suspicious, away from the location so as not to embarrass the Americans.
P.P. 16/08/2010: I have now found out that these road blocks are an annual event, we are told, simply connected with monitoring traffic flow. Apparently, they are not mentioned on local radio or television traffic reports so that people do not alter their route to avoid them. I also, found that I was in my rights to refuse to speak to them. Despite the presence of the police and their assistants wearing a kind of uniform and official badge, you are not at all obliged to talk to them, the best thing is simply to sit in your car with your window closed and simply look ahead. Wait until they have finished with everyone else and then simply drive on when the car in front of you does. In spite of these road blocks (and I will call them nothing else as they do block the road and prevent you driving on) being given an innocuous spin, I would ask why is one stretch of road, close to an airport used by the CIA checked year in/year out. What is so significant about Christchurch, Bournemouth even, that needs such attention? I could understand it better around Southampton, Portsmouth or Bristol, but two holiday resorts? Maybe I have been lucky and have missed out on such other road blocks around actually important urban centres. If you have encountered some let me know and we can start a list of the black spots and the time of year they are likely to have road blocks, for whatever reason we are told we need them.