If there is one thing the ultra-Left likes better than stories about fascism, it is stories about police brutality. The very best modern morality tales conjoin fascism and the fuzz/filth/flocs in an axis of awfulness, against which all other sins fade into insignificance. A classic of this sub-genre is the tale of Blair Peach—back in the headlines after a decades-long hiatus, like a PC coda to the New Labour era.
At the end of April, the Metropolitan Police released a 31-year-old report into the death of Peach, who died on St. George’s Day in 1979 during a riot in the west London suburb of Southall. In his spare time, schoolteacher Peach was a member of the Anti-Nazi League (mischievously nicknamed ANAL by their National Front equivalents), which was demonstrating against a 20-strong NF rally, in what was even then a predominantly Indian area.
As so often with ANAL activities, the demo got the littlest bit out of hand, with 5,000 attacking the police, 40 injured, and 300 arrested in what the police averred was the most violent riot they had ever had to deal with (21 police officers were hurt). Peach was hit on the head during the melée and died that night.
His death gave rise to a kind of cult dedicated to the Ché-look-alike and a rhetorical question which became a cliché—“Who Killed Blair Peach?” As Labour MP Diane Abbott wrote wistfully in the Guardian on April 28, the question “...evokes the anti-racist campaigning of the late 1970s like no other. If you had not been on the demonstration, you had the poster.”
Eyewitnesses had maintained that Peach was hit on the head by officers from the now-disbanded Special Patrol Group. The report confirms this, hints at the identity of the officer most likely to have delivered the blow, and concludes that other officers lied to protect the culprit. No prosecution ensued, and the matter was forgotten by everyone except a few zealots and Peach’s family members.
The just-released report’s conclusion of overreaction and “worrying culture” will have confirmed the ultra-Left’s pathological hatred of the police. For such, Peach is a marker on a martyrology timeline—another idealist ground down by the combined fascisms of ‘racism’ and ‘reaction’. Peach is a simulacrum of every “victim of the establishment,” from Tolpuddle and Peterloo all the way via the Spanish Republicans, Allende and Joy Gardner, to Stephen Lawrence and Ian Tomlinson.
Such myth making over-systematizes. Poor Stephen Lawrence was the victim of apolitical savagery, while passer-by Ian Tomlinson had zero interest in politics but was unlucky enough to get ensnared in the G20 rioting. Nonetheless, they have been co-opted into a Trotskyite parallel reality, where everyone in uniform is a fascist in collusion with a ‘rightwing establishment’, and all mistakes are conservative cover-ups.
Central to this view is the idea that the error and evil were all on one side of the equation. It is temptingly easy to sit in a quiet room months or years after an event sifting slowly through evidence, and then blame a police officer for doing, or not doing, something. Absent is any concept of what it must have been like to have been there on the frontline, needing to make instantaneous decisions, seeing your friends spat at or injured with iron bars or petrol bombs. Even human rights lawyers might become overly enthusiastic in such circumstances.
Those who observed Peach being beaten neglected to mention what he and his comrades had been doing immediately beforehand. Perhaps he was blameless, but then again perhaps not. The ANAL was a notoriously excitable organization, with as bad a reputation for violence as the National Front, which did not deter ostensible democrats like Peter Hain from supporting them—just as one Rt Hon David Cameron MP supports ANAL’s successor organization, Unite Against Fascism.
What happened to Peach that rainy seventies evening was tragic for his family, but it only occurred because he condoned an unnecessarily confrontational organization and its grossly irresponsible tactics. Had he moderated his stance and modified his methods, we would probably not now know his name—but he would almost certainly still be alive. Pace all the recently renewed propaganda, Peach’s death proves nothing—except the randomness of things, and the injustice and unreason of the world.
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