Is the UK politics decided by a praetorian guard of police and press?

Thai Police officers - Huaikhot, Uthaithani, T...

Thai Police officers – Huaikhot, Uthaithani, Thailand (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The press, politicians and the police are often considered guardians of the public interest. In Operation Alice[1] report, though, we see how that role became perverted. We find that officers leaked information to the press to force a minister to resign.[2] The police officers violated their oath[3] to the Queen when they subverted the public interest. The press became their wiling, if unwitting, accomplices and the politician became their target. However, the true victim was the public interest. We were treated to the sorry spectacle of police and the press acting like praetorian guards rather than guardians of the public interest.

Do the police serve the public interest or their private interests?

The police act in the public interest and it provides them great power to fulfil their duties. When that power serves personal interests,[4] it becomes corrupted. In this case, it can become dangerous because of the trust the Queen and politicians place in them. By undermining a minister, they behaved less as defenders of the public interest and more as praetorian guards[5] using their power and position for political revenge. However, unlike true praetorian guards, the individual officers lacked the power to succeed on their own. What they needed was a powerful accomplice. What they needed was the press.

The power of public interest can become tyrannical

The press are also a guardian of the public interest. They hold the powerful and protected to account. The power to inform the public shapes public opinion, which acts to counter institutional power. They can reveal what is hidden and impervious to public opinion. Such power, though, is easy to abuse. They can use the power of public opinion to serve their private interest. In this case, a good faith whistle-blowing story about public misconduct became something else.[6]

Guardian of the public interest or willing accomplice to criminality?

In Operation Alice, the press appeared as willing if unwitting, accomplices. The officers knew the press, or rather the power of public opinion, was their only way to succeed. They needed the press to tell the public how a minister had been disrespectful to them. The press obliged because of the story’s appeal as it appeared to be a simple case of a powerful figure abusing their power. However, it was a story of institutional political blackmail.

If politics is reduced to blackmail, the press and police are praetorian guards

The police officers, like the ministers, are office holders who take an oath to the Queen. When that oath is abused their ability to protect and serve the Queen and the public is weakened. When police officers seek revenge for perceived slights, it brings them into disrepute. When they use the press to settle institutional disputes, they corrupt the public interest. Instead of serving the public interest, the press encouraged this behaviour. Politics is reduced to blackmail. One shudders to think that the press could want politics to be reduced to blackmail. In this regard, Operation Alice revealed what the Leveson Inquiry could only intimate. The guardians of the public interest engaged in political blackmail to serve their institutional interests. The public interest guardians were perverted into praetorian guards. If politics is reduced to political blackmail, then democracy becomes untenable.


[2] Despite the lack of evidence that the officers conspired in this outcome, it is strange to realize that one approached an MP to corroborate the story and arranged for a relative to corroborate it. (see paragraphs 5.45 to 5.55)  The relative provided the cover story without question. Even though it was not a conspiracy, one has to pause and reflect on the ability of the police officers to “self-organise” towards the same goal and encourage others to support that goal (see also paragraph 6.1-6.4).


[4] The officers were upset at how the minister had spoken to them. As the report explains in paragraph 5.79, the officer acted in the belief “the public had a right to know how a senior politician was treating police officers in such a derogatory manner.”

[5] a longer paper would be needed to explore how the politicians have used the police and press like praetorian guards to protect their premiership.

[6] As the main reporter involved explained “’In my opinion this was an example of good faith whistle-blowing about misconduct by a senior politician which was rightfully exposed publicly.’” (see paragraph 5.117)


About lawrence serewicz

An American living and working in the UK trying to understand the American idea and explain it to others. The views in this blog are my own for better or worse.
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