Once again a Met Police commissioner is stuck in the middle of policing and politics. So what happens now?

21 April 2024, 11:51 | Updated: 21 April 2024, 15:58

In the Venn diagram of policing and politics, it's often the Met Police commissioner who gets trapped in the middle.

And so once again, Sir Mark Rowley is being pushed and pulled between the public order decisions made by his officers on the ground and the extensive public and political examination that follows.

In the case of the high-profile interaction between Gideon Falter of the Campaign Against Antisemitism and an officer policing the pro-Palestinian march in London last Saturday, the best vantage point we have is the footage filmed by a Sky News camera crew at the demonstration.

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The footage shows a lengthy and bad-tempered discussion, with the officer accusing Mr Falter of purposefully leaving the pavement and walking on the road against the flow of protesters.

"You are looking to try and antagonise... I can already see what your mindset is," the officer says at one point.

Mr Falter disagrees, saying he is simply trying to cross the road and "get out of here".

The officer replies that if that's the case, he's happy to escort him and his group safely around the march.

However, Mr Falter asks: "Why can't I just walk where I want to walk?", before adding "the Metropolitan Police says these marches are completely safe for Jews... you're telling me... I have to be escorted by you."

This is really the key point.

The officer has clearly decided the best way to reduce the chance of public disorder and keep everyone safe is for Mr Falter and his group to make a diversion around the march.

Further sections of the Sky News footage show why this calculation was likely made.

Some pro-Palestinian demonstrators are clearly heard aggressively shouting "baby killer" and "scum" towards the group.

Given this, it's clearly uncomfortable that those who are being subject to abuse are also being asked to make concessions.

But this also taps into wider anxieties within the UK's Jewish community that have led to security being boosted at synagogues and Jews covering up symbols of their religion in public.

None of this was helped by the use the term "openly Jewish" by the police officer in question and the subsequent flat-footed half-apology where the Met appeared to suggest someone's religion could - in itself - be a provocation.

Despite all this, the force would no doubt still point to its operational on-the-ground priority to keep the peace and minimise potential civil unrest.

So where does this go now?

Answering that involves picking apart the somewhat hazy lines of accountability flowing up and out of the Met, with oversight from both the Labour mayor of London and the Conservative home secretary.

Cabinet ministers are on the record saying this is now the responsibility of Sadiq Khan.

That's an unsurprising political move considering the London mayoral elections are a little over a week away, but it's somewhat undermined by the fact that the policing minister has already said he's hauling in the commissioner in the coming days.

The view in City Hall clearly matters though, especially given it was the mayor who controversially forced out the last commissioner.

But all the signs are that's not going to happen again, as we are told Mr Khan does still has confidence in the Met boss.

In that context, it's hard to see the government unilaterally moving to try and change the leadership.

More likely is a re-sparking of the broader political debate over the bandwidth that should be allowed for pro-Palestinian protests, given the impact they have on the UK's Jewish community.

What that rests on is the friction created when the right to protest rubs up against the right to express one's religion - and crucially, how the police arbitrate between those competing and at-times contradictory freedoms.