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Dec 15

BBC Defends McIntyre Interview

Posted on Wednesday, December 15, 2010 in anti-cuts resistance, civil liberties, Politics, protest

Further proving John Pilger’s charge of coasting on the back of unquestioning journalism, the BBC has responded to the criticism of Ben Brown’s interview of Jody McIntyre:

We have received a considerable number of complaints about an interview Ben Brown did last night on the BBC News Channel with Jody McIntyre. The context of the interview was that Mr McIntyre was on the student demonstrations in London last week and video emerged yesterday of him being pulled out of his wheelchair by police.

I am aware that there is a web campaign encouraging people to complain to the BBC about the interview, the broad charge being that Ben Brown was too challenging in it. However I am genuinely interested in hearing more from people who have complained about why they object to the interview. I would obviously welcome all other views.

I have reviewed the interview a few times and I would suggest that we interviewed Mr McIntyre in the same way that we would have questioned any other interviewee in the same circumstances: it was quite a long interview and Mr McIntyre was given several minutes of airtime to make a range of points, which he did forcefully; Ben challenged him politely but robustly on his assertions.

Mr McIntyre says during the interview that “personally he sees himself equal to anyone else” and we interviewed Mr McIntyre as we would interview anyone else in his position. Comments more than welcome.

Kevin Bakhurst is the controller of the BBC News Channel and the BBC News at One and the deputy head of the BBC Newsroom.

John Pilger in his new documentary ‘The War You Don’t See’ charges the BBC above most news organisations with a disinterest in challenging power, particularly in questioning the position of the state. Brown’s interview and Bakhurst’s defence of it proves his point as effectively as his film – Brown took the police’s position on the action at the #dayx3 protest, the rationale behind it, and only ever attacked McIntyre on the most spurious grounds, fed by the police, not from anyone else’s experience or account of the day. Again and again he lambasts him for being a ‘revolutionary’ and implies that, under any circumstances, a man with his disability could have posed a threat to riot police. Never once does he pick up on McIntyre’s complaint about the Met’s attack and outrageous treatment of Alfie Meadows; Brown just soldiers on, implicitly again and again labelling his interviewee as part of the problem that day.

Brown’s ‘polite challenges’, through making them at all, effectively supported the police’s behaviour against him, through acknowledging that their claims and only their claims might have had merit. It’s disturbing but not surprising that Bakhurst doesn’t understand why that’s such a problem. It’s what FOX News does; it’s not what most of us expect from the BBC.

Dec 14

Now This is a Case of Broken Britain!

Posted on Tuesday, December 14, 2010 in anti-cuts resistance, civil liberties, ConDemNation, Politics, protest

After the #dayx3 student protest, timed to coincide with the parliamentary vote to skyrocket university tuition fees, much was made in the UK press about the incident that evening involving Prince Charles and Camilla. Their Royal car had paint thrown at it and Camilla was allegedly ‘poked’ through the window by a protester. In response to that, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson allegedly offered his resignation:

According to the Sunday Times, Sir Paul Stephenson, Britain’s most senior cop, offered his resignation as Commissioner of London’s Metropolitan Police to His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales, after the car carrying Charles and his wife was surrounded by protesters in central London last week.

Now we know that HRH, number two in a constitutional monarchy, has long had ideas ­ on architecture, planning and whatever else swims into his appalled view – ­ if not above his station, certainly beyond the parameters of his ‘above the fray’ non-political role. But even Charles clearly baulked at the idea that he should accept Sir Paul’s resignation.

The Met Commissioner is responsible to us, the people, through the Home Secretary. His grand-standing offer to go (he admitted to colleagues, apparently, that his resignation was unlikely to be accepted) was all of a piece with the fiasco that unfolded on Thursday during the student protests against the coalition Government’s trebling of tuition fees.

Unbelievable. Absolutely unbelievable that the boss of London’s police should offer to resign because the heir to the throne and his wife were a little bit upset! Why not offer to resign after his force killed Ian Tomlinson? He may not have been the Met’s boss at the time but why not resign after the murder of Jean Charles de Menezes? Robert Chesshyre goes on to add:

So the question should be: if Sir Paul is seriously thinking of quitting, ought it not to be for the consequences of failures by his force other than the upset experienced by the heir to the throne?

One student, 20-year-old Alfie Meadows, was allegedly struck so severely by a police baton that he fell unconscious and required emergency brain surgery.

That is bad enough. But the story emerging is far, far worse: that police officers prevented Alfie’s tutor summoning an ambulance; that when he finally did get to the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, there was a stand-off because ­ according to Alfie’s mother ­ the hospital was treating injured police who didn’t want an obvious protestor, however badly hurt, treated in the same building.

Even in Afghanistan, coalition Medevac helicopters will remove injured Taliban fighters for treatment even in the heat of battle.

It was only – as Alfie’s mother, Susan Matthews, 55, herself a university lecturer and also on the demonstration reported – ­ the intervention of an appalled ambulance man, who insisted that Alfie stayed put, that stopped him being driven away to another hospital with severe (and possibly fatal) consequences.

A senior nurse then took the stricken Alfie to a separate resuscitation room to keep him away from the police who found it “upsetting” to see protestors in the hospital.

As I’ve pointed out (and will continue to do so) the incident with Alfie was hardly an isolated incident, and it’s phenomenal that Stephenson should find it so easy to trivialise the brutal behaviour by his officers. I wasn’t at the demonstration, but I acknowledge that there was violence on both sides, however this is clearly a man who has his priorities all wrong. He’s willing to sacrifice his career to impress the heir to the throne, yet not in response to wanton, excessive violence by his uniformed thugs. Speaking of those uniformed thugs I am dumbstruck every time I hear them and their superiors complaining about the missiles thrown at them. Think this through – they have said they had snooker balls thrown at them. I know from my experience at demonstration at the Millbank Tower that the harder elements at that protest were throwing missiles, but can someone tell me why a) getting hit by a snooker ball when you have body armour on is a problem and b) how many students were likely to have gone out en masse to steal balls from snooker halls? Please. For that matter how the hell does a handful of snooker balls against riot cops merit indiscriminate attacks with batons against unarmed young people?

David Cameron has repeatedly invoked the concept of a ‘broken’ Britain; this is the surest example I’ve yet seen of one. And yes, Stephenson should go, but we all know he won’t.

Dec 14

But the Police ARE The State’s Enforcers

Posted on Tuesday, December 14, 2010 in anti-cuts resistance, civil liberties, ConDemNation, Politics, protest

Sir Hugh Orde, President of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), a for profit organisation, has warned that the police should not be seen as the means by which the ConDems’ will is enforced:

Asked if there was a danger to the police’s reputation by repeated clashes at demonstrations, Orde told the Guardian: “Yes, if it is allowed to be played as the cops acting as an arm of the state, delivering the elected government’s will, rather than protecting the rights of the citizen.

“We need to be clear we are doing it as operationally independent, and not subject to influence by anyone as to how we do it.

“As long as that is maintained we can rebut any allegations that we are doing what we are told by our political masters to advance a political agenda. The police are not against anybody.”

Far too little and far too late. It’s become plainly clear even to children that the opposite is true – they are the state’s enforcers. Rebel against it and face pre-emptive civil liberties restrictions and unprovoked violence. Want some proof?

From the 30th November #dayx2 protest:

Tahmeena Bax, a third-year history student at Queen Mary University in east London, said she was hit directly over the head at least three times by a riot officer when police charged a group of kettled protesters on the evening of 30 November.

The incident took place at the north east end of Trafalgar square, close to the National Gallery at around 6pm, as protesters some distance from Bax lifted barriers protecting the police line. The police charged the crowd. “The police suddenly rushed forward and I couldn’t escape. I was hit at least three times, mainly on the right side of my head,” she told the Guardian.

Bax, 20, who had become separated from her fellow protesters from Queen Mary’s, staggered 10m away from the police and collapsed unconscious on the ground.

A witness, Katia Ganfield, said: “I saw her curled up in a ball. There was no response from her. We were all in shock as we didn’t think a young girl would be hit to the ground like that.”

From 9th December #dayx3 protest:

Mr [Jody] McIntyre described what happened: “I was in Parliament Sq with my brother and we saw everyone running to one of the corners so we ran and made our way to the front.

“One policeman hit me with his baton in the shoulder then suddenly four or five of them picked me up, and dragged me from my chair. They carried me quite violently and against my will and put me on the pavement.

“Eventually after about 5 minutes, my brother was let through.

“What was even more shocking though, later on I had moved to the other side of Parliament Sq and I was sitting in my wheelchair in space in the middle of the road. A policeman recognised me from the earlier incident and came running over, pushed me out of my chair and dragged me across the road. This was completely unprovoked.”

Mr. McIntyre has not yet decided whether he will make a complaint against police, but was eager to make the point that this is not an isolated incident. “I’ve been to a lot of these protests and people are always violent with me” he said.

“Even though I’m in a wheelchair, I like to think we’re all equal human beings. There was plenty of violence towards students yesterday, and even though I’ve had media attention, all of this violence is equally disgraceful. But this is standard police behaviour.”

And another:

The police watchdog launched an independent investigation today after a 20-year-old student was left unconscious with bleeding on the brain after being hit on the head with a police truncheon.

Alfie Meadows, a philosophy student at Middlesex University, was struck as he tried to leave the area outside Westminster Abbey during last night’s tuition fee protests, his mother said.

After falling unconscious on the way to Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, Mr Meadows underwent a three-hour operation for bleeding on the brain.

His mother Susan, 55, an English literature lecturer at Roehampton University, said: “He was hit on the head by a police truncheon.

“He said it was the hugest blow he ever felt in his life.

“The surface wound wasn’t very big but, three hours after the blow, he suffered bleeding to the brain.

“He survived the operation and he’s in the recovery room.”

Dec 9

It’s About the Good Society

Posted on Thursday, December 9, 2010 in anti-cuts resistance, ConDemNation, Politics

Michael Gove hasn’t got it for some time apparently:

I accept that some graduates will take up jobs which do not command handsome salaries. Individuals may pursue admirable work for which there is no great monetary reward, in the Church, the arts or public service. In these cases there is a strong case for the taxpayer bearing the cost of their degree. But why should the vast majority, who go on to benefit financially from their degree, be subsidised by me?

Those of us who are net contributors to the State, graduates or not, are getting a terrible deal for our money. We could guarantee far superior healthcare and schooling for our families if only the Government gave us back the money which it confiscates from us in taxes and then spends on the schools and hospitals which it runs so badly. But of all the money wasted by the State there is perhaps no greater scandal than its mismanagement of the funds it takes to spend on higher education. The system it has built to disburse our money is inimical to equity, liberty and excellence.

Higher education is now a nationalised industry, with universities utterly dependent on state support for their survival. Like all the nationalised industries which taxpayers had to subsidise in the past, from British Coal to British Leyland, UK Universities suffer from grotesque inefficiencies, low motivation, ministerial second-guessing, poor salaries, and a stifling excess of bureaucracy.

The Secretary of State for Education wrote this in opposition in 2003, which puts an end to the lie that the ConDems’ higher education policies are about anything other than ideology. Fortunately the university students and school pupils demonstrating against him don’t agree – the marketisation of knowledge in a knowledge-based economy will only be to the detriment of us all. I wish them every success in #dayx3 today.

Dec 8

Bob Broadhurst Is At It Again

Posted on Wednesday, December 8, 2010 in anti-cuts resistance, civil liberties, ConDemNation, Politics, protest

Met Police Commander Bob Broadhurst was at his predictable best yesterday:

Commander Bob Broadhurst, head of the Met’s Public Order Branch said: “We have seen groups of youths descending on the last few student protests as the day progresses, purely with the aim of using the event as a venue for violence and to attack police.

“It has been obvious that these particular elements are not genuine protesters and they have no intention of protesting about cuts to tuition fees or any other issue. They have turned up purely to take part in violence and disorder.

“We will work with all protesters who want to peacefully protest and we acknowledge and respect their right to do so, but I would warn them to be aware of this violent element, which could harm them and their cause.”

Mr Broadhurst called for parents to advise their children of the dangers of attending a protest as youngsters are more at risk if violence breaks out.

Check out every other occasion he’s made such predictions. Every single time Broadhurst has issued such a warning there has been no violence started by demonstrators, be they students or G20 protesters. Each time he’s simply made it up, and the time before last did everything in his power to get his TSG riot officers to incite violence. Fortunately last time the students (who no doubt will be suitably prepared this time as well) were on to him, and didn’t play ball; even the so-called ‘mass arrest’ late in the day (after the demo had already finished) was a stunt.

The last line is particularly chilling, considering how pre-emptively violent his Met officers have been to unarmed, non-violent children on their last two outings. His ridiculous weasel words about ‘working with protesters’ are particularly hollow, considering the tactics the Met tried (and failed) to implement on #dayx2. May the students continue to frustrate (and evade) the Met over the next couple of days, but more importantly continue to humiliate them. The more they can show the Met to be the tool of the state which is trying everything in its power to smash their movement, the more successful their movement will be.

Dec 6

Why Cuts are the Wrong Cure

Posted on Monday, December 6, 2010 in anti-cuts resistance, civil liberties, ConDemNation, Politics, protest

Adam Ramsay offers a fantastic argument against education cuts (cross-posted from

Two days ago, I stood outside Oxford’s Cheney School as almost the entire sixth-form walked out of their classes. Their younger school-mates too had turned up that morning with placards and with marching shoes and with pre-prepared chants. But their teachers had threatened severe punishments if they joined the march.

The students complained that, as a result, there were “only” 200 of them. They marched into the city centre, and joined with 300 more school students from across Oxford before going on to occupy the county hall, shut down every bank in the city centre, and secure all of Oxfordshire’s front pages. And, of course, similar things happened across the country.

Students protest in Oxford

Today’s teenagers were written off as “the X box generation”. Day X has smashed that stereotype. What can have caused this? Well, it’s pretty simple. Chloe, one of the organisers from Cheney School, put it best: “Most people here come from ordinary backgrounds. We won’t be able to afford to go to university if they introduce these fees. I want to be able to go to university.”

The same, simple sentiment was expressed by those I saw kettled into Whitehall on Wednesday: “They’re taking our EMA away. How am I going to be able to finish my A-levels?”

And it was shared by the students I spoke to at the occupations of UCL, SOAS, Edinburgh, Birmingham and Oxford Universities. They use longer words, like “marketisation” and “neo-liberalism” but they mean the same thing – these cuts and fees and students debts will shut people out of their hopes and their dreams.

Students protest in Oxford

But there is also a basic economic problem with the massive cuts we are seeing to education. Because money spent on teaching doesn’t go into a black hole. Margaret Thatcher was famous for asset stripping – for “selling the family silver”. At the time, this meant selling physical assets – buildings, factories, whole industries.

But if the new economy is – as we are so often told – a knowledge economy, then these cuts are just a new kind of asset stripping: stripping a generation of the skills they will need to build new wealth, and a new society, from the ashes of the recession. The failure to invest in tomorrow is a classic way to destroy a company or a country. It is a failure that the government seems to be blundering into.

But it seems this generation has woken up to its plight. And, with Lib Dem MPs wobbling on fees, they might just have a victory in their sights.

Adam Ramsay blogs at Bright Green.

Dec 3

It’s Pointless to Protest?

Posted on Friday, December 3, 2010 in anti-cuts resistance, civil liberties, ConDemNation, Politics, protest

Deborah Orr sure seems to think so:

It is sometimes suggested that there is little protest against the cuts, except from students and schoolchildren, because adults are too craven and apathetic to stand up and be counted. The truth is that they are too wise to waste their energy on something so silly. Protesting against the cuts is like protesting against water’s stubborn habit of flowing downwards. Pointless, unless you are a committed anarchist, in which case everything is worth protesting against.

Protesting education cuts and tuition fee rises is silly?! That commentary reminds me of BBC Question Time last night where noone but noone wanted to talk about the morality of subjecting university students with much higher levels of debt. Of course right wing talking head Nadine Dorries thought it was perfectly fine, indeed she believed her constituents were against funding higher education out of taxation, implying that students were lazy good-for-nothings who should be bullied into contributing more. What of the majority of students though who don’t fall into that convenient category? Should they just sit and take this attack on their futures, when the financial mess we’re in isn’t down to them, and there are so many other alternatives available? I think it’s bizarre to suggest that anyone fighting these cuts and others (Lewisham Town Hall was just the start) is an anarchist.

It is interesting how much the student protests have relied on exploiting the political weaknesses of the Coalition, rather than concentrating on promoting the sound intellectual arguments that can be mustered against the reform of higher education. A protest that started out insisting that it filled a vacuum left by the failure of politics has remained obsessed with the promises the Lib-Dems made in its manifesto for government, and the hypocrisy the party has shown in ditching them for coalition.

I think it’s a horribly flawed perspective on the demonstrations. True the students are angry at the unfairness of the Lib Dem betrayal, having pledged in public that they would not support rises in tuition fees. But their anger is clearly much greater than that. As Elgan John points out, this is fury at what Naomi Klein calls ‘Shock Doctrine’ or disaster capitalism being aimed at them in particular:

Today in the UK we are positioned between a Mary Louise Smith and a Rosa Parks; not of course in terms of civil rights but insomuch that the angry youth have put their bodies forward in disobedience, their skulls smashed by batons, their blood has speckled the snow. They have done this in protest against tuition fees that they would never pay. But more than that, it is far larger protest, one against this government of extremists and their shock doctrine. These students have readied the way for the dignified marched of those with impeccable character, the quiet and the well behaved, to truly shock those in power and to bring this illegitimate government crashing down.

Laurie Penny adds:

Britain’s new youth movement has evolved. The white-hot energy that exploded at Millbank three weeks ago has cooled into a hard-edged organising tool, making links with Trade Unions and anti-cuts groups up and down the country. What started as a riot has become a movement. At UCL, one of the movement’s strategic hubs, serious-faced teenagers take detailed notes and man the phones to liaise with the media whilst others are already at their laptops, getting the word out via Twitter and Facebook about what’s happening on the streets. These young people have been underestimated – by their parents, by their teachers and lecturers, and by successive neoliberal administrations -and that underestimation may yet shake this government to its core.

I only see informed, intellectual objections to the ConDem’s higher education reforms underpinning the ongoing student rebellion. And the fact is the protests have brought this issue up to the very top of the political agenda, and are already causing deep ruptures in the coalition. The students realise that, for reasons I’ve repeatedly cited, the attack on them is ideological and that the social values being put forward by the government for these reforms do not and will not lead to the social good. I too can’t agree that saddling the next generation with unbelievable levels of debt and letting the bankers get off scott free is just or necessary, when we have more than enough money to fight pointless wars and to contribute to bailing out whole countries. As other commentators have said, Atlee built the NHS at a time when he too had no money to hand because it was the right thing to do. Having dismissed students for too long as unable to critically evaluate the world, we should be championing them now for pointing us in the right direction this time.

Dec 1

How to Escape a Kettle

Posted on Wednesday, December 1, 2010 in anti-cuts resistance, civil liberties, ConDemNation, Politics, protest

Priceless footage from yesterday’s #dayx2 #demo2010 student demonstration against the ConDem coalition’s planned huge rise in tuition fees and university budget cuts. Late in the day the Met swore blind they had no intention of kettling the student demonstrators on Whitehall (despite bountiful evidence and testimonies to the contrary), but the students themselves knew otherwise and the #catandmouse chase, as you can see, made fools of the cops.

The Met however remained determined to infringe the students’ right to protest peacefully, as you can see:

The territorial support group (TSG) riot officers even returned to their old tactic of covering up their identifying shoulder numbers. The more things change the more they stay the same.

Nov 30

Be Kettled (for no reason) Or Else!

Posted on Tuesday, November 30, 2010 in anti-cuts resistance, civil liberties, ConDemNation, Politics, protest

Guardian reporter Paul Lewis discusses the Met’s pre-emptive kettling attempt earlier today, and how it may itself not be legal (twitpic by Jonathan Warren):

In terms of the letter of the law, there is a chance that Scotland Yard overstepped the mark today. I’ve just been in touch with Louise Christian, the human rights lawyer who is bringing a test case against the Met’s policy of “kettling” to the European Court of Human Rights. The Law Lords previously ruled in the Met’s favour in the Lois Austin case , hence the force’s repeated claims that the tactics has been deemed “lawful”. But it is not as simple as that, as senior officers need to prove that containing people was “proportionate” to the threat posed by a crowd. The notorious kettling of climate camp activists at last year’s G20 protest is currently before a Judicial Review at the High Court over exactly this point. The stakes are high as the Met could lose money – and a lot of it – if it is shown to have arbitrarily imprisoned thousands of people.

If today’s reports are true, and the Met tried to kettle students before their march had properly even begun, the commissioner could find himself in the dock yet again. There i evidence to support those reports – lines of police and pre-prepared barriers suggest there was a pen in Whitehall, into which police planned to funnel students. A kettle needs to be a response to evidence of disorder, rather than an entirely preemptive tactic that suppresses protest before it has begun. “I think what has happened runs contrary to the Law Lords ruling in the Austin case,” Christian said. “It makes clear that they need to have an evidence-based approach. If they decide in advance that they are going to do it, then I suggest that would be unlawful.”

Legality aside, there is also the question of whether the apparent plot worked. It is clear that when the march saw the kettle awaiting them, they sprinted off in various directions. The Met is currently dealing with a public order nightmare; separated groups of protesters marching their way around the London, on an ad-hoc route. Tweet reports of “feeder” marches in the Oxford Street, the Strand, Victoria, Embankment and Tottenham Court Road. My colleague Matt Taylor said there were “shambolic” scenes. How do you deal with that?

And this is the public order nightmare they created, selected from a small number of tweets:

@OwenJones84 What an indictment of British democracy that demonstrators have to think outside the box to try and exercise democratic right to protest

@monstris Phalanx of horses coming up Whitehall. Traf Sq being kettled off at Nat Gallery.#dayx #demo2010 #dayx2

@CarlRaincoat Kettle attempt has done 2 things: made it harder 4 police 2 track; curbed the right to protest. Police failure.#solidarity #demo2010 #dayx2

@sofiebuckland Police are causing chaos chasing groups of protesters fleeing kettles, kids falling over and scared. We had agreement to protest. RT #dayx2

@eastlondonlines Police attempted to form a kettle on Aldwych. Strength of the massed protesters was too much and the kettle collapsed #demo2010

@guyaitchison Crowd dodged another kettle by aldwych and now heading towards City#dayx

@mrmatthewtaylor Police op looks increasingly shambolic as they chase 1000s on #catandmousedemo up regents st and into oxford st#demo2010

@nmec #dayx2 protesters kettled outside Buckingham Palace (that twitpic illustrates this article)

@copwatcher Seems to be no violent incidents on today’s student protests. That’ll be because the police are unable to orchestrate them.

Speaking of orchestration, here are the Met Lies of the Day:

The Met police worked with organisers in advance to agree a suitable route from Trafalgar Square down to Parliament Square for a peaceful protest.

However, today’s march set off at an earlier time than agreed. This meant that the march began without a police escort. The police escort was essential due to gas main works on one side of Whitehall.

As a result, a line of police officers formed a cordon across Whitehall. This line of police officers intended to steer the march to one side of the road and the agreed route. There was never any intention to contain the protesters.

The march then broke into small groups, travelling in different directions.

The march continues peacefully, however, it is causing some disruption for Londoners in the West End, in what are already difficult conditions due to the weather.

And yet the Met are kettling people, suggesting there’s not a single shred of truth to this press release. Even if the comment about ‘steering’ was true, how does it explain the picture above, or the many accounts of attempted kettles? If they acknowledge the march is continuing peacefully, it doesn’t square with their acknowledgement they were planning to do just what they say they weren’t, nor with their behaviour on the ground. As one protester said:


Nov 30

Students Continue Opposing the State

Posted on Tuesday, November 30, 2010 in anti-cuts resistance, civil liberties, ConDemNation, Politics, protest

Protest under the ConDem coalition, as under New Labour, is tolerated on the one condition that it doesn’t threaten or embarrass the state. Take a look at the photo above of the police’s response to today’s third student protest. Then read this:

@2MillionFollows ATTN #DEMO2010 TRAFALGAR WHITEHALL – TSG Officers are on the streets armed with CS Spray. Can be identified by a ‘U’ in their shoulder nos

So we have evidence that a decision was taken to kettle children and young people marching, without any evidence of violent intent, before the march even took place. We now appear to have evidence of high numbers of Met riot police offers, armed to enforce the will of the state. Resist the ideological attack on your futures? Get beaten, pepper sprayed, and charged at by horses.

And given no reports of any violence by demonstrators, even with the agreed route completely blocked by TSG officers, a new #baitvan appears to have been strategically placed:

@Paul__Lewis Sky News reporting another police van left in middle of protests, with complaints of “red rag to a bull”#demo2010

Having upset protesters through their entirely unnecessary intimidatory behaviour, they will of course now want to generate justification for the intimidation. Just like last week. And just like last week (as Barnaby Raine quite rightly pointed out in his speech I blogged yesterday), the media are letting them get away with it:

@danielnobody Hello UK Media! why isn’t #demo2010on the news? Or are you only interested after the kettles boil over? #dayx2#solidarity #unity

Olly Zanetti argues of the student protests:

justifying education cuts by claiming the state can’t afford it is an illusion too. State finances aren’t great, but recent government actions show it’s hardly scrabbling for pennies in the gutter; the government wants to cut bank taxes by £1.4bn; they’ve let Vodafone off around £6bn of tax; and were quick to rustle up €3.8bn to go directly to Ireland’s failed banks.

Higher education is a good thing and it must be available (and feel accessible) to everyone who’ll benefit, not just those who can afford it. Time at university is about opening eyes to different ways of thinking; it’s about learning how to deal with complex ideas and to persevere when they get difficult; and it’s about education simply for the joy of it. All this costs money, but it’s a worthy investment and one a civilised society should be happy to prioritise, even in the tough times. Applying market economics to such a thing and seeing it as a commodity that simply enables its buyer to tick the box marked ‘educated to degree level’ when applying for a job, is an insult to both lecturers’ and students’ time and skills.

The ideological battle continues.

Nov 30

Third Student Demo Pre-Emptively Threatened With Kettling

Posted on Tuesday, November 30, 2010 in anti-cuts resistance, civil liberties, ConDemNation, Politics, protest

I’ve seen what I’ve found to be a surprising amount of support for the police’s tactics in dealing with last week’s student demonstration against the proposed massive hike in tuition fees and university budget cuts. Today, before the third demonstration has even started, we have learned this from the Guardian’s Matthew Taylor:

In Trafalgar Square there is a handful of soggy protesters and a few journalists. The plan today is that students will arrive here from 11am and then at about 12noon march down to Parliament Square – where there will be speeches and an “open mike”.

They had agreed with police that the demonstration would finish at 3pm but interestingly some of the shopkeepers around Parliament Square say they have been told by the police that the students will be “held” there until 6pm.

Students who are setting up in Parliament Square are furious: “The police already seem to have decided to kettle the protest despite what happened last time and despite agreeing with us this week that the demo should finish at 3pm,” said Maham Hashmi, from Soas (School of Oriental and African Studies).

Let me repeat: this is a tactic which has been decided before anyone has even arrived. It’s not based on any other factor such as the age of the participants, the behaviour of the protesters or any other criteria. It’s sheer bloody intimidation for its own sake. What on earth do the Met think will be the response to this?

Nov 26

No Horseback Charge? Really?

Posted on Friday, November 26, 2010 in civil liberties, protest

The Metropolitan Police would like you to think that the police violence was necessary in order to counter #dayx #demo2010 student violence on the protest this week against massive tuition fees rises and university budget cuts:

“We have been going through a period where we have not seen that sort of violent disorder,” [Commissioner Sir Paul ] Stephenson said. “We had dealt with student organisers before and I think we based it too much on history. If we follow an intelligence-based model that stops you doing that. Obviously you realise the game has changed. Regrettably, the game has changed and we must act.

In recent years the Met had reduced the numbers of officers deployed to tackle demonstrations, he said. “Regrettably, we are going to have to review that. We are going to have to take a more cautious approach.”

Check out my blog post before this one, about the events that actually happened on the day. The violence began in response to pre-emptive police kettling, first on a large scale, and then an increasingly restricted one, and that’s not even taking the #baitvan police van into account. Stephenson also said that there was no horseback charge against the students:

Sir Paul Stephenson faced the Metropolitan Police Authority panel at City Hall today to respond to criticism that police charged student protestors on horseback, and were heavy handed during student protests in Westminster yesterday.

Sir Paul Stephenson said that there was  “no reference at debriefing or record” of charging by any officers on horseback.

Sir Paul Stephenson in his briefing at City Hall described the actions of the students protestors as  “quite shocking” and the scenes were “very violent scene, and very difficult”.

The Guardian reports an entirely different reality.

So for all their claims about having learned their lessons after the G20 disaster, all the old tricks are back. Pre-emptive violence and then lying about it is just the tip of the iceberg I’m sure, compared to what’ll happen next. They got away with it with Jean Charles de Menezes and Ian Tomlinson – why should they stop there? The Met have clearly realised their big problem on those previous two occasions was an inability to spin the situation to their advantage – now they have a Tory government who think they’re doing a ‘good, professional job’ in attacking children on horseback, and kettling them for hours, at night and in freezing temperatures. The next four years are going to be very dangerous indeed for anyone who dares to rebel against the ConDem coalition.

Nov 25

Back to G20 Policing

Posted on Thursday, November 25, 2010 in civil liberties, ConDemNation, Politics, protest

Laurie Penny reported directly from the London #dayx #demo2010 second national student protest against the proposed massive hike in university tuition fees and budget cuts:

Outside Downing Street, in front of a line of riot police, I am sitting beside a makeshift campfire. It’s cold, and the schoolchildren who have skipped classes gather around as a student with a three-string guitar strikes up the chords to Tracy Chapman’s Talkin Bout a Revolution. The kids start to sing, sweet and off-key, an apocalyptic choir knotted around a small bright circle of warmth and energy. “Finally the tables are starting to turn,” they sing, the sound of their voices drowning out the drone of helicopters and the screams from the edge of the kettle. “Finally the tables are starting to turn.”

Then a cop smashes into the circle. The police shove us out of the way and the camp evaporates in a hiss of smoke, forcing us forward. Not all of us know how we got here, but we’re being crammed in with brutal efficiency: the press of bodies is vice-tight and still the cops are screaming at us to move forward. Beside me, a schoolgirl is crying. She is just 14.

Let me make this clear: children were being kettled. What do I mean by ‘kettled’? Here:

@PME200 To anyone not aware what “Kettling” is, it’s being trapped by armed police without food/water & being forced to piss or crap yourself. Nice.

Now why would the Metropolitan Police end up kettling children in freezing temperatures at night? It all seems to hinge around the attack on the police van:

Why was the van there, and was it there deliberately to draw out the violent protesters? Steven Sumpter believes so:

During the protests in London today the police stated that they had started “containing” the crowds after they violently attacked a police van.  I contend that the van was deliberately planted in order to provide an excuse.

At around 12:30 I started watching BBC News which as showing live footage of the protests from a helicopter. The police were already blocking the route of the planned march with a huge amount of vehicles and offices. I watched that van be driven through the crowd from behind, angering all the people that had to jump out of the way. It was quickly surrounded by furious protesters and forced to stop. A little later, a few (unknown) people started to attack the van, trying to break the windows, roll the van over and paint graffiti on it. Some brave kids tried to stop the attacks, but were eventually pushed aside.

[But] there is something really interesting about this van.

  • It has no number plates
  • It is painted in the OLD livery of the Metropolitan police.
  • It has been out of service long enough to get rusty.

He might be right. Emma Rubach offers the case of Canada’s G20 policing:

Protesters were led to or allowed to march or run past bait cars (police cruisers abandoned in the middle of Toronto streets) and one was definitely trashed and burned fairly quickly according to media reports. A man has been taken into custody.

The other bait cars were left mysteriously abandoned in the street for a long period. In one video peaceful protesters are seen sitting on a car and hanging around it, doing nothing violent at all. No police show up to claim it in a city downtown where you can’t walk down many streets without fear of search and arrest. Then the video shows a suspected agent provocateur wearing an expensive jacket appear. He jumps on the hood and bounces the car, asks a peaceful protester to move aside. Kicks out the windshield with a steel toed boot. He then goes on top and smashes the lights. People oppose him verbally, he studies his work from the street then others appear (rather shadowy in the video) helping him as he sets up the interior of the car. Likely for later burning. And it appears that the burning was set to be done from the inside. That gas tanks of these cars were likely left at the near the empty mark.

So it appears bait cars were placed, but they didn’t rely entirely on protesters to simply burn them. They had police agents on the ground to make sure it was done. Other activist video shows protesters or police agents dressed in black (it’s hard to be sure) setting up a couple police cars by slowly setting fires in their interiors. Again, the cars were simply left in the street as bait or decoys and no police attempt to save their own equipment. Whether police agents or protesters destroyed the cars, it makes little difference. There is such a thing as entrapment. If police know that by leaving a car abandoned in the middle of the street on a protest route will eventually lead to it being vandalized. They have in fact entrapped the vandal, who otherwise may have done nothing. In this case it is worse because with 20,000 police and riot police they could have easily pulled the cars out quickly.

In Toronto in times when people take to the streets, like soccer fans or whatever. Police do put cruisers at a slant to block the road and the two officers stand outside by the car. Never do they abandon it, and if they had to they would put in a quick call and the police cavalry would come to the rescue. At the G20 they just put cars out and left.

Look at how things do appear to add up. Here’s the van surrounded by the crowd:

And here’s a little evidence of agents provocateurs:

@simoncollister Just seen plain clothes cop get himself out of the kettle. Agent prov?

But what of the rest of the crowd? Alex Thomson adds another crucial perspective:

The word from protesters in Whitehall was that the police left their transit there as “bait” for the protest to turn nasty. The reality of it is that it became surrounded by the march and a number of officers were lucky to get out without serious injury.

Never mind this debate though. What I saw perfectly encapsulates today: a group of students, so young as to still be in school uniform, surrounded said van and persuaded the half-hearted and under-equipped would-be attackers to leave the thing alone.

As far as I am aware it is still there with a new gloss of grafitti and various swear words. But it has not been burned. Your average west Belfast teenager might look upon all this as the rather genteel affair that in truth it was.

Here are the kids who stopped the attack on the van:

Yet the police kettled (and attacked) them all:

@UKuncut We are cold, tired, hungry and being illegally held against our will. This is not justice #ukuncut #demo2010

@new1deas Police detaining students/schoolchildren for 4 hours pre-emptively, not allowing them to move.

@NeilAFM2011 Officer U2128 kicking 15yr old girl caught on camera. Chant of “your going on YouTube” #demo2010 #dayx

@MelodyShine Jeez did I just see right – very young girl hit over hands, hit around face and pushed back and forwards by police?#demo2010 #london

@CarolineLucas Just raised point of order in HoC about kettling of schoolchildren for hours today in freezing cold, asking for Home Sec be questioned

@PennyRed Kids streamuing through double line cops, yelling ‘let us through! We have the right to protest!’ Police kidney punching a child #demo2010

@Penny Red Just got hit in back of head by cop fuyck fuck #demo2010

For the record PennyRed is the Laurie Penny whose report I’ve quote from at the top of this post. Given the evidence, what possible justification could there have been for such a severe response? The Met said:

“The containment continues in Whitehall to prevent further criminal damage,” the Met said in a statement.

So it looks pretty likely that they set the van up for attack, might well have provoked darker elements in the crowd to attack it, then giving them justification (in their eyes) to attack back and kettle everyone. Kettling has been judged (domestically) to be legal, but the ECHR has yet to rule on whether or not it breaches human rights law. Given that peacefully protesting children were held for hours, into the night, and in the freezing cold, you can’t help but wonder what the final ruling might be. Aside from that, the Met’s tactics were utterly counter-productive:

Research into how people behave at demonstrations, sports events, music festivals and other mass gatherings shows not only that crowds nearly always act in a highly rational way, but also that when facing an emergency, people in a crowd are more likely to cooperate than panic. Paradoxically, it is often actions such as kettling that lead to violence breaking out. Often, the best thing authorities can do is leave a crowd to its own devices.

Laurie Penny offers a positive perspective on the civil engagement of the protesting kids nonetheless:

But just because there are no leaders here doesn’t mean there is no purpose. These kids – and most of them are just kids, with no experience of direct action, who walked simultaneously out of lessons across the country just before morning break – want to be heard. “Our votes don’t count,” says one nice young man in a school tie. The diversity of the protest is extraordinary: white, black and Asian, rich and poor. Uniformed state-school girls in too-short skirts pose by a plundered police van as their friends take pictures, while behind them a boy in a mask holds a placard reading “Burn Eton”.

“We can’t even vote yet,” says Leyla, 14. “So what can we do? Are we meant to just sit back while they destroy our future and stop us going to university? I wanted to go to art school, I can’t even afford A-levels now without EMA [education maintenance allowance]“.

But the Met, having completely bungled their response to the previous protest, seem to want to make it clear they don’t want a repeat. Led this time by the infamous Bob Broadhurst (who was responsible for their disastrous G20 effort), the only logical interpretation of their tactics was that they terrorised the kids deliberately, having generated an excuse to get away with it in front of the mainstream media and in the face of social media’s even closer view. And why (apart from restoring some wounded pride)? Take a look at the political response to yesterday’s protest:

Michael Gove, the education secretary, has urged the media to deny violent student protesters the “oxygen of publicity” as he called for the “full force of the criminal law” to be applied to activists “smashing windows” to make their point.

Gove evoked the language of former Tory premier Margaret Thatcher as he made clear his fury at demonstrators involved in skirmishes as thousands of students took part in demonstrations staged around the country today in protest against higher tuition fees and university budget cuts.

Gove has said he won’t budge at all on the tuition fee hike, and now has the advantage of the police trying to crush student resistance to his policy, supported by a Home Secretary who has no problem whatsoever with their violent, unjustified behaviour. As at G20, there was a political strategy here; the Met’s behaviour was no accident. Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson has today said:

He added that, in the future “we are going to be much more cautious. We are into a different period I am afraid. We will be putting far more assets in place to ensure we can respond properly. Essentially the game has changed”.

and by all accounts I’ve seen completely misrepresented the Met’s response to distressed, kettled protesters:

Sir Paul acknowledged that letting people out from the cordon last night was “frustratingly slow” but “water and toilets were requested and delivered”.

Spin and cooperation with the government like that sets a chilling precedent for the cuts and price hikes to come.

Nov 11

Nadine Dorries Attacks Student Demonstrators

Posted on Thursday, November 11, 2010 in ConDemNation, government, protest

Nadine Dorries, Conservative MP and notoriously less than fully truthful blogger has said (in said blog) of yesterday’s student demonstration against the proposed hike in tuition fees:

The NUS informed the Police that there would be 5000 students attending the demonstration yesterday. They upgraded that to 15,000 on Tuesday night. The final figure was possibly as much as twice that number.

The final figure was a lot higher than even that. It’s was demonstrable evidence that, far from being apathetic, students can get motivated to stand up for what they believe in.

The students arrived from all over the country, many in NUS organised coaches.

There are many eye witness accounts of NUS officials being right in the middle of the mêlée which ensued.

Are there? I’d be surprised if Ms Dorries can provide any evidence of this. I was there and saw no evidence of anything of the sort.

Many of the students who attended were visibly shaken at what was unfolding before their eyes.

The staff working in the offices at Milbank were terrified.

Someone threw an extinguisher off the roof which easily, so easily, could have killed someone.

Sir Paul Stephenson, has been incredibly professional in the way he has come out this morning and taken the hit on the chin.

Many of us MPs don’t believe that is right. Westminster was swarming last night with literally hundreds of Police officers. If Sir Paul had known the correct number of students attending, maybe he could have had enough Police in place quickly enough.

I think that’s an unbelievably naive position to take. So Aaron Porter underestimated the numbers he expected – that’s entirely beside the point. The point is the Met allowed a student protest to run past Tory Party HQ, and then chose to defend it with only a dozen beat cops. I’m not defending the violence in any way, but common sense should have told them that that sort of planning was downright incompetent. Well done to the Met – I agree – for not going in and busting heads the way I thought they were going to, and they should of course prosecute the rioter who threw the extinguisher down at the police, but to blame the NUS for the Met’s incompetent advance planning is just ridiculous.

It appears that the President of the NUS, Aaron Porter, did not brief him adequately. The NUS organised a demonstration which has resulted in people in hospital and students with criminal records, before they have even had time to fill in a job application form.

It was an NUS demonstration. It is not good enough that today they want to distance themselves from what happened with a ‘not me Gov’ statement. They cannot.

Sure they can, and they are right to. It’s preposterous to hold the NUS to account for the behaviour of every single person associated with the protest, be they student or not – there were far more than the 50,000 some reports have suggested attended. How on earth could the people responsible for organising a peaceful protest be expected to manage each and every participant on the ground? Porter himself strongly denounced the violence from an early stage, the Met were extremely slow to respond (I know – unlike Ms Dorries I was actually there) and the stewards were desperately trying to shepherd demonstrators away from Millbank Tower. Maybe they should have been better trained, or there should have been more of them, but I doubt that would have had any noticeable effect on what happened. I also doubt the numbers attacking the tower would have been that much fewer, if the total overall number of protesters had been lower.

It is not good enough that the police are expected to shoulder all of the blame.

Aaron Porter should resign. He was the architect of a dangerous demonstration which could have resulted in the loss of life.

An ignorant thing to say, based on at best questionable motives. He was the architect of a peaceful, legitimate demonstration and had nothing whatsoever to do with the violence which impinged on it. Ms Dorries should be ashamed of herself.

The Police should be congratulated for what they did manage to achieve in the face of adversity.

Everyone has a right to peaceful demonstration. No one has a right to terrify and endanger the lives of others. Aaron Porter was responsible for that. It was an NUS demonstration and therefore they are fully responsible.

Yes they should – those on the ground had to put up with a mob, some of whose members were throwing missiles at them for no discernible reason. But to blame Porter for that is contemptible and I believe Ms Dorries should be condemned by every right minded person associated with or aware of the protest. Same old Tories, eh?

Nov 11

‘Tory Scum’? Missing the Point, Students!

Posted on Thursday, November 11, 2010 in ConDemNation, Politics, protest

I understand the anger felt by the students demonstrating yesterday against the proposed trebling (and beyond) of tuition fees and university budget cuts. I was also at Millbank as a small number of them took their anger out on the Tory Party’s current headquarters, and heard the constant refrain ‘Tory Scum’. Whilst I agreed with that particular epithet, it completely and utterly missed the point about the Browne Reportthis was picked up on on Twitter:

Today, some students torched the Tory HQ, over a change of mind by the LibDems concerning a report commissioned by Labour.

Despite all the authoritarian nonsense and right wing policy drift at the heart of the New Labour project, a significant number of students thought it suitable to blame the Conservative Party for implementing a report which the Labour Party commissioned (and would almost certainly themselves have followed). Did mass amnesia take hold? Did students not notice as ID cards moved closer under Labour, as the Independent Safeguarding Authority said we all had to prove we weren’t paedophiles under Labour, how the maximum legal period of detention without charge shot up under Labour, how control orders came to be under Labour, how the gap between rich and poor increased out of all sense under Labour, and how tuition fees were themselves introduced under Labour? Why on earth was this necessary:

Don’t like these policies? Stop voting for any of the big three parties, when have all bound themselves into the neoliberal economic model which got us into this situation in the first place! They are all equally part of the problem; yesterday’s violence was an exercise in utter futility.