Tag Archives: Metropolitan police

Overuse of abstract nouns threatens ‘our way of life’

by Anne Archist

A cyclist has been tackled to the ground by the Olympic ‘Torch Security Team’ (TST to those of us who prefer letters to real words). This follows an old Italian woman trying to touch the torch to bring Italy luck in Euro 2012, two young boys grabbing the torch in Coventry, water-bombs being thrown at the convoy and a protester trying to throw a bucket of water over the torch and more.

In some of these incidents the response of the torch’s minders was fairly reasonable and restrained, while in other cases they and the police massively over-reacted. The response to the cyclist getting too close to the torch is just one example of this; the Leeds bucket protester was arrested and accepted a caution (most likely under threats and intimidation from the police) for an offence under Section 4(presumably 4A) of the Public Order Act as well. For those that don’t know, 4A defines an offence as follows:

A person is guilty of an offence if, with intent to cause a person harassment, alarm or distress, he—(a)uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or(b)displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting,thereby causing that or another person harassment, alarm or distress.

Presumably the ‘disorderly behaviour’ of throwing a bucket of water over the torch was considered to cause people ‘alarm or distress’ – in which case one wonders how they leave the house in the morning.

I think the handling of the security around the Olympic torch tells us a lot about socially-endemic attitudes towards freedom, the rule of law, protest, and so forth. Particularly, the behaviour of the police (of which the current TST is a part) – and the (lack of) response to that behaviour by authorities such as the Greater London Authority, the British Olympic Association and senior police – illustrates the way that power is wielded in our society.

There will, of course, be endless political-philosophical debates in any modern democratic culture about the appropriate balance between freedom and security, between the rights of the individual to do as they wish and the rights of others not to be adversely affected (or ‘harmed’ in J. S. Mill’s terminology) by them, etc. This is something that even the most strong-minded of us have to accept as a fact of life; we may think that our society is too permissive or too authoritarian, but there is at least an ongoing discursive recognition that this is something that is disputed and over which political battles are, and will continue to be, fought.

What interests me about our attitudes towards freedom and security, however, is illuminated brilliantly by the Olympic torch (if you’ll pardon the pun) – it’s the way in which this discourse of ‘security’ can be misappropriated as an abstraction which is then used repressively by those with power. I should be clear that I’m not talking here about the debate about whether in a particular instance it’s reasonable to view a particular individual or action as a threat to a notion of security that we hold in common , such as how much we should worry about terrorist attacks; whether or not we think that there is a realistic threat of terrorist attack, and whatever we think should or shouldn’t be interpreted as the indicators of such a threat (such as the debate around racial profiling for anti-terrorist purposes), we do at least all roughly acknowledge that should a terrorist bombing of civilians take place, that would be a violation of a type of ‘security’ to which we are all entitled.

What I’m talking about are questions which have nothing to do with risk of death or injury, of integrity of the private home from intruders, etc. These questions can be re-framed as questions of ‘security’, bringing them under one of the most powerful and guarded political categories and lending them the kind of seriousness and concern with which we debate terrorism or armed robbery. Often in political-philosophical debates, categories are constructed, the appropriate reactions and attitudes towards them are determined, and then people try to sneak things which fall outside of a category into it in order to shield it with the legitimacy of real members of that category, and that’s often what happens with the Olympic Games and similar events in general, but the torch is a particularly good and clear example of this.

The TST are “tasked with ensuring the continuity of the Olympic flame”, in the words of the BBC; one member of the team stated that “If anyone of any age threatens the security of the flame or torchbearer, we need to move that threat away quickly”. Note the interesting language in “security of the flame” – what does it mean for a flame to be ‘secure’ or not? The concern is not even stated as being the security of the torch, which one might construe as protecting it from damage theft, perhaps – rather than the more natural ‘torch or torchbearer’, we get the presumably intentional ‘flame or torchbearer’; not only this, but the same police team “protect a mother flame in a lantern during the day, while officers take turns to sleep with it in their rooms overnight”. The concern here is clearly with the continuity of the actual flame, which is considered to have symbolic (political?) importance.

We should really ask ourselves as a society whether we think it is appropriate to employ agents of the state en masse to guard the symbolic continuity of a torch flame, at cost to society, in order to foil attempts to touch, steal or even (God forbid) extinguish the torch. We should consider whether legally backed and endorsed ‘flame bodyguards’ should be able to push, manhandle, tackle and arrest people who threaten the continuity of the flame (particularly considering the bloody thing goes out all the time anyway). What kind of a society are we that we think young people should be tackled from bikes and pinned to the ground for cycling too close to something that they have been taught by their elders to believe is a historic event that they should bear witness to?

Similarly, where do we think the line should be drawn when it comes to the police interfering in our lives? The vast majority of the populace, however cynical or jaded they may (justifiably) feel towards the police force, recognise that some of its functions are necessary or helpful and that some of its employees do their best to serve the community. It is a fact of social life in the UK that the police have the power, in pursuit of these ends (if also in pursuit of less admirable ones or through problematic means) to arrest, to detain, to question, to search, etc; quite rightly, these police powers have limits and conditions governing their use.

Yet we live in a society which is so lax towards its heritage of ‘liberal’ thinking that nobody bats an eyelid when a man is stopped and questioned by police just for wearing a Batman costume and the officers ‘suggest’ that the man should cease his work for the day due to the policing operation surrounding the Olympic torch relay. Surely there comes a point where even the most conformist among us begins to feel that the police have an attitude of casual superiority and consider civilians merely as objects of power to be managed according to a schema convenient for political and policing purposes? This low-level contempt for, and condescension towards, the public is widespread – as those of us who more regularly have contact with the police as objects to be managed (such as urban youth, political campaigners, etc) know all too well. In 2009, officers tasked with torch security caused hospitalising head injuries to a journalist in Vancouver.

This attitude isn’t limited to the police but is displayed at times by others who hold power or work in a disciplinary capacity, such as teachers or politicians. It is often at its worst when dissenters are seen as trying to ‘ruin’ something or as a ‘nuisance’ to other citizens, even in the absence of any real illegality or danger. In 2006, the Italian Interior Minister said that “Law enforcement officials are doing all they can so that [protesters including anti-globalisation groups] can’t provoke more serious damage to the image of our country”. The Prime Minister (which was Berlusconi at the time) declared “zero tolerance” for protesters, stating that the government “may take drastic measures” to prevent the country’s ‘image’ being affected.

Similarly, the theoretical legal relationships that are intended to protect us from abuses are frequently overlooked or circumvented in these kinds of situations. In 2008, Chinese “torch minders” were left to their own devices to bully and harass torchbearers, manhandle and detain members of the public, and generally act like they owned the place – not only in China but also when they toured the world accompanying the torch to other countries (including in London). Various bodies and agencies, including the Greater London Authority and the British Olympic Association, who could have overseen and taken responsibility for their actions simply disavowed any connection to them, and the police left them free to do as they wished despite their complete lack of legal powers outside of their own country.

In every case, “security” is given by way of excuse and explanation. But ‘security’ is a word we associate with bodily safety, with the protection of rights, with freedom from harassment – not a word that we would generally use to refer to stopping a torch from going out or being touched by an Italian restaurateur. When those embedded in systems of power like politicians and police officers tell us that young people must be pushed from bikes and pinned to the floor for the sake of security, what they fear is harm to ‘image’ or ‘message’, not bodies or communities. This shows through in their more candid moments – despite attempts to position the Olympic torch behind a phalanx of vague concerns about security, conjuring up images of Islamic terrorism in this day and age, it should be evident that the supposed symbolism of a shoddy metal torch should not be allowed to substitute for the freedom to get on with our daily business, to take part in the spectacle, or even to protest.

The ‘security’ of the Olympic torch symbolises everything that is wrong with the Olympic Games, not their positive potential. The continuity of the flame should remind us of the attitudes adopted and measures taken to guarantee that continuity – the Olympic torch most closely resembles the torch of the Witchfinder General.

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Filed under Current Affairs, History, Uncategorized

“Committing a protest”: The Charing Cross arrests

The following is an anonymous personal account of the arrests of  ten activists yesterday morning in London.

Yesterday morning I was arrested with nine others outside Charing Cross station, apparently to “prevent a breach of the peace.”

I was intending to go to the “Not the Royal Wedding” street party organised by campaign group Republic.

A British Transport Police officer spotted some republican placards one of us had in a bag and decided to search everyone, under the Section 60 that had been invoked around the royal wedding area. The placards weren’t out, we weren’t having a demonstration. We were standing on a concourse outside a station, doing nothing much.

Incidentally, one BTP officer, when explaining the context of the decision to search us, said that the Metropolitan Police had been “rounding people up” in advance of the royal wedding, despite the Met themselves denying that any arrests in previous days had been “specifically related” to the event.

After having been searched by the BTP, we were told we could not leave because an officer from the Met “wanted to talk to us.” Within a few minutes, about twenty Territorial Support Group (TSG) officers had arrived and surrounded us in possibly the world’s smallest kettle. After another few minutes, I was grabbed by a TSG officer who informed me that because we were in possession of “climbing gear” we were to be arrested to prevent a breach of the peace.

The BBC and the Guardian have both faithfully repeated the climbing gear claim as fact. There was none. There was nothing that anyone could reasonable have mistaken for climbing gear. There seems to have been no attempt by these media outlets to ascertain the accuracy of that police claim.

We were cuffed and held until a hired coach arrived. Tourists stopped to pose for photos with London bobbies while we stood handcuffed in the background. A cameraman for a film crew making a documentary about protest took some footage.

“Ah,” said my arresting officer. “We’ll be taking you to the Tower.”
“That’s a good one.”
“Yeah, not bad for the TSG, eh?”

On the coach, we were transferred to a non-TSG unit and driven to Sutton police station, about a dozen miles out of central London.

Four of us were led of the coach to be processed in the police station. We were searched again and had our personals confiscated and details taken. We were not at any point charged with any offence, nor was any indication given that we would be charged with any offence. A senior officer, giving some background to one of the desk officers who were doing the paperwork, explained that we were “anti-royaltists” who had been planning to “commit a protest” near the wedding.

This is language similar to that used by Metropolitan Police Commander Jones when she said this week: “Any criminals attempting to disrupt [the royal wedding], be that in the guise of protest or otherwise, will be met by a robust, decisive, flexible and proportionate policing response.”

At this point I was banged up in a cell for a little under an hour, before being released into the wilds of Sutton.

Apparently a number of activist-linked Facebook pages were also taken down on the day. We also saw the pre-emptive arrests of Charlie Veitch, Chris Knight, and others, raids on squats, and so on. Fighting occurred when the police moved to close down an unofficial royal wedding party, mostly comprising young people, in Glasgow.

In our case, in retrospect, it seems like there was never any intention to charge us. It was a tactical arrest using the ill-defined potential “breach of the peace” that may or may not have been going to happen as an excuse to remove us undesirables from the area. I was going to a street party in Holborn and ended up in a police cell in Sutton.

It’s one way to miss the royal wedding I suppose.


Filed under Current Affairs, Student Issues

Law and Order?

by Anne Archist

David Cameron once said “We are the party of law and order”. Similarly, the tory general election manifesto proclaimed that “We will rebuild confidence in the criminal justice system so that people know it is on the side of … law-abiding people”.

Let’s ignore the ridiculous implications that there’s a party of illegality and chaos or that society can be neatly divided into law-abiding people and law-breaking people (I wonder how many people have never driven over the speed limit and never ignored copyright regulations and never stolen a single thing in their lives, etc). The conclusion we might reasonably reach from such claims is that the tories, and David Cameron personally, are strongly opposed to people bending or breaking the law to serve their own interests, and that they’d safe-guard legally-guaranteed rights against official abuses and corruption. You’d be entirely justified to conclude this, but apparently you’d be wrong.

There have been some interesting and worrying reports flying around which allege that the Met are going to be firmly curtailing freedom of speech on the day of the Royal Wedding. This comes from Republic:

“Campaign group Republic has sought urgent clarification from the Metropolitan Police after Commander Christine Jones suggested that republican placards seen in the vicinity of the royal wedding would be removed under the Public Order Act (POA).
Asked by journalist Martha Kearney whether police would use the POA to confiscate “down with the royal family” placards, Jones replied “There are 364 other days of the year when people can come to London and demonstrate and frankly it’s not appropriate on the day of the royal wedding for people to come to London with that intent.””

It’s worth noting that this is clearly a misuse of the POA, which includes provisions making it an offence to “[display] any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting, within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.” I’d say people would be pushing their luck to claim that republican placards were likely to cause ‘distress’ at the best of times (and note that the law makes no mention of context other than the presence of people likely to feel a certain way about it – so any other day of the year it would be equally illegal, provided that pro-monarchists are around, unless there’s something magic about a royal wedding that makes people more likely to be harassed, alarmed, or distressed by republicanism).

Even if the placard was distressing, the POA clearly states that it is a statutory defence to show that the conduct was “reasonable”. You merely have to show that what you were doing was reasonable in order to be exhonerated in court. If we can’t get a court of law to accept that republican protest at a royal event is reasonable, we’ve got some serious problems. And why the Met would be arresting people that they knew full well probably wouldn’t get prosecuted by CPS, and wouldn’t get found guilty if they were, is beyond me unless it’s a case of politically-motivated policing. The only sensible way of interpreting the statements made by the Met, then, is that they’re going to purposefully misinterpret the law in order to prevent people from protesting. I hear no tory dissent.

In a similar vein, this article suggests that anyone seen burning the flag would be arrested under the POA (not just have their flag confiscated, but be arrested). OK, so burning the national flag might be more reasonably described as something that could cause “distress” worthy of the name (perhaps to a weak-hearted and over-emotional veteran or something). To suggest that flag-burning will be treated as an arrestable offence, however, is an utter indictment of the Met’s usual line that they “support” the right to protest and seek to “facilitate” protest. I hear no tory dissent.

There’s also reason to pause and think about the fact that Muslims Against Crusades have been denied authorisation to protest at the Abbey. Now, MAC are no friends of this blog, but the law is pretty black-and-white on this issue. The Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA) clearly states that if a “notice” is received that complies with the regulations laid out in the act, which state what information it must contain and when it must be received, “The Commissioner must give authorisation for [a] demonstration [in the vicinity of Parliament]”.

Note the word must (I know, I’m really going slowly through these things, but I want it to be plain as day what the law actually says) – not ‘may’ or ‘might’ or ‘should’ or ‘can’, but “must“. So there are two explanations here – either MAC didn’t conform to the regulations when giving notice, or the Met have broken the law and denied them their explicitly-protected right to protest in the vicinity of Parliament. Obviously I don’t know which is the case, but nobody seems very bothered to find out. I hear no tory dissent.

Finally (as far as I can remember – you lose count of these things), in an interesting outburst of lawlessness, Cameron recently seemed to urge people to ignore local government regulations:

“To those councils that are asking small groups of neighbours for licences, insurance and other bureaucracy my message is clear:
Don’t interfere, don’t get in the way and don’t make problems where there are none. Let people get on and have fun.
And my message to everyone who wants to have a street party is: I’m having one and I want you to go ahead and have one too.”

Hilariously, Cameron seems to have unwittingly made a general principle out of a specific case – the quoted paragraph makes no mention of the royal wedding, so presumably applies to any street parties at any time under Cameron’s government. The whole tone of the article implies that if “red tape” or “bureaucracy” gets in the way, people should flout the rules. I wonder whether he’d apply the same principle to republican street parties faced with public order arrests… Once again, I hear no tory dissent.

So there you have it; far from the “party of law and order”, it seems that the tories under Cameron’s leadership are turning a blind eye to politically-motivated policing that bends and breaks the law, encouraging disobedience in the face of local government regulations, and generally approving of law-breaking when it suits their own purposes.


Filed under Current Affairs, Uncategorized

Police protests and the 1917 Petrograd mutiny

by Anne Archist

If there’s one thing that revolutionaries of all stripes, but particularly Leninists, love, it’s a situation that’s in some way comparable to 1900-1920s Russia. I’m not exception to this rule – and why should I be? After all, “those who don’t learn the lessons of history”, etc; understanding the past allows us to better get a grasp on the potential of the present and future, and to interpret events in light of historic parallels, to contextualise them as part of a trend, and so on.  It’s for this reason that I find discussions about police or military insubordination interesting.

For those of you that don’t know, there are apparently concerns that the police will now take to the streets against the very same cuts that they have been protecting by beating and locking up anti-cuts protesters. Well, not the very same cuts, because this time it’s their job. It reminds me of a song I love:

“When the day arrives that you become redundant,
Don’t get angry with the boss and call him names.
You must try to be objective get the matter in perspective;
See yourself as a component, just a cog that is defective,
And with fortitude accept the situation…
That the junk-heap is your natural location!”

Nevertheless, slagging the police off is a tangent – sort of. The thing is that although police are workers, they are nevertheless somehow different from other workers.

Why and how is this so? Well, for a start in this country they can’t legally strike. This means that they are put in a very unique situation in two regards: firstly, in that even basic trade union consciousness is bred out of them by superstructural means (“ideology” and the legal system); secondly, the compensation that the state provides for this inconvenience is relatively good pay and conditions, a serious negotiating attitude (rather than the dismissive one taken towards workers in most sectors), and so on. In addition to this, the state exercises a monopoly on police employment in a way that exists in almost no other industry. There are private doctors and nurses, even private soldiers (mercenaries), but no private police (security guards are by no means the same thing). The question of monopoly is not important, but it reinforces the importance of the fact that the state is selective in who it recruits to the police.

It is selective in more-or-less obvious ways (you would expect to have a criminal record check done when you applied, for instance!) but also in less overt forms; consider the fact that the metropolitan police have shifted towards a policy of only hiring those who have cut their teeth as Special Constables. Special Constables have to be able to give up a degree of their spare time for no pay – this automatically biases their intake towards those who are economically secure, youngsters from more well-off backgrounds, those not working multiple jobs or raising children. These are exactly the sort of people who might be expected to have less sympathy for protest movements, industrial action, youth dissent, etc. Various other accusations of a less structural kind have been levelled at the defenders of Law’n’ord’r – that they are psychologically geared up for brutality by being shown violent combat scenes before deployment at peaceful protests, for instance. I won’t hazard a guess at how true these accusations are or anything like that. For the time being, let’s just settle on the idea that the police can’t necessarily be expected to act as other workers would under the circumstances.

If this is the case, will the police protest in solidarity with other workers? The chances are that, initially, this is the furthest thing from their minds – they are probably planning to protest under the rationale that they are needed in order to ‘contain’ and ‘manage’ the protests of others affected by the austerity measures (after all, “my job is so much more important than theirs”…) and therefore to juxtapose themselves to us as our antithesis, our ‘solution’. The question is not so immediate, however. Will there come a time in the near future when the police decide to work in solidarity with other workers? I’m still sceptical, and in order to explain why I’m going to invoke 1917.

In 1905 (yes, a little further back, but it’s just a pit-stop), soldiers opened fire on the people peacefully processing towards the winter palace, who intended to give a petition to the Tsar,  who was then an absolute monarch with complete power (even being idolised as akin to a god, in fact). This spurred on the protest movement and was a defining event in shattering the illusions that the Russian people had in the Tsar; they now looked on him as a despot rather than as the “little father” (in contrast to the “big father” in heaven). Fast-forward 12 years and Russia is swept by a wave of strikes, marches, meetings, etc. Dissent is everywhere. In a matter of days the troops go over to the socialist movement, provoked to mutiny by the Tsar’s orders to once again open fire on a peaceful movement. They become embedded in proletarian structures instead of the military hierarchy; it is significant that the councils formed by the working class were known as the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies.

It was significant, that is, in two ways. It showed that the soldiers were sufficiently agitated by their experiences to become a real and vital part of the oppositionist claim on state power. So much so, in fact, that Lenin considered them too embedded in the proletarian movement and wrote a short polemic against the soldiers’ over-representation on the soviets. What it also shows, however, is that the soldiers were not considered in and of themselves workers. If they had been, the name would have been redundant, and comparisons between “the soldiers” and “the workers” would have been phrased as “the soldiers” and “other workers”. Admittedly, police and soldiers are not exactly the same, but this reinforces my feeling that the police are not quite the same as other workers in some important sense(s).

Why did the soldiers mutiny? What stirred them up sufficiently to shoot or chase away their officers and go over to ‘enemy’ lines? Or more precisely, what made them do this when they hadn’t in 1905? Well, firstly, the protests were initiated by women, with International Women’s Day famously marking the real beginning of the revolutionary period. This didn’t mesh so well with sexist notions of feminine frailty still widely endorsed by the Russian church (and widely listened to); the soldiers refused to open fire partly because they held to sexist assumptions. Secondly, Russia was fighting in a world war that required almost total mobilisation; the ranks of the troops had been flooded with peasants in particular, only released from complete serfdom within living memory. These troops were probably more likely to be stationed in the garrisons that would have dealt with protest at home, as the regulars would have been needed at the front. Furthermore, the mutinies were not spontaneous – the various revolutionary groups were in contact with soldiers long before they rebelled, with propagandist literature being disseminated as far as the front, according to Bolshevik accounts.

Having understood the conditions behind the mutiny of the soldiers in 1917 and their obedience in 1905, can we conclude that the police will acquire a class perspective and find common cause with other anti-cuts protests? I imagine not. Today’s police show few qualms about beating up not only women but also children. They are not ‘proletarianised’, let alone drawn from a background of serfdom.  They do not see the putting down of revolt as an unnecessary distraction from the serious business of national defence and a hasty exit from a war they never wanted (if anything, some of them seem to enjoy the overtime).

I’m still in two minds, however – while I don’t think the police could possibly develop this perspective and act accordingly spontaneously, there may yet be room to force the occasion. The only possible hope for this would be a jaw-gritted by genuine support from the left that translated into a physical and significant presence. If we can mingle among off-duty officers, converse with them, show ourselves not to be the hooligan nutjobs they probably sincerely believe us to be, and make an approach of solidarity, it may be warmly accepted and eventually returned.

I’m still not enthusiastic about this. I’m more inclined to support the calls that are being made, straight off the bat, to attempt to police the police march. Thousands of students and workers successfully directing and kettling the police would be a sight to behold, and could even go a small way towards dispelling negative perceptions of protesters if well-behaved. We have to ask ourselves seriously about the political ramifications of whatever tactic we choose, however – would attempting to kettle the police simply aggravate policing on future demonstrations, make us look like ‘troublemakers’ in the public eye, and so on? Perhaps. We shouldn’t be tempted to opt for a tactic simply because it looks cool; unrelenting political thought is necessary when making game-changing decisions such as how to react to the kind of unrest in the enemy camp we are beginning to see.



Filed under Current Affairs, Industrial Relations, Political Strategy, Student Issues, Uncategorized

When is a charge not a charge?

by Edd Mustill

The Guardian reported the following at 3.05pm on Thursday, in the aftermath of Wednesday’s student protest in London:

The Metropolitan police have stood by the Metrpolitan [sic] police commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson’s assertion that he had “no record” of police officers on horseback charging at protesters.

A spokesman said: “Police horses were involved in the operation, but that did not involve charging the crowd.”

He added: “I dare say they were doing the movements the horses do to help control the crowd for everyone’s benefit, which has been a recognised tactic for many, many year, but no, police officers charging the crowd – we would say ‘no they did not charging the crowd.”

The spokesman did also add that charging is a “quite specific term”.

Charging is quite a specific term. Take a look at the following video and see if you can see what might be regarded as a charge about a minute in. We should wonder whether Sir Paul has “no record” of this incident.

The video is worth watching to the end. Much credit and respect to whoever is behind the camera and NCAFC for posting it on their website.


Filed under Current Affairs, Student Issues

Seeing by the fires of Whitehall

by Edd Mustill

At times on today’s anti-fees march in London it seemed like there were no university students at all. Sixth-form and college students made up most of the demo, and certainly contributed most of its militancy.

A plan to move from Trafalgar Square to Parliament Square had been debated and passed at Sunday’s student “general assembly.” On Whitehall it very quickly became apparent that the police would not allow the march to go any further and were going to attempt to kettle it.

Arts students protesting

The much talked-about police van, old and empty, was an inviting target for the anger of people who had been blocked from their preferred destination. A view has emerged among many protesters that it was left there deliberately – there seems no reason for it to have been there – perhaps to divert attention away from surrounding buildings.

Dancing on the Famous Van

Partly to get people away from the van, a push started towards King Charles Street where the police line seemed weakest. This was unsuccessful; the police did not use their batons sparingly. Soon after this a push was made towards the Cenotaph to link up with a few hundred protesters who were inexplicably being kept apart from the main body. This push was successful and broke a police line. However, the police managed to cut the demo in two again minutes later.

The Downing Street half was not initially kettled, as the half towards the Parliament end of Whitehall was. But the Met soon deployed mounted officers backing up a line of police officers on foot who pushed people away from Downing Street. Some who attempted a sit-down protest in front of the police escaped the kettle simply by being walked over. Most were pushed back into the kettle.

As it got darker, it got colder. People began to burn placards and pages of notebooks in small, contained fires to keep warm. Around the fires, the only conversational theme really noticeable was hostility to the police. “Fuck the police” or variants on this, replaced the earlier political slogans.

On the left, a masked man with a dangerous weapon

As we were held for longer, people ran out of paper to burn, but the temperature must have been nearing freezing. People burned all sorts, from plastic bottles to police helmets. The fumes from these materials weren’t easy to breathe, but there was no alternative to keep warm. Such health considerations didn’t seem to factor into the decisions of the police.

They finally started letting out under-18s at around 7pm, long after a skirmish at the end of Downing Street was over.

The vast majority of the thousands in the kettle did nothing but attend a peaceful march which was blocked with no explanation. Those who did shove against the police did so because it was clear that the Met intended the demonstrators to go nowhere.

The pettiness of the police action could be explained by a desire for revenge after they so obviously misjudged events at Millbank two weeks ago. They can have no excuse for holding people, many of them children, in a pen filling with unsavoury smoke for hours on end, with no access to food or water.

Short-shield police pushing up Whitehall

Inside the kettle the political character of the demo was hard to determine. Some took advantage of the sound systems and were still dancing at 9pm. Others seemed dejected and demoralised. The chant “Let us out!” though howled angrily, seemed submissive, the appetite for a shove against the police had gone.

The police intended to demoralise the protest, to turn first-timers off demonstrating. Their success was minimal. There was relief when the kettle finally opened up, but there was also determination. There was pride. To have stood beneath the fluttering Union Jacks of Whitehall and made their mark, to have heard their cry of anger echo through the corridors of power, – these are no small things.

As more people attend demonstrations, they realise that they are always more complex than the telly makes them seem. Lots of rubbish gets written about how protests “turn ugly,” but it doesn’t happen like that. There were no obvious leaders or ring-leaders today. There was a debate around the trashing of the police van, but no huge distinction between a “non-violent” majority and a “violent” minority. Everybody saw the police as the problem, and the government as the enemy.

An eight-hour kettle gives you plenty of time to think and talk, believe me. The indefensible action of the police on Wednesday could not only begin a turn in public opinion; it could also have helped a burgeoning movement begin to define itself.


Filed under Current Affairs, Student Issues