Wednesday, January 22, 2014 

Hosing down policing by consent.

One of the greatest myths of British public life has always been that our police force, unlike so many others around the world, operates through consent rather than fear.  While this might be true in certain areas, it most certainly isn't elsewhere.  It also fails to take into account how the police act in specific circumstances, most pertinently at demonstrations.  It's been mostly forgotten as a result of the riots of August 2011, but the policing at the G20 demonstrations in April 2009 was about as over-the-top and self-defeating as any in memory, leaving aside the actions of PC Simon Harwood.  Quite apart from the kettling, the number of officers who wielded their batons and used them with impunity demanded a response, and one was forthcoming in the shape of the "Adapting to Protest" report.  Then came the student tuition fee protests, where some felt the police held back as a result, and we seemed to have gone full circle.

Thanks then to the riots, the police both in London and nationally have found an excuse to demand they join their colleagues in Northern Ireland in being able to deploy water cannon if they so wish.  Not because water cannon is useful against the type of rioting and looting we saw two and a half years ago when the police were spread far too thinly to be able to cope, and when the perpetrators were moving from place to place rather staying in one particular area, as the author of the Association of Chief Police Officers report David Shaw admits, even if it would have been considered if available. No, it's more of an insurance policy as the police expect there to be further presumably violent protests against austerity measures.

Weirdly, Shaw writes that one of the other occasions when use of water cannon would have been considered was the protests outside the Israeli embassy back in 2009.  Strange, as I attended one of those demonstrations and I cannot for the life of me work out how water cannon would have helped the police one iota.  While I had left before the "kettle" was put in place, the main problem then was that the police had blocked off all other exits, leaving only one which you could reach by shoving past everyone.  There was never any danger whatsoever of the embassy itself being occupied, not least because the gates are impossible to scale, while the officers in front of the gates unlike some of their colleagues earlier in the day were properly kitted out and so well defended from missiles.  The main disorder that day happened after those still protesting were "kettled", with windows being smashed, so again I can't think how water cannon would have helped when it was the police that were stopping those demonstrating from leaving.  Unlike in Northern Ireland, where the police have come under concerted attack from protesters throwing petrol bombs and rocks at them, the worst that was thrown at officers that day were eggs, paint or the odd firecracker.  Some of those arrested following the protests, for instance, were convicted of violent disorder on the basis that they threw the balsa wood the placards were constructed out of at the police.

Odder still isn't that Shaw doesn't include the G20 protests as being an event at which water cannon would have been considered, despite the fact that senior officers had been briefing the press for weeks beforehand that they were expecting hardcore "black bloc" anarchists from Europe to be making the journey to London for the occasion.  The police deployment that day was far heavier than on the Gaza protests, and also one suspects for the first of the student protests, which makes you wonder if it's that precise fact that makes the difference.

It must be said that it's possible to exaggerate the effect of water cannon.  Certainly, while serious injuries have been recorded in line with its use and I simply don't believe the claim that no injuries have been associated with it in Northern Ireland, far worse can be meted out by officers tooled up and keen on whacking anyone they judge to be a threat with their batons.  It's also the case however that giving the police water cannon is another step towards militarising the policing of demonstrations when there is not the slightest evidence that their use would have prevented either injuries to officers or damage to property.  Would it have stopped the ransacking of Millbank?  Clearly not, when the police weren't prepared in the first place for the storming of the building containing Conservative Central Office.  It seems more about the police resorting to tactics they've previously eschewed precisely because they seem to think a precedent has been set where they think the public at large will support them.  They're probably right, but that shouldn't make Theresa May give in to their demands.

You suspect however that just as on stop and search, the forces ranged against her, whether they be in Downing Street or in the Labour party, which would think nothing of bringing it up should she refuse and there be further serious disorder, are likely to be victorious.  Policing by consent might remain in tact, but amongst those with reason to distrust the plod it will do nothing whatsoever to reassure of their good intentions.

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Saturday, July 28, 2012 

And the gold medal for unbelievable chutzpah goes to...

the Metropolitan police, first for deciding that the usual monthly Critical Mass cycle procession had to be halted forthwith, and second for releasing this quite extraordinary justification for doing so:

As the procession last night had the potential to cause serious disruption to the life of the community, the Metropolitan Police Service applied conditions under Section 12 of the Public Order Act. The participants in the procession were informed of these conditions.
Link
Irony? I hear it's like goldy and bronzey.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012 

The return of pre-emptive policing.

Last week Craig Murray wrote that those visiting London during the Olympics from authoritarian states would be hard pressed to notice much in the way of difference. For those thinking that was a bit strong, then it seems the British Transport Police are trying their level best to live up to the very worst of expectations. Depending on who you believe, yesterday saw the BTP arrest either four or up to thirty graffiti artists, all of whom were bailed on draconian conditions banning them from any railway system for leisure travel, from carrying art equipment and from being within a mile of any Olympic venue.

The BTP claims that the arrests were made in connection with "incidents of criminal damage committed between January 2007 and July 2012", something that Darren Cullen, one of the men arrested finds difficult to believe. Talking to the Guardian, he says that he has never painted illegally, and considering he runs a company that works with other corporate firms to provide graffiti-style art to them that seems perfectly believable. The London Vandal blog suggests that others arrested were similarly either "retired" or hadn't touched a spray can in years, more than suggesting these were raids aimed at picking off those either well known in the community or to the police with the intention of ensuring that they wouldn't be able to go anywhere near any Olympic venues with artistic intentions. Even if the BTP's account is more accurate than that from the graffiti artists themselves, then the specific condition barring them from within a mile of any Olympic venue is ridiculously broad, and in any case the condition stopping them from carry spray paint ought to be enough to cover any eventuality.

What's more, we can look forward to the pre-emptive arrest becoming standard practice due to the ruling from the High Court today that those detained prior and during the royal wedding were dealt with perfectly legally. Among those who had asked for a judicial review into the police's tactics was someone dressed as a zombie who was on their way home. Justifying the arrest, the officer wrote in his witness statement (paragraph 51):

"… we were also told to … look out for potential breaches of the peace for which the police response would be pre-emptive, if necessary, and zero tolerance of potential disorder. While acknowledging the right to peaceful protest, the vast majority of the crowds that day would be supportive of the wedding and therefore there was a concern that, potentially, any public display of anti-wedding sentiment in the faces of that supportive crowd could lead to breaches of the peace. (By this I mean fights breaking out.) Moreover, on the basis of recent events, those displaying anti-wedding views might well be intending to disrupt the wedding itself, if they could."

In other words, the "justification" for some of the arrests was that it was for their own good, more evidence of how the Public Order Act is in desperate need of redrafting. At least in the case of the wedding some of the arrests were "intelligence" led; the BTP seems to have just picked on old hands they knew about, and without the slightest evidence they had any attention of doing anything. That this is happening under the civil liberties defending coalition rather than ZanuNuLiarbore seems to have passed some people by; where is Henry Porter now, incidentally?

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Thursday, February 02, 2012 

Dichotomies and Occupy.

2012, to judge by its first month, is shaping up to be just as miserable a year as the one that preceded it. It's also been one where it seems exactly what's going to happen has been mapped out in advance: David Cameron's new year message explicitly stated not just that this would be a year of circuses, with both the Olympics and the Queen's diamond jubilee to look forward to, but also that it would be a year where excess at the top and irresponsibility at the bottom would be tackled.

Not that there's any comparison between the way the two have been tackled in this first four weeks. Stripping poor Fred Goodwin of his knighthood, leaving him with only just less than £350,000 a year pension to live on is the kind of blow those shortly to fall under the £26,000 cap on benefits would dream of having. There are words to describe all those MPs that yesterday voted to amend the welfare bill to once again deny contributory employment and support allowance to cancer sufferers after only a year, yet if I were to do so it would make this by far the most explicit blog post I have ever written.

Stephen Hester meanwhile will have to get by purely on his £1.2m pound salary, as those at the other end face the prospect of having to move from where they may well have lived their entire lives as the cuts in housing benefit kick in. Almost as fascinating as the revelation that the head of the Student Loans Company was avoiding tax through a scheme apparently approved by both David Willetts and Danny Alexander was that as well as his salary of £182,000, he would also receive a £28,000 allowance for living and food costs (Newsnight tonight), or £2,000 more than the government now deems is the maximum amount a whole family can claim a year. Nice work if you can get it.

Without wanting to bring too much attention back to Diane Abbott's tweeting incident from last month, it's worth recalling that this is a wonderful example of the establishment dividing and ruling, or at least a modern version of it. The changes in welfare we are told are necessary not just to cut the deficit, without it ever being mentioned that included in the department and work and pensions budget, often reduced by ministers simply to the cost of welfare, is, err, the cost of pensions, but also because the system as it currently exists does nothing to incentivise work. While this is only true in a very small number of cases, where the loss of overall benefits (including housing, council tax relief, etc) from going into work would make the difference close to negligible, it's rendered completely moot by how there are simply not enough jobs for those currently claiming jobseeker's allowance, without bringing into the equation those on ESA who are often wrongly declared to be fit for work.

To make this scapegoating slightly less vicious we have the attacks on a few carefully selected individuals at the top: next it seems will be Sir Victor Blank, mainly it seems because of the deal struck between Gordon Brown and Blank for Lloyds to swallow HBOS at the height of the credit crunch, without the competition commission becoming involved. This will have the added bonus of once again taking attention away from the current state of the economy, for which responsibility lies wholly with the coalition, and throwing it back onto Labour. How after all can they be trusted with the economy when they ennobled these people and openly connived with them, regardless of the circumstances of the moment?

It won't do though to just blame the coalition for these tactics. Ed Miliband's trumpeting (trumping?) of the squeezed middle is just a softer formulation of Mitt Romney's comments from earlier in the week, when he declared on CNN that just as he's not concerned about the very rich, he's also not concerned about the very poor. Both can get by just fine, the very rich for obvious reasons, while the very poor because there's a safety net for them. It's this bracketing of the two together, suggesting that their lots are not that very different that so rankles. Neither might have mortgages to pay off or rents to pay thanks to housing benefit, but the rising cost of living affects the very poor just as it does the middle, especially as they have no savings to fall back on should things get even tougher. The 5.2% rise in benefits in line with the inflation of last September might look generous when most are getting by with an average pay increase of 2%, yet 5.2% of £67.50 (or 5.2% of £99.85, for those on the highest rate of ESA) a week is a lot different to 2% of £500 a week, the average wage.

As Martin Kettle and David Runicman have written, the natural British reaction may well be to muddle through. To give Adam Curtis another plug and bring in some context, he writes on a post on the failure of the left to articulate a general economic alternative to late capitalism of how while French students were rioting and directly challenging the state, our forebears to the Occupy movement were, err, taking over their art college. While this isn't to be completely fair to the protests here of that year, it is reflected in the incredible decision by those intimately involved in Occupy not to offer even the beginnings of an alternative, with Ellie Mae O'Hagan saying on Newsnight the other week (I paraphrase, at best) that this wasn't their role, it was for governments and politicians to do so, with Occupy simply bringing attention to certain issues. As Sean McHale pointed out on Twitter, the last we do is elect politicians to come up with such ideas; we elect them, at very best, on the basis of the policies and ideas in their manifestos. There is never going to be appetite for radical change when there isn't so much as one being offered by those protesting. With even David Cameron suggesting there's a crisis of capitalism, yet at the same time it's the poorest that his government is shafting, a good portion of the left seems to think the answer is daily general assemblies, teach-ins and taking control of empty buildings. A massive opportunity is once again going begging.

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Monday, November 28, 2011 

Not much of a revolution.

Just the six weeks after OccupyLSX failed miserably to achieve the very thing their name suggests they were created to do, they've finally managed to produce their first batch of policy proposals. How then are the 99% to be won over to their way of thinking?

Through, of course, the abolition of tax havens. Despite then having been in situ outside St. Paul's for all that time, their first call for action is on the very thing that UK Uncut have campaigning on for over a year. True, they dress it up very slightly by urging alongside it an independent monitor of corporate lobbying and for personal responsibility within the boardroom, but it suggests a rather limited sense both of attention spans and how capitalism should be reformed. Doubtless the daily assemblies will eventually though provide an entire programme on what should be done: shame we'll most likely be long dead by then.

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Tuesday, November 01, 2011 

What is to be done about Occupy London?

There are many things that have been exceptionally strange about the response from the Church of England, or at least from those in charge at St. Paul's, to the OccupyLSX protesters setting up camp on the doorstep. Their immediate recourse to health and safety, the connivance with the City of London corporation and the subsequent outrage that anyone could suggest they were breaking bread with Mammon rather than God, the absolutely unnecessary resignations (with the possible exception of Giles Fraser's), and the belief that shutting down the cathedral, when everyone is only too aware of its association with surviving the Blitz, would be acceptable to anyone. All of these pale into insignificance though with the even more curious belief that everyone has regarded the position they've taken as disastrous, with criticism, according to the Graun's Andrew Brown, "unanimous".

This seems to me to be mixing up St. Paul's definitely cack-handed attempts at asking the protesters to move on with the notion that they should instead be welcoming the guests on their courtyard with completely open arms, something that has most certainly not been unanimous. I for one have been utterly bemused by the almost completely uncritical approach taken by the left in general towards OccupyLSX, with the most searching questions asked not whether taking over the front of what is probably Britain's best loved building, with the end result being the resignation of decent men, is a good thing, but instead whether the message coming from the protesters is coherent enough. Probably the biggest indictment of the camp is that it seems to mean something different to every single writer moved to comment. Certainly this isn't cleared up by the group themselves, who in the best doomed micro-community traditions vote on everything and so end up agreeing only on platitudes.

This though is hardly surprising when the group is so clearly and inextricably linked with UK Uncut. Those who like me have a similar penchant for inflicting great pain on themselves will have noticed that one of the spokespeople for OccupyLSX is a certain Lucy, who bears more than a passing resemblance to the Lucy Annson who appeared on Newsnight back in March following the hijacking of the March for the Alternative by both UK Uncut and the black bloc. Annson distinguished herself then with a performance so vapid that any remaining sympathy I had for Uncut evaporated immediately, a very special feat when the group's aims are on the surface highly admirable. Targeting Vodafone following the sweetheart deal they struck with HMRC was a masterstroke, as was then going after the banks and other tax dodgers. It wasn't achieving anything tangible, but it was bringing attention to the tax gap. Then they struck on the wizard idea of going after Fortnum and Mason. F&M themselves are not tax avoiders, instead UK Uncut's accusation was that the group's owners themselves own a 54.5% stake in another group that were involved in avoidance. To get hundreds of young people arrested for aggravated trespass for protesting in a store only very nominally connected with tax avoidance seemed an act of truly phenomenal stupidity and vanity.

The occupation of the outside of the cathedral seems then a natural follow on from that outbreak of folly, the difference being that this time, in line with the other Occupy groups, they intend to stay there semi-permanently. As alluded to before, rather than having any backup plan should they fail to gain control of their actual target, it seems Occupy not knowing what to do decided to just sit as near to it as possible, regardless of whether they were being a spectacular inconvenience to those other than bankers and stockbrokers. Incredibly for them, for now it hasn't been a complete unmitigated disaster. Two weeks later they're still there, they're still in the news and the Church has all but agreed with their aims. It must be a success then surely?

Except, not really. Away from the bubble in the Graun and on blogs, like Flying Rodent I haven't detected a single murmur of anything approaching approval. Over in the States, helped along by the police's predictable brutality, the movement does seem to have struck something of a chord, chiefly because their message highlighting the huge gap between the 99% and the 1% is both so profound and because it's been so rarely dwelt upon at such length. Back here, we do talk about inequality and the gap between rich and poor, even if we don't do anything about it. Moreover, our welfare system as yet has not been decimated as it has in the States, where it quickly leaves those down on their luck without unemployment benefits or healthcare. Things are not quite as bleak, even if there will always be those who slip through the cracks.

Without a clear achievable cause, any long term protest is doomed. The difference between OccupyLSX and two of the most cited examples is obvious. Last year's protests against the rise in tuition fees, in which Paul and others participated may not have resulted in a change in policy at the top, but they made individual universities and others take notice and have to in some cases make extra provisions for poorer students. Scarlet Standard additionally raises Brian Haw's long-term protest in Parliament Square, although she regards him as a failure for not stopping the war. Haw in fact began his protest before the September 11th attacks, in opposition to the continued sanctions and bombing of Iraq. His camp was not so much about stopping the wars as bearing witness to those suffering as a result of them. More than anything, he annoyed MPs and those with the bumptious view that his protest was an eyesore rather than something that should be a part of life around the heart of our democracy, always serving as a reminder that there were some consequences to their actions.

OccupyLSX would at least be achieving something if it was annoying those that put us in this mess. Instead it's playing havoc with those already sympathetic to the cause while the adherents to Mammon either ignore them or openly mock their presence. They might have provided a wake-up call to the clergy, but everyone else seems distinctly unmoved. Movements need leaders, those prepared to make a case direct to camera about what is to be done. Prancing about in masks only works for a time, and indifference or slight interest quickly turns into outright hostility. If nothing else, they should at least try and keep Lucy away from the cameras.

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Monday, October 24, 2011 

The geniuses behind UK Uncut return to the fore.

It's difficult to know when it comes to OccupyLSX (an entirely misleading descriptive term/hash tag, seeing as the group miserably failed to occupy the stock exchange) which side is being the more disingenuous. The obvious problem for the demonstrators is that having been prevented from taking control of an actual target identified with the 1%, they're now occupying the square in front of what is possibly Britain's best loved building. This immediately diminishes the potency of their message, which in any case is disjointed and vague on what exactly should be done to redress the balance in favour of the 99% (and really, while the American government might be for the 1%, here let's be honest and go for either 5% or 10%). Combined with the image in the media of their being fully responsible for the closure of St. Paul's, they're now almost certainly doing more harm than good by staying there. Highly interconnected as the group is with the utterly cretinous strategists of UK Uncut, rather than dismantling the camp and moving to their new site fully in Finsbury Square which would now make the best sense, they appear determined to stay, all because they apparently failed to have a proper back-up plan.

This said, and as much as I agree with Simon Jenkins in that this whole tactic of occupying is facile when direct, proper action is now the only message that properly gets across, it's equally laughable that the Occupy camp is such a health and safety risk that the cathedral must be closed, except of course for the few clergy who have thrown caution to the wind. If they don't want a bunch of incoherent radicals likely to be embarrassed in a few years at themselves semi-permanently on their doorstep, then say so. It's a perfectly reasonable position to take. St, Paul's, regardless of its location in the City, is hardly Threadneedle Street. Now if only both sides could stop being so pathetic, an accord could quite possibly be reached.

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Friday, August 12, 2011 

Not quite apropos of nothing.

I think we should shut Louise Mensch down.

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Thursday, August 11, 2011 

The tone is set and the blame game truly begins.

When you're in politics, it's a fairly dangerous game to start blaming the police. Not only are they almost certainly more popular than you are, even in the aftermath of the worst breakdown of law and order in the capital in recent memory, they're also the last people you want to get on the wrong side of. Jacqui Smith succeeded in annoying them so much they marched on parliament. Anyone remember what happened to her?

It's curious then that both David Cameron and Theresa May did just that in today's recall of parliament, later joined in their certainty by clapping seals on the backbenches. Just as bizarre is that it makes a libertarian lefty like myself, not exactly a noted cheerleader for our fearless feds, want to defend them. Even if we take at face value the apparent admittance by the Met that they treated the rioting which broke out on Saturday in Tottenham initially as a public order issue rather than a criminal one, there was perfectly good reasoning behind that: heavy-handed tactics that night would have almost certainly made the situation worse. Their real error was the failure to acknowledge the protest by Mark Duggan's friends and family quickly enough at a senior level.

Even when the copycat violence broke out on Sunday, it still wasn't clear or predictable that pockets of the capital would the next night be in flames. As I somewhat argued two days ago and John B sets out in more detail, the main failure was that the police simply couldn't keep up, nor did they properly understood quite what was happening. Considering few of the rest of us did either until the day after, this is hardly something they can be pilloried for. It also saw something probably unprecedented in terms of rioting, rather than political protest: the use of BlackBerry Messenger and texts (The use of Twitter and Facebook seems to have been pretty negligible as an organisational tool, as both are more or less wide open, although they were a few "inciting" through both) to publicise the targets, in some cases only a matter of minutes before they were then hit. At best the police had a couple of hours notice, and that was if someone bothered to forward the plans onto them. The riots in France back in 2005, the most similar recent outbreak of unrest to our own few days of looting also went "viral" but certainly didn't involve such flash-mobbing.

As the police were so overstretched and without major back-up, the decision in most cases not to intervene in the looting, while undeniably perplexing to the public, was a fairly sound one. There's bravery and preventing disorder, and then there's the distinct possibility of getting beaten to death by a group which outnumbers you by at least about 5 to 1. The efficacy of water cannon and tear gas against such mobile groups who aren't intent on reaching any particular area or repeatedly charging and attacking the police is also fairly negligible. 6,000 officers, normally more than enough to contain even a fairly prolonged outbreak of disorder, simply couldn't take back control. They couldn't however have possibly known things would get as bad as they would. Hindsight, as always, is a wonderful thing.

It's also ever so slightly rich for politicians, always so keen to express their admiration for the bravery of the police to then speak out of the other side of their mouth a matter of minutes later. Both May and Cameron were still on holiday on Monday; those who were doing their best in unbelievably difficult circumstances were out on the streets. Not that either of the former have been out on them much since: May even slinked away from Boris Johnson when he was heckled in Clapham. Since then the government, realising it appears to be on a hiding for nothing, has keep as low a profile as possible. Not a single government minister could find the time to appear on any of the major news programmes tonight, including Question Time, where the affable David Davis had to instead make the "brokeback" coalition's case.

Then again, it's probably best they don't try and defend the measures outlined by Cameron which are meant to stop a recurrence of the violence. Police already have powers similar to ones demanding individuals uncover their faces, and in any case it's rather difficult for a couple of beat coppers to deal with a whole group of people with masks on, let alone when they're already smashing windows. It also begins to defy belief when the ravings of right-wing backbenchers, suggesting the police spray rioters with indelible liquid making them easier to identify later are treated seriously; discarding or burning clothes is something those showered would never think of doing. Just to make things even more surreal, comfort was given to those who called for the army to be brought in, while social networking could also be temporarily shut down in such circumstances, something that certainly wouldn't cause further unnecessary panic or hinder the spread of reliable information on what was happening, as some police forces attempted to provide in real time this week.

Ed Miliband's statement was well considered on the whole, and a few lonely souls did suggest this wasn't just amorality run amok, but the tone does seem to have been set. 16 weeks in prison for a 21-year-old who said to police that he'd "smash you if you took your uniform off", an empty threat if there ever was one and something which he might have got a caution or a fine for at worst in normal circumstances seems ridiculously over-the-top even after this week's events. Pie boy got six weeks for assault, later reduced to four. If being a twat in public is going to get you four months inside, at least let's be consistent.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011 

Between the armchair generals and the stereotype sociologist.

I've been trying to think of somewhat mocking comparisons between the flood of comment on the riots we're now up to our neck in (and which I'm going to do the equivalent of pissing in, polluting while adding to it) and likewise exhibits in popular culture. At the one extreme, some of the response looks the equivalent pulling a Wooley, the SWAT team member at the beginning of the original Dawn of the Dead. While one of the very slight failings of the film is that it's never clear quite why a SWAT team is going after a gang of criminals when flesh-eating zombies are shambling everywhere, Wooley also isn't too bothered by this chain of events. For him it's the fact that "these low lifes" are living in these "big ass fancy hotels" which are "better than what he has". "You ain't gonna talk 'em out of here, you gotta blow 'em out! Blow their asses!"

At the opposite end of the spectrum, you have the Eric Idle sociologist from the Hells Grannies sketch in Monty Python, so intent on giving his prescription of exactly why these "senile delinquents" have "rejected contemporary society" that he doesn't notice they've opened up a manhole in front of him. Being hoist by your own petard is though a universal danger: as always, pretty much everyone is explaining, rationalising, or rather saying they warned about this all along and it all happily fits their previous prejudices. Hell, I've done it the last couple of days. Melanie Phillips (and others) then think it's all down to absent fathers; Max Hastings in the Mail puts the onus on years of "liberal dogma"; Shaun Bailey says it's all down to responsibility (lack of) and a sense of entitlement, although only the sense of entitlement amongst a certain section; Seumas Milne sticks it all on greed and the rapaciousness of those at the top of society; and the Guardian's leader comment, which has been getting more shrill day by day, fingers both everything and nothing. No change there then.

It is though the ultimate way to play safe. And in truth, all of these explanations have something in them, (with the exception of Max "Hitler" Hastings doing the bidding of Paul Dacre), while also being fairly easy to knock down. Absent parents can have a major impact; they also, as Phillip Larkin will always remind us, fuck us up. Those preaching the virtues of the nuclear family ought to read Hayley Matthews' account of the riots in Salford, where parents with their kids in child seats in the back of cars screamed up and filled their boots (literally) with loot. It would be equally naive to dismiss the fact that in certain cases children are being brought up, either by single parents or not who aren't taught right from wrong, and have had everything given to them on a plate, whether by the state or trust fund, who feel aggrieved that they can't have everything right this instant. Again though, Matthews' account makes clear that certain authority figures do either make those who've taken part think twice, or at least temporarily ashamed of their actions: they might not fear the police, but seeing her dog collar alarmed and troubled them. If their parents had turned up, it's fair to say a good proportion of those taking part would have been shocked and despite what some have also pointed towards, been given at the least a sock round the ear.

The accounts then by those outside the usual commentariat are the ones which most often strike home or point out things those inside their own bubble haven't broached. Kevin Sampson makes the excellent point that it's incredibly easy to get caught up in the heat of the moment, as many who've been on protests that have turned violent or nasty can also testify. These might not have been marches, but they also weren't highly organised actions, even if on the surface some of them look that way: opportunism by those along for the ride most definitely happened in numerous places. Those caught so far and being processed through the system look to have been the stragglers or those stupid (or brazen) enough to go unmasked, the ones who stole a couple of bottles of alcohol, shirts or who were in the shops when the mob had moved on. The shame and regret will have hit many of these later, as it will the parents disgusted to find their spoils, not knowing whether to risk turning over their offspring considering the exceptional penalties bound to be passed.

You also know there's a real reason to be worried when the inestimable FlyingRodent is concerned. His point that at the centre of what's happened are the petty criminals among the young, the ones normally involved in minor drug-dealing and causing occasional havoc in shopping centres is a sound one; some of those among them were smart enough to see an opening in London after the riot in Tottenham for larceny on a grander scale than what they're normally up to, and the bonus was that with the summer holidays they had gangs of otherwise bored acquaintances who could both help distract the police and who also then joined in. This was then copied by non-related but similar groupings in the other big cities, and err, Gloucester and a few other minor towns. Into the mix also came a good few adults, as we're also discovering. This isn't to deny that some of the rioting had a political undercurrent, and also that many of these youths, especially the ones on the outside looking in, don't see a future, feeling completely disconnected from their wider communities. Others though almost certainly knew and were friendly with those they came to steal from. Some just hate the police and other figures in authority, for both good and completely and utterly wrong reasons.

David Cameron's reaching for the illness definition is but an echo of Tony Blair's similar statements following the murder of James Bulger. Certain sections of our society do have very deep seated problems, but broken or sick? Some people are just thuggish pricks, as has been demonstrated to the world by the mugging of Asyraf Haziq, being ostensibly helped up only to have his backpack rifled through. They have unfortunately though always been with us, as have gangs of out of control teenagers, and no amount of lectures on morality or responsibility will have an instant impact, or get through to all of them.

However bad things were in London on Monday or elsewhere yesterday, this is not going to become a regular occurrence. There also, so far, doesn't seem to be any instant recourse to further legislation, although we still have the rest of the summer recess once parliament has had its say tomorrow to get through, and then the party conferences, where crackdowns could yet become the order of the day. What we are going to have though is intensified fear of and stigmatisation of teenagers, especially those who go about in hoods, thanks to the efforts of a tiny number of their peers and the foolishness of those who do know better in general. The hope has to be that the current mood soon lifts, and that those calling for the giving of a "free hand" to the police find themselves quickly back in the minority. The middle line between Wooley and the stereotype sociologist is the best place to remain until then.

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Tuesday, August 09, 2011 

Fear and media overreaction has to be followed by reflection.

It's difficult to reach a conclusion other than it's going to be a bad day when it opens with Eamonn Holmes on Sky News essentially asking Kit Malthouse why the army aren't on the streets shooting people. When it ends with Kelvin MacKenzie on Newsnight, taking part in quite possibly the least enlightening debate in history also suggesting squaddies should be out fragging the underclass, even if only with rubber bullets, you know that one low has inexorably led to another.

Overreaction to what were unprecedented scenes last night across London was always likely. For the news networks rather than the usual suspects our febrile press to be the main culprits is still something to be surprised by. It's continuing even now, with what are likely to be events completely unconnected to the rioting reported as if they are further evidence of a situation still out of control. This hysterical atmosphere, not helped admittedly by the rise of social networks where rumour and invention are immediately reported and spread as fact, is undoubtedly scaring people who have absolutely no reason whatsoever to be frightened. I'm well outside London and away from the main flashpoints in the other major cities, and yet through word of mouth it was today spreading around that a major local supermarket had been set on fire, almost needless to say when it had not been. Likewise, every major town around the area except for ours was apparently facing down similar outbreaks of lawlessness, again it turned out completely erroneously.

This in turn has resulted in London essentially shutting down tonight and many businesses boarding their windows up, when it looks as if such desperate measures, although precautionary, were completely unnecessary. The violence in Manchester does look to have been serious, although even there it appears to have been localised to the main city centre, rather than in multiple areas. While it is indeed better to be safe than sorry, it always seemed likely that what happened last night was an aberration, a once in a generation outbreak of lawlessness perpetuated by the disaffected, those with a grievance and those simply out to take advantage. Like Sunny I might yet eat these words, but with the combination of the massive police presence, parents refusing to let their children out and the general sense of anger and outrage at what happened it was doubtful there would be a repeat performance. It could just be that it's a lull, and that at the weekend it could start up again, but even then you suspect the numbers of police out will be similar.

The police, having been caught out like everyone else are coming in for criticism which is unbelievably short-sighted and lacking in both humility and candour. Any police force in any major city in any democracy would have struggled to deal with the ultra-localised groups of rioters that were out yesterday, moving quickly both on public transport and in cars. They were stretched to the absolute limit, and knew full well that if they had intervened directly in the looting when they were so often so vastly outnumbered that not only did they risk making things even worse, if that's possible, they would be risking their lives for the sake of a few plasma televisions and shop windows. It requires tens of officers, organised and trained in dealing with mobs, to be able to stop such organised thieving, not the few who were being deployed in restrictive full riot gear. As hard as it is to for the shop owners and others to see their businesses being smashed and in some cases burned while the police stood off and watched, risking exacerbating things would have not helped anyone.

Similarly, those asking why water cannon and tear gas weren't made available or used to break up the looting are confusing their use against protests which often have one specific focal point, where demonstrators are usually attacking the police or trying to get somewhere, and the fast-moving attacks on property seen last night. Even if you soaked and hit/gassed a few of those taking part, the majority would manage to slink away quickly. Moreover, it wasn't just looters who were out last night; there were large numbers of onlookers, as the police themselves said, who risked getting caught up in it. Using the threat of baton rounds could arguably have been effective, which is why they were authorised for use today if they were needed, which they thankfully haven't been. Even then the problems are obvious: the last thing we need or want is the routine use of such crowd control methods, as could easily follow as a result. As has hopefully been demonstrated, the biggest deterrent is not just a temporary major police presence, but also the opprobrium of the community at large bearing down on those who felt temporarily empowered or free from the fear of the consequences of their actions.

The one thing the Met could be criticised for is their overly cautious approach today, urging businesses to close early and recommending the cancellation of tomorrow's England friendly, which if the general calm continues may look daft later. They have at least, unlike the politicians, been urging calm. Urging calm, unlike telling people not to panic which tends to have the opposite effect, seems uniquely British. David Cameron merely gave the impression through his Downing Street statement not of resolve, but of someone thoroughly pissed off that he'd had to come back from Tuscany to deal with the proles finally realising their lives are going to get worse and keep on getting worse. All of the Tories seemed perturbed that despite their predictions rioting had broken out; weren't the inner cities a problem that had been solved, or which could be left to fester without what happened there spreading to their own heartlands? They certainly hadn't bargained on anything like this impeding or questioning the imposition of austerity, which has still yet to properly kick in.

This isn't to suggest that this can be traced directly back to government policy, or excused or explained in such a simple way. It's apparent that some of the rioting, especially outside London, seems to have been conducted by the local hoodlums who the police regularly find themselves dealing with, who shouldn't be given even the slightest benefit of a political explanation for their actions. Some of what we've seen has though had its roots in the hopelessness which many are beginning to feel and which the latest economic figures and market crashes have brought home to them: that we're in a hole and regardless of which of the main three political parties is in power power, all are wedded to policies which are going to hit the most vulnerable the hardest.

As Kenan Malik has stated, there doesn't have to be contradiction between the competing claims that this is sheer criminality and that it has a root cause in social exclusion and wasted lives: those taking part are responding in the only way they know how to, which also has the benefit of grabbing attention whilst giving them the feeling of striking back through the acquisition of goods. The one message that has filtered down to them is that you should take what you can. They've followed it. Now the politicians have to find a way of reassuring an outraged middle class without further attacking and antagonising those they've all but abandoned. After the clean up must come the inquest.

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Monday, August 08, 2011 

London's theirs, if only for tonight.

It's more than safe to say now that what happened on Saturday night in Tottenham has very little to no relationship with the violence and looting taking place across London tonight. It was however obviously the trigger: whether it was originally anger at the unexplained death of Mark Duggan at the hands of the police which then, somehow, motivated the hundreds if not thousands of youths to target their own or nearby communities, or seeing the police completely incapable of taking control of the situation which has subsequently emboldened them to go out and take advantage we're not going to get anything approaching a straight answer to.

Equally clear is that this is now on such a scale that anyone who attempts to provide a socio-economic explanation, or suggest spending cuts have had some impact, as reasonable and possibly based in fact as such points are, is going to be pilloried. Ken Livingstone's various appearances across networks tonight were not the best idea, even if he was mostly saying things that would normally win him support, although he was filling a vacuum which the government was refusing to fill. The Daily Mail, finally seeing some concrete evidence that the youth of today, however tiny a proportion, are completely out of control and aware of their rights but not their responsibilities (as Shaun Bailey et al have been arguing) is already running a piece attacking "left-wing cynics" for blaming the government. This is only going to grow over the next few days, especially as the politicians return and will have to respond, quite necessarily, when media and public pressure will be massive in what will almost certainly be the strongest possible terms.

This isn't to suggest that some of the rioting hasn't been motivated, not only by the rumours swirling around following the shooting of Mark Duggan, some of which suggested he had been laying on the ground prior to being handcuffed when he was shot, but also by discontent at continuing harassment from the police which will have only been felt all the more keenly during the school holidays. Nothing though can justify the completely indiscriminate self-defeating stupidity of so much of what has happened both yesterday and tonight, the targeting not of police, which could at least be easily understood if not condoned, but of everyday small businesses providing a service to the very people who have now seemingly inexplicably turned on them.

I say seemingly as there is no bigger misnomer than the term "mindless violence", especially in this context. Those carrying out the looting are not doing it out of sheer bloodymindedness, or for no particular reason. While some of the attacks have been on soft targets, much of it has been focused on particular businesses, whether it be sportswear, mobile phone or electrical goods shops. And while there is poverty, and economic hardship, most of those taking whatever they can almost certainly already have close approximations of the stuff they're carting off. Normally you might suggest that this is just more evidence of the cold, hard reality of consumerism and materialism, inculcated into those with little into always, perhaps reasonably, wanting more than they've got. This though is wanton, unabashed thieving simply because those doing it can. It's as simple, and as brutal as that.

The reckoning to come in the months and years after this is going to be equally harsh. As tomorrow's Guardian editorial states, screamed at in the comments by those looking for political advantage, the riots in the 1980s led to improvements in policing and also politics. The various reports in the aftermath fingered the discrimination which contributed massively to the rising of young black youth. This time round, not only is it clear that despite the ravings of some that those committing the violence are from different racial backgrounds (whom I'm not going to link to, you can guess who though), the Met has cleaned up its act considerably. True, there can always be improvements, and the numbers of black and Asian men being stopped and searched is still massively disproportionate when set against the proportion they make up of the population, not to mention the police's recent track record in at best misleading the public about the deaths of those at their hands and at worst outright lying initially about what had happened, but it's naive and wrong to put any responsibility on their shoulders for what's took place over the last 48 hours.

At a stroke it's fair to bet that the remaining leanings towards liberalism both on prison and crime policy will be neutered. Almost any power the police suggest they need, regardless of its efficacy, will be at least temporarily given the go-ahead. Stop and search powers have already been extended, and will probably remain so for some time to come. Those whose actions, however slightly, were influenced by discontent at their lot have almost certainly doomed not just themselves but their entire peer group to the kind of treatment that will constrict their everyday life for years. And this time there will almost certainly be very little that can be done to stop the worst excesses which will inevitably follow as a result, especially when numerous people's livelihoods, if not lives, have been ruined thanks to their enormous irresponsibility.

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Monday, March 28, 2011 

Better the black bloc than the pretensions of UK Uncut.

I wasn't on the march on Saturday. Not because I necessarily had anything better to do, more for the reason that I couldn't really see what it would achieve or end up representing. For me at least, there's a key difference between demonstrating against something which is definitively going to happen or is already happening, as opposed to protesting against a war which could either be stopped or brought to a close sooner through mass public dissent. There's also the difficulty in that when protesting against the cuts, it's by no means clear what you want to happen instead: marching under the banner of an alternative when it's incredibly hard to articulate what that is through a traditional demonstration does present an potential open goal for the naysayers, fellow travellers and those supposedly on the left that seem to genuinely hate the working class, i.e. many of those on the Blairite wing of what was once New Labour.

Don't misunderstand me. I'm not belittling those who went on the march in any way. I just found it especially strange that what went relatively unmentioned, and forgive me if this was mentioned at the rally, which I'll come to, was that some of those marching were the exact same people who are in fact implementing the cuts, the councillors finding themselves in the difficult position of having to do Whitehall's bidding. Paulinlincs for one has argued convincingly that Labour cuts are better than Tory cuts, but all the same there's been little overall resistance politically from those in a position to refuse. Also bewildering is that there's been very little notice paid to how the some of the cuts could have realistically been tempered: through raising council tax, which the government has naturally ensured has either been frozen or has in some areas fell.

This said, it's hard to disagree with Lenin when he states that the main march was one of those increasingly rare occasions when organised labour came together in an significant show of strength. If you really want to give any credence whatsoever to government sloganising, then here was the big society, the alarm clock Britain Clegg desperately wants to be on the side on, and far more pertinently, here were the people whom keep this country functioning, very often for low pay and next to no recognition. Forget about Ed Miliband's still laughably broad squeezed middle, this was working class Britain saying that those who caused the crash should be the ones shouldering the vast majority of the burden of clearing up the mess. Instead the very poorest will end up losing more as a proportion of income than the very richest. That is nothing less than an outrage, and something that anyone opposing the government's cuts should never let them forget.

The worst part of any march, regardless of the cause, is the end or beginning rally. Difficult as it is to dispense with it entirely, there is little that is more interminable than hearing talking head after talking head either say exactly the same thing slightly differently, or conversely for the resident loon to pop up and dispiritingly get the largest cheer of the afternoon, a role reserved for Galloway on any anti-war march. On Saturday you had the two extremes: Ed Miliband reaching for high rhetoric and aiming to inspire, and who instead ended up looking like a complete tool, especially disappointing as he's been much improved in recent weeks, and Mark Serwotka, an indefatigable union leader but someone playing straight into the hands of both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats with his no cuts whatsoever platform.

You can hardly blame people then for deciding to do things other than opt to listen to such flannel; you can however place some of the blame for mixed messages which ended up on the front pages on Sunday on UK Uncut, and not just on the black bloc. There's always the danger when protesting of coming across as sanctimonious, patronising and just plain wrong, and UK Uncut fit the bill in so many ways that it's difficult to count. Direct action and civil disobedience will have always have a role to play in protest; getting a criminal record however for aggravated trespass for occupying Fortnum and Mason, as many seem likely to, will rank up there as probably the most stupid misstep of the entire anti-cuts movement. Every single occasion on which a representative, or at least someone who's taken part in the protests has appeared on television, such as on Newsnight tonight, they've come across as the kind of pretentious, self-satisfied, smug and thoroughly gittish middle-class wankers you would normally cross the street to avoid, repeatedly refusing to answer a straight question and taking no responsibility whatsoever for what some might do under their banner. Only with the advent of Twatter could so many utter cunts make common cause. Almost needless to say, F&M's connection with tax avoidance is minute, and they're left to make a weak argument on the basis of who they're catering for as justification.

The black bloc at least has no such pretensions. As facile and self-defeating as smashing up a branch of a bank that we either wholly or partially own is, it sends the message that someone ultimately will pay. Attacking the Ritz, owned by the Barclay brothers, who live in tax exile and subsidise a newspaper that delights in the cuts while caring only about the "coping classes", makes far more sense than the ultimately pointless action of occupying an upmarket deli store. Understandable as the anger from some of those marching was at how others had "hijacked" their march, it was almost certain to be the case: almost no recent protest in London, either anti-war or anti-cuts has been completely non-violent; there have always been hot-heads as Sunny says, yet this was something different on Saturday. The media outlets (nearly all of them) looking to present a different image to these worthy, ordinary people marching against a government committed to the harshest cuts in living memory would have found it somewhere. No one should be surprised that this is motivating some to attack those they consider to be the representation of just how we aren't all in this together. We can't pretend that those who posed as anarchists on Saturday were indicative of the discontented youth of 2011, or those who raged against tuition fees previously, yet some of them certainly were, and they carry with them the inchoate fury of a generation that fears it is being abandoned just as others were before them.

The anti-cuts movement will easily survive such associations, although where it goes from here is far more difficult to predict. Whether those who marched are prepared to strike or support those who do is debatable, the only means through which the cuts can now realistically be challenged. Marching for an alternative is one thing; coalescing around one, as yet undecided and then fighting for its implementation is another entirely. By the time that's happened it might already be too late, if it isn't already.

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Wednesday, February 09, 2011 

A mug's game: analysing why it's kicking off everywhere.

I've come to a conclusion: trying to predict or work out where the Egyptian intifada is heading a mug's game, and there are a hell of a lot of drinking vessels out there already. One is Peter Hallward, whose article on CiF is slightly unkindly headlined Egypt's popular revolution will change the world. It isn't quite as bad as the sub-editor has tried to portray it; he has however been caught up in the fervour of the moment and forgotten the history of any number of uprisings past:

For whatever happens next, Egypt's mobilisation will remain a revolution of world-historical significance because its actors have repeatedly demonstrated an extraordinary capacity to defy the bounds of political possibility, and to do this on the basis of their own enthusiasm and commitment. They have arranged mass protests in the absence of any formal organisation, and have sustained them in the face of murderous intimidation. In a single, decisive afternoon they overcame Mubarak's riot police and have since held their ground against his informers and thugs. They have resisted all attempts to misrepresent or criminalise their mobilisation. They have expanded their ranks to include millions of people from almost every sector of society. They have invented unprecedented forms of mass association and assembly, in which they can debate far-reaching questions about popular sovereignty, class polarisation and social justice.

All of these things can be said of almost any people powered revolution of the past 200 years; the one area where it might perhaps be close to setting a precedent is the absence of any formal organisation, leading party or uniting opposition figure, and it could be argued that Twitter and Facebook have helped in this regard. This however ignores that the ultimate unifying figure is Mubarak himself, and that as long as he stays it seems so will the people.

While comment and "what this means" pieces, many written without the first clue have been plentiful, what really has been lacking is proper, rigorous analysis not just of the forces at work in Egypt and across the Middle East, but flowing across Europe and even America since the beginning of the financial crash. Newsnight's Paul Mason's twenty reasons why it's kicking off everywhere is at last a start on something resembling a condensation of the factors behind the various protests, replied to excellently by Richard over at the Third Estate. While it certainly is glib and facile to directly compare the student protests here with the genuine shaking of the very foundations of society over in Tunisia and Egypt, the differences and similarities are worth dwelling on.

One thing that seems to have been either glossed over, at least when it comes to the student protests, is class, and as 1-Speed-Bike put it, any movement that forgets about class is a bowel movement. Sunny is probably being slightly premature in declaring the student movement essentially dead, but one of its failings that he doesn't dwell on, other than how certain sections are still relying on the National Union of Students and the laughable Aaron Porter to organise things is that it comprehensively failed to attract, with some notable exceptions anyone other than those you would expect: it was thoroughly middle class, and to generalise, the upper or comfortably off middle class were over-represented. This didn't stop things from kicking off, yet it's notable when the protests were broadened to involve those protesting against the abolition of the Educational Maintenance Allowance, affecting many of those that will be even further deterred from attending university by the increasing of tuition fees that they were positively energised as Paul Mason noted. It was these kids from our equivalent of the Parisian
banlieues, expressing their anger in terms far beyond the politeness of their peers, dancing to the grime and hip-hop they pumped out (Mason probably erred in terming it the dubstep rebellion) and completely prepared to meet violence with violence that made things truly exciting and different from what had gone before.

There was never enough momentum in simple opposition to the rise in fees, especially as the government was savvy enough to bring the vote forward to the first possible opportunity to build any wider resistance to the cuts agenda, although as Mason sets out, those truly involved from the beginning have migrated since to the UK Uncut protests and potentially even to Tahrir square. The biggest failure however has been to build on that final student protest, hindered as it somewhat was by the level of violence and the attack on the Royal shagging wagon. This is partially because the middle and working class kids don't only lead separate lives offline; they also do online. They're all on Facebook and some are probably also on Twitter, although Twitter is certainly more bourgeois than Facebook, it's that politics as we do it is of little to no interest to them. Without wanting to generalise too much and pick on easy targets, something like Netroots is completely alien, as is the point scoring nature of so much of the discourse on Twitter. Even taking into account the unifying nature of having a common enemy like Mubarak, our middle class activists, these "graduates with no future" couldn't even begin to hope to rally the sort of mass support the 25th of January movement has marshalled seemingly effortlessly.

I don't pretend to have an answer as to how the two can meet, or what either side should be doing to even facilitate such a thing. We don't however yet know just how radicalised some are going to become as a result of the cuts. While as Sunny argues most battles against them are going to be fought locally, David Seymour is right in saying that the government and Cameron especially doesn't have a vision for what the country is going to look like by 2015: today's PMQs (yes, I too go off into alien territory) showed just how intellectually threadbare he is when challenged even slightly on the bullshit of the "big society". Egypt should teach us, as if we needed to be reminded, that the possibility of a brighter tomorrow that transcends the wider social dynamic is everything.

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Thursday, December 09, 2010 

Pure terror in her eyes (and a baton in her gob).

The protesters surely couldn't have believed their luck. There are coincidences and then there are the most fortuitous, incredible opportunities. To not have taken some sort of advantage from Prince Charles and Camilla travelling to the Royal Variety performance, their Rolls Royce lit up like a Christmas tree, presumably so they could wave to their adoring public as they went along Regent Street would have been even more criminal than what they did to the car. Right in front of them were the wonderful, obscene idiosyncrasies of our state: here was the future monarch, someone who has spent the vast majority of his life living off the taxpayer, having had everything handed to him purely as a result of accident of birth, being driven to a show which glorifies and celebrates the institution he will come to represent. Deference and patronage were brought into direct conflict with those who had just been told they would have to take on even more debt should they want to receive the same education that Charles' generation, as well as that of Cameron and Clegg, had provided for them free at the point of use.

Few photographs from this year are going to be as iconic as the one of Camilla, gob open so wide you could easily fit a police baton in there, reeling in shock at having her nice evening out shattered by a bunch of yobboes rampaging across central London. After all, that's the picture being painted by police, government and media of the end of today's protests, with the Met describing the levels of violence as "outrageous and increasing". They weren't, sadly, describing the actions of their own officers, who were as always making the most of the opportunity to swing their own weapons around, hitting the likes of Shiv Malik and others and then refusing to treat them or let them seek medical help outside the confines of the protest despite having been injured. Theresa May spoke of the wanton vandalism being committed, as though the government hadn't just done the equivalent of taking a hammer to the hopes and dreams of thousands of young people who simply can't face the prospect of having tens of thousands of pounds of debt hanging over them, even if they won't necessarily have to pay it back. Very few politicians seem to understand that so many disadvantaged youngsters know all about the realities of owing money, having seen their parents struggle to pay the bills, and desperately don't want to repeat the experience themselves. Absolutely nothing is more likely to put them off the idea of going to university.

Today's parliamentary debate and the vote that followed were great examples of just how distant politicians are from those they claim to represent. There was no need whatsoever for the coalition's implementation of the Browne report to be rushed in such a manner; it has been done purely for short-term political reasons rather than there being any great need to put the new funding scheme in place so hurriedly. As well as putting an end to the greatest source of embarrassment for the Liberal Democrats, the coalition knew full well that this threatened to be the issue around which the entire movement against the wider austerity measures coalesced. The urgency which the students and young have given to protests which could well have been helmed, organised and dominated entirely by the trade unions and wider labour movement has been remarkable, causing the government real concern over what could still be to come. Despite the overwhelmingly hostile media coverage, if anything the outbreaks of disorder on the marches have only increased the level of general awareness about what is being proposed, as well as inspiring sympathy when it has been children taking part in their first acts of political engagement who have been held against their will for hours in bitterly cold weather.

Having the vote this early was all about attempting to fracture this nascent movement. With the matter done and dusted, the establishment hope now must be that it will wither and die away, and there's no reason to suspect that anything other than that will happen. Far harder to shake will not just be the sense of betrayal many will feel at being lied to by the 34 Liberal Democrats who either voted for the opposite of what they promised or did the really cowardly thing and abstained, but also the reinforcement of the belief that politicians really are all the same. The very reason why so many were energised and encouraged by the Liberal Democrats during the general election campaign was because they seemed to offer a real, viable alternative to a tired, failed Labour government and to a Conservative party that seemed to think it deserved power purely on the basis that it was their turn to govern again. No amount of pathetic pleading that either the deficit or coalition compromises meant their policy on tuition fees was impossible to implement is going to make anyone believe a Lib Dem election pledge again.

We shouldn't incidentally let the slightly less egregious cynicism of the Labour party pass unmentioned, having commissioned the Browne report, and had they won the election would now be implementing it in almost exactly the same way as the government has. They have offered no real alternative other than the most vague outlines of a possible graduate tax, a policy which has just as many potential problems for university funding, even if it would arguably be the most fair way of paying for higher education in the long term. It's been that lack of almost anyone making the argument that education as a whole should be funded out of general taxation, a principle only recently abandoned, which has further reduced the feeling amongst those opposed to the changes that they're being even slightly represented in parliament, let alone elsewhere.

Just as 9/11 and the Iraq war were a political wake up call for those of my age, the last few months will have opened a whole lot more minds and eyes to the state we're in now. It's one where an opportunistic attack on the royals which involves more force than words is shameful, and where promises are quite literally not worth the paper they written on. It's also one where the new young urban working classes have combined with the middle class student agitators in common cause, in a showing of force which has truly given the powers that be a scare. And that is the way it should be, our legislators and representatives truly aware of the strength of feeling ranged against them. This could just be the beginning. Far more like is that it's the beginning of the end.

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