Monthly Archives: April 2009

To prevent a riot, it was necessary to cause one

Very busy at the moment and haven’t had time to sit down and really work out what I think about the police handling of the protests on Wednesday. So instead, here are a few random links. First, an eye witness account by Tom Brake:

Danny Finkelstein thoroughly disapproved of Brake and company doing this, as Stephen Tall relates.

Justin McKeating has a number of useful links on the subject.

John O’Connor meanwhile makes the case for the police.

As for my own view? John O’Connor’s article made my blood boil. What it amounts to is a refutation of the right to protest. At all. His argument is that the police should always engage in “massive overkill” because it prevents potential injury and damage to property. It is a defence that can, and increasingly is, used to justify everything. Jack Bauer with a truncheon. The fact that it causes inconvenience and even distress on the 95%+ of the people who are there for peaceful reasons is treated with disdain.

Let’s not forget that the police have been hyping the 1 April protests for weeks; indeed they were telling anyone who would listen that the violence would break out on the 28 March demos. This is, they are set on telling every journalist they can get their hands on, is the start of a “summer of rage.”

This media advance hype appeared to only serve two very negative purposes. The first was to scare people away. That means that the thugs make up a greater proportion of the crowd. As a casual observer, I have no evidence of this, but it does appear that violence in protests tends to break out either when the protest is small or when a breakaway faction goes off the beaten path. The larger a demonstration, the more peaceful it tends to be. Is it police policy to take steps to ensure that protests are small and violent as opposed to large and peaceful?

The other factor, and again I am no social scientist so view this with caution, is to question whether such media coverage actually incites violence. Ben Goldacre pointed to research into this regarding suicide last week. Charlie Brooker’s Newswipe pointed to research at how media coverage incites school shootings. This is all becoming quite well understood in other areas. To what extent are the police and their media collaborators actually inciting the violence they are “warning” us of?

This is an issue the Police Complaints Committee and the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee ought to be looking into.

Finally, rightly or wrongly, a man died. Again, rightly or wrongly, thousands of people had their liberties restricted. Just why is it that the Damien Green affair generated weeks of headlines while the best most newspapers seem to be able to do is put out misleading accounts (several now withdrawn) reminiscent of the Sheffield Hillsborough Sun coverage claiming that the protestors hurled bricks and bottles at the police trying to help the dying man? Why the fuck are Parliamentarians and journalists (plenty of notable exceptions, yes, but I suspect they would be the first to agree with me in the generality) not doing their fucking jobs?

But look! Doesn’t Michelle Obama look sensational in that dress! Ooh! And JK Rowling read excerpts from her childrens book to a bunch of politicians’ wives – all over 40…

Does the London Mayoralty drive people mad?

Watching Boris Johnson’s appalling behaviour in front of a Parliamentary Select Committee today, I was reminded of someone else: Ken Livingstone circa 2006. The idea of Boris Johnson complaining about partisan attacks is simply too ironic to countenance. This was 2 April, not the day before.

Is there something about the role that makes you a bumptious, vainglorious ass with molecule-thick skin, or is it an entry level requirement in the first place? The jury is out on that one I suspect. Certainly, while the jolly “LOOK AT HIS FUNNEEE HAIR!” HIGNIFY-crafted demeanour of “Bozza” always was manufactured to a certain extent. But I can’t help but wonder if the role itself does reinforce such a mindset.

London Mayors (indeed all directly elected English Mayors) work under a system that gives them almost unchallengable power. To overturn a decision, the Assembly/Council needs to amass a two-thirds majority and the mayor can usually expect at least a third of the council to be of his party. Even independents are pretty safe because the chances of getting the main parties to agree a line are relatively low. On the odd occasion that Livingstone didn’t get his own way, he used to throw appalling tantrums. Johnson doesn’t have to worry about that in the London Assembly, but a Labour-dominated select committee is another story.

If it has taken him just a year before he finds the merest criticism intolerable, what will he be like in another two? And if it has taken him just this long before getting sucked in, how long will it take his successor? Will London even still be standing by then?