Tag Archives: g20

Nichola Fisher and the Max Clifford sausage factory

Unlike my distinctly unesteemed Assembly Member Brian Coleman, I am not in the business of claiming that a defenceless woman can somehow be in any way responsible for getting whacked round the legs by an armed policeman, and I can understand why Nichola Fisher may have felt the need to hire a publicist. But I can’t help but feel uncomfortable having watched her interview on BBC News.

It is clear that Clifford has decided to process her through his sausage factory, inside of which all his clients get a makeover so that the unaccountably all end up looking and speaking in exactly the same way. A pretty dress; hair tied back neatly; lip gloss that only seems to serve the purpose exposing her rather ragged teeth. She has been transformed from barbarian at the gates to English Rose. I think I understand the logic behind this rebranding exercise, but I surely can’t be the only one who questions whether presenting her as something she surely is not is either honest or particularly effective.

And then there is what she says. In the interview she presents herself as a total innocent. “If he had wanted me to move on, he could have asked politely” she says at one point. I’m sorry, but bollocks. She was at a protest and the film quite clearly shows her effing and blinding. I’m not for a second going to claim that she deserved getting punched and batoned to the floor, but it is quite clear she was there to cause a stink and to give the police a hard time.

Let’s not mount the victims of police violence on a pedestal. Ian Tomlinson was quite clearly not a living saint. And far from the dainty, shrinking wallflower she is currently presenting herself as, Fisher clearly knows how to look after herself. Presenting them in an idealised way is ultimately counter-productive and entirely plays to the prejudices of no marks like Letters from a Tory: specifically, that you can only be a victim of police violence if you live an entirely blameless life, dress neatly, go to bed early and behave like a model citizen (and ideally vote Conservative). Fisher doesn’t need to wash her hair to elicit my sympathy and I don’t like the implication that anyone who isn’t willing to play this media game somehow deserves what they get.

For an anti-globalisation protestor to so happily accept the services of spin in this way (regardless of whether she is making any money out of the deal or not), seems to betray a certain lack of awareness. Surely this sort of blatant media manipulation is the sort of thing she was protesting against?

Why is LabourList keeping silent about Tomlinson?

For the last week I’ve been critical of the rightwing blogosphere for its silence – up to the point when the Guardian revealed its video footage – about Ian Tomlinson’s death.

But there remains one other blog, which is broadly on the right but get desperately upset if you point that fact out, which has remained silent throughout. Indeed, with the Guardian story now nearly a week old it has continued to stay silent. That blog is LabourList.

What is most intriguing about this is that LabourList staffer Tom Miller has plenty to say about Tomlinson’s death – he just isn’t saying it on LabourList. Why? It isn’t as if he doesn’t contribute regularly – why is this topic off limits? By contrast The Fabians’ Next Left, which superficially you might think is just as insidery, has been commenting on the story at every stage.

Draper has spent most of the last weekend insisting to anyone who will listen that LabourList is independent of the party machine. Yet on this issue it seems to be more concerned about helpfully keeping schtum.

All this talk about ‘independence’ is a nonsense anyway. All that ‘independence’ tends to mean in politics is that it isn’t immediately apparent what one’s agenda is. It is a sign of how degraded our political discourse has become that so many people take ‘independent’ to mean ‘without agenda,’ which is why nonsenses like Jury Team get as far as they do (before self-destructing) every few years.

In the case of LabourList, ‘independent’ seems to mean ‘slavishly loyal, with the odd anti-New Labour rant to keep the proles happy, but not funded by the Labour NEC.’ I have to admit that Lib Dem Voice went through a period when it seemed afraid to be critical, but it has gratifyingly grown out of that stage. But will LabourList? Indeed, wasn’t that the whole point of it in the first place.

It will be interesting to see how long LabourList will keep up its new regimen of “ideas not smears” – thus far it has concentrated far too much on the latter and not enough on the former, as Peter Beckett on LabourList itself has pointed out.

So what is the LabourList analysis of what happened on 1 April? If they are serious about turning a new leaf, this would appear to be a good place to start.

Tory bloggers: they don’t like it up ‘em!

I was surprised by the size of the response I got to my post on Tuesday about the police treatment of Ian Tomlinson. The level of traffic to this site brought back memories of when people used to actually read this blog.

In terms of the people who have directly responded, they seem to fit into three categories. A number, including Thunder Dragon and Iain Dale, have unfussily expressed their concerns, and that is fair enough. Mr Eugenides offers a balanced response, rejecting some of my criticisms but accepting others.

It is fair to say that people had not had much of a chance to respond by 11-ish on Tuesday night, but this story has been rumbling on for several days. By last Thursday evening, less than 24 hours after Ian Tomlinson had died, the police’s earlier spin that their only involvement had been to try helping Mr Tomlinson whilst being pelted by bricks and bottles, lay in tatters. Yet this wasn’t picked up by any of the blogs I cited on Tuesday – although many of them were very exercised indeed about the treatment meted out by the police on The Adam Smith One, Eamonn Butler. To quote Dizzy:

I didn’t really care about a bunch of crusty hippies marching about London. I had a job to go too. People should get off their high horses and go fuck themselves.

… which is entirely my point. You do tend to lose any claim to moral authority if you openly admit that the death of a “crusty hippie” isn’t worth caring about (the view looks fine from up here, Dizzy, thanks so much for asking).

This brings me onto the third category – bloggers who are very angry at what I wrote but agree with every word. Dizzy is one. Letters From A Tory is another. LFAT’s response has been to explain how the police’s response may well turn out to have been entirely reasonable once we have established all the facts. Why? Because there is something entirely dubious about that Mr Tomlinson fella, and he was probably begging for it.

I paraphrase, but in his Wednesday post, he arguments consist of the following:

1. Tomlinson may not have been “attempting to get home from work” on the basis that he was wearing a football shirt. If he wasn’t “attempting to get home from work” by definition he can’t have been an “innocent bystander”.

2. (My favourite one) “The video said Ian was ‘walking away from them’ – this is outright deceit, in my opinion. Yes, he was physically facing the opposite direction but if you watch the video carefully you will see that he is deliberately antagonising the police by walking slowly right in front of them as the cordon tries to move people down the street.” Yes, that’s right. Walking in an “antagonising” manner is entirely deserving of police assault in LFAT’s tiny mind.

3. He got up again, so what’s the problem?

Now, following the Daily Mail revelations that Tomlinson may have been drunk, a triumphant LFAT has offered us the coup de grace. Apparently we are to believe that these photos are as revelatory as the Guardian video.

It’s almost too easy pointing out the stupidity of LFAT’s position – he’s done all the heavy lifting for me (the sad thing is, he seems to genuinely believe these are intelligent points to make), but let me spell it out:

Whether Tomlinson was a protestor or drunk or not is entirely irrelevant. Whether he was walking in an “antagonising” manner is entirely irrelevant (as a Londoner, I have to put up with people walking in front of me in an antagonising manner every single day). Ultimately, the fact that Tomlinson died of a heart attack is irrelevant in this context (except for the fact that it may make the difference between whether the policeman in question is guilty of manslaughter or common assault). The point is a policeman lashed out at him while his back was turned and his hands were in his pockets. In a civilised society, that is not acceptable under any circumstances. If you don’t actually agree with me on that point, I’m sorry, but you are utterly beneath contempt.

LFAT isn’t representative of the rightwing blogosphere in this respect, but lamentably he is not alone in suggesting that somehow Tomlinson was responsible for being attacked. I offer this fact merely as an observation of what we are up against.

Does the right really value freedom? The acid test.

I’m trying to sum up how I feel having watched the video on the Guardian website of Ian Tomlinson being bit by a policeman with a baton while he had his hands in his pockets and was walking away from them. I’d say anger, but I think the honest answer is: panic.

I watched it about 20 minutes ago and my heart is still racing. More than anything, it frightens me. That could have been me, minding my own business. If I had been tripped over in that way by a mob of coppers, however angry I might have been I would have been shitting myself. I think my heart could have taken it, but I don’t know. I have absolutely no interest of putting it to the test – and absolutely no way of preventing it from happening if I ever get unlucky. This is what it feels like to be afraid of the state.

I never did believe the initial police account, but it just seems to get worse and worse. What is clear from the video is the level of contempt at least some of the police regarded the demonstrators (and in this case, even innocent bystanders). And when it blows up in their faces? They invoke the law of the playground: however much you might be in the wrong, never snitch. Even worse, they use their considerable PR machine to spread lies about the conduct of the protestors. This has happened again and again in the past; we know what they’re like. And yet, with the honourable exception of the Guardian, the silence from most of the media has been deafening.

But parts of the blogosphere has been notably silent as well. I’ve just scanned the rightwing/libertarian blogs I could think of off the top of my head: Iain Dale, Guido, Coffee House, Comment Central, Dizzy Thinks, Conservative Home, Libertarian Party UK, Is there more to life than shoes, Telegraph Blogs, the Adam Smith Institue blog, Douglas Carswell, Nadine Dorries…* The top story on the Freedom Association blog at the moment is about the police handling of the G20 protests, complaining at the ignomious treatment of… the Adam Smith Institute Director who was questioned by police (numerous other of the aforementioned blogs have singled this incident out too – this is the martyr of 1/4 as far as they are concerned).

I’m not for a second suggesting that if you don’t blog about this you don’t care, but taken as a whole this is quite striking. These blogs obsessively complain about every possible infringement of the liberties of the affluent and articulate middle classes, yet when a blameless man in a dirty t-shirt dies not a single one of them has asked a question. Four hours since the Guardian released that video, not a single one has mentioned it. Daniel Finklestein, who chose to single out the Lib Dem MPs who were acting as monitors atthe protests, has been keeping mum.

When they’ve shouted about Damien Green or David Davis, I have tended to their side, and not been afraid to argue with lefties who can be eye-wateringly tribalist. Damien Green’s treatment was unacceptable. David Davis’ stance was honourable. But it is clearer than ever now that I could never expect an ounce of solidarity in return. Over the last few days, I’ve been given a salient demonstration of quite what the right really thinks about freedom in this country.

* In the interests of fairness, it should be pointed out that LabourList has been resolutely silent on this topic as well, but it is very much not representative of the left in that respect (indeed in any respects – can it even legitimately be defined as leftwing?).

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…