In its first two years, the Little Green Gathering has become a much respected discussion space and meeting zone for the Green Party and the wider movement. It’s organiser, Tim Dawes, is now the Party chair. I was pleased to attend this year’s gathering. One of the panels I spoke on was titled, “Where is Occupy going?” It turns out that this discussion was filmed by a friend of one of the other panellists, Melanie Strickland. Call me short-sighted but I did not realise we were being filmed properly until part-way through the discussion. Call me old-fashioned but I think you should ask before you film someone. After the gathering ended, Ms Strickland contacted me to ask if it was alright for her friend Pete to upload the film to YouTube. I agreed.
I’d like to think it was an accident but the filming has cut out my best line. Having made my prefatory speech, explaining the difficulties that the Occupy the London Stock Exchange camp had in making simple decisions (For example, where people might sit when having a meeting!), I said, “This isn’t what democracy looks like, it’s what a fucking shambles looks like.” This line is missing from the video. The video maker has also edited out the rest of my speech. Missing is the part where I pointed that a movement begun by an advertising guru (Adbusters) had degenerated into a branding exercise, with the result that people merely attached the word ‘occupy’ to pretty much anything in the expectation that the consumerist rebels would simply support whatever they were up to and goodbye to political analysis. Well, words to that effect. We can’t know precisely what I said because it has been cut out. Normally when something is cut, there is some sort of explanation of the cut on the film. Omitting such explanations raises questions about the film-makers political integrity.
Call me vain but had I known I was going to be filmed, I’d have dressed differently. I’d have dressed to hide my fatness. Let’s be honest, being fat is disgusting. In my case it isn’t genetic. It is beer. Beer, chocolate, crisps, butter and cheese. Watching these clips have once more inspired me to cut them out. Later on I’ll be heading over to East Brighton to help Carlie Goldsmith’s election campaign (she’s the Green Party candidate in a by-election there) but sod it, I’ll walk rather than get the bus. Did the same yesterday. As a round trip, it’s only about six and a half miles. Time for a video.
I’m not used to speaking with a microphone. Looking at this, I realised I should have taken it out of the stand, instead of hunching over it. All my public speaking has been delivered with the power of my voice alone. I did start like that but there were some people who wanted to listen but they also wanted to sit just outside the large tent we were in. Honestly, some people are just plain awkward.
Next up was Ms Strickland. Perhaps she was thrown by my deconstruction of Occupy? Perhaps she thought that I was just going to be another uncritical bedfellow? Perhaps she didn’t realise the nature of the Gathering? Whatever the reason, I thought she began badly by being overly defensive and, worse, preaching at the audience about ills they were already very familiar with. This wasn’t ‘preaching to the converted’, this was boring them into the ground. Then she trotted out OccupyLSX’s initial statement, which few on the Left can disagree with but doesn’t include any form of road map of how to get anywhere. After that her these fell apart altogether. Don’t take my word for it, take hers:
Next up was George Barda. You can listen to him ramble on if you really like listening to this sort of thing but I would just point out that pinning labels on those you disagree with doesn’t actually amount to a political argument. Us Greens have fought shy of this tactic. Four minutes into this clip, you can hear Mr Barda making the outlandish claim that the British Empire was “very polite in its repression.” This is absolute crap. The British armed forces slaughtered their way around the world and, when they met resistance, peaceful or otherwise, our authorities turned to the gun. I’d like to see Mr Barda rock up in India or Ireland or any number of other places and see how long he can hold a stage after making a remark like that. Frankly, it was ignorant to the point of being offensive. With this detail on hand, you can see why I already wrote an account this debate and urged the Green Party not to allow George Barda to become one of its candidates.
Then we got to the questions and answers. In the next clip you get to hear me in full flow refuting the nonsense of the Freemen on the Land brigade…
Back to Melanie. Does she even realise that she is speaking to an audience of hardened political activists? We were not many in number but the collective experience she spoke to was massive. Yet, she waffles on about what campaigning methods work best. Hello? Did I just reboot myself and require completely re-education? Then it’s back to George. The hand signals walkthrough is useful but I was always baffled by Occupy’s blank refusal to make use of tried, tested and widely adopted silent gestures, such as nodding and shaking heads. The problem with the hand signals is that they block out the view of the people behind, which is annoying sometimes, particularly if you’re trying to video a speech to share with the world, or lip read.
Still reading/watching? Personally, having got this far, I’m losing the will to live. Here’s Melanie again, talking about the difficulties of organising a democratic group without actually using a democratic voting system. Talk about making life unnecessarily complicated!
Just in case you think I am urging a completely negative view of Occupy, here I am being positive about it. A little bit.
Be snappier, Duncan, that’s what I’m thinking about myself. This last clip includes Tim Dawes (in a high vis jacket).
The following is the text of an email which I have sent to Karen Todnor, of Kaim Todnor Solicitors, London, in support of her nomination of John Cooper QC for the Bar Pro Bono award.
I’m delighted to support your nomination of John Cooper QC for the Bar Pro Bono Award for his work with ‘Occupy the London Stock Exchange’ (OccupyLSX). It is difficult to imagine how anyone could have given more time, worked harder or brought greater experience to that cause.
I first instructed Mr Cooper on the night of 15th October 2011, when OccupyLSX was only a few hours old and still surrounded by hundreds of police, some of whom had been violent towards the protestors. He accepted my instructions immediately and kept in close contact from that point on, day and night. There can be no doubt that his conspicuous role contributed to the manner in which the City of London Corporation dealt with us protestors. His involvement generated much publicity with the result that the City’s officials knew that we were being properly advised. They knew that there would be inevitable and costly consequences had they misbehaved.
When St Paul’s Cathedral closed its doors to worshippers, we invited Mr Cooper to an on site conference. At the conclusion of our meeting in a crudely constructed tent pitched next to the outside walls of the Cathedral and next door to a kitchen feeding thousands, Mr Cooper said to his clerk, “this is by far and away the most unusual location I’ve ever conducted a conference in!” The circumstances were more unusual still. Mr Cooper’s guidance led to the Cathedral reopening its doors somewhat shamefacedly a few days later, without having affected the protest at all.
All too often in these sorts of situations, the police simply pile in without thought for life and limb. Although the encampment was eventually moved on, it was done so according to the law. That was thanks to Mr Cooper’s involvement. Mr Cooper fought both the eviction trial and the subsequent appeal pro bono. Without his commitment to justice, there would have been no trial, no due process and nothing but more trouble. This is no exaggeration: other lawyers, who have traditionally helped such causes pro bono, backed away from the camp, in the case of two firms at the very last moment. Whether that was down to their own resources or some other factor I cannot say. However, with Mr Cooper it was different. From the moment he accepted my instructions, his commitment was unwavering. Throughout his time representing Occupy London he was steadfast, detailed in his attention and utterly charming, despite some very challenging circumstances.
Having myself previously chaired the Free Representation Unit, I believe I understand what distinguishes a commitment to pro bono work for the sake of principle as compared to for the sake of a curriculum vitae or some paltry fashion. Occupy London chewed through countless hours of Mr Cooper’s time on a near weekly basis. When it wasn’t weekly, it was daily. We were not easy clients to deal with; we were fickle, we were administratively inefficient at times, we were operating at the fringe of conventional politics and law. Despite all these difficulties, Mr Cooper simply stepped up to the challenge as if he was merely walking up the front steps of a courthouse.
An indirect consequence of Mr Cooper’s work for Occupy London has been that a large number of people, who would otherwise have remained disenfranchised from the ordinary processes of law and, to greater or lesser extents, civil society, have been properly introduced to them instead, with beneficial consequences for all.
George Barda is a much respected activist, who shot to fame with last year’s Occupy London protests. He spent weeks camping in St Paul’s Churchyard and when the City of London Corporation took legal action to evict the protest, he put himself forward as a litigant in person so that he could mount a completely different defence from the one organised by the camp as a whole. Regular readers will know that I camped out on the cobblestones too and set up the legal team which mounted the official camp defence.
Tim Dawes is the founder of the Green Party‘s summer school/festival, the Little Green Gathering, and is about to become Chair of the party. He invited Mr Barda, Melanie Strickland and myself to debate where Occupy is going at the Gathering this year. Apparently one of Ms Strickland’s friends filmed the debate; I expect that video will go online at some point.
I confess that prior to going I had formed a false impression of Mr Barda as being something of a time waster, principally because his eviction defence case was mounted on political rather than legal principles. Essentially, his case was that the thrust of Occupy’s protest was specifically about the inequality in the world and that, therefore, the encampment in the City of London was entitled to remain in situ because of the scale of the problem. That appeared to be his interpretation of the meaning of the legal term proportionality. My view was that this was a political position rather than one which fell within the current remit of English law. Evidently, the City of London Corporation lawyers were confident that Mr Barda’s case was irrelevant to the legal issues which the court had to decide. We know this because they didn’t trouble themselves with a cross-examination of one of Mr Barda’s principal witnesses, Professor Richard Wilkinson, the co-author of The Spirit Level and founder of the Equality Trust. I had the privilege of being Professor Wilkinson’s lodger for about a year, a decade ago. Consequently, I’m very familiar with both his work and the very considerable effort he devotes to fighting the good fight. As you might expect, he tries to use his valuable time wisely and to best effect. Calling him to be a witness in a trial of issues to which he was an irrelevant witness was a waste of valuable time.
We don’t want a legal system which makes political decisions. We may want to change the law by political means so that it allows protest encampments to stay longer wherever they want or we may not but the notion that a judge can make a decision of that sort runs completely contrary to the spirit and intent of our current laws. Mr Barda briefly studied law, although he quit his degree and changed to philosophy, so perhaps he can be forgiven for misunderstanding the role of the court.
Before our debate began, he & I discussed Occupy London and the camp in the church yard in particular. I was surprised to find that he readily agreed with my analysis that the camp had degenerated into the worst kind of nightmare, with entrenched serious social problems and a futility of purpose. Incredibly, he told me that he didn’t want to win his legal case, recognising that the remaining activists had been overwhelmed by people who had little interest in political protest and that only a miracle had saved them from something extremely serious or even grave befalling them. Yet, despite agreeing with me that the camp should have set itself an exit date and not wanting the High Court to stay the eviction, he seemed to be very angry that the judges had not agreed with his case. Surely this is contradictory? He also acknowledged that not only was the Green Party the only UK political party which lent its support to the movement in its infancy but also that the party’s policy platform was something which every activist could support. He went further and said he would like to join the party. He even expressed an interest in standing for election as a Green Party candidate.
Without rehearsing all of the debate, I spoke first and argued that Occupy was going nowhere except into the history books where it rightly has a laudable place. In particular, I praised it for reintroducing and reinventing the language of the class struggle in modern parlance, so that once more it was acceptable to employ this basic Marxist principle without being an extremist. I pointed out that on 15th October 2011, 971 Occupations came into being around the world simultaneously and thereby proved, for the first time, that a high degree of internationally coordinated action was possible. On the negative side, I explained how early decisions about the movements so-called decision making process (consensus) frustrated decision making and led to degeneration. On the factual side I reported that a protest which began with 5,000 people and attracted thousands every day for a month, only garnered hundreds for the second month and by the third month was mostly only seeing 50 attend its general assemblies. Immediately prior to attending the gathering, I watched some of Occupy London’s general assembly videos and told the audience how few people they included.
Despite our earlier conversation, Mr Barda’s gasps during my speech revealed that he had not anticipated me criticising Occupy so intensely. Perhaps he expected me to be more loyal, given the amount of work I did for the cause? When he stood to speak he bought a little time by stooping to the old trick of accusing me of spouting a Daily Mail narrative and being stuck in an adversarial approach. I find that most people who don’t know how to counter an argument with me pray in aid the fact of my previous barristerial career to somehow strengthen their hand. They don’t seem to know that it was a second career. I worked the streets before that but the people using this piece of sophistry never make a comment along the lines of me abusing them with rough street talk.
Mr Barda denied that Occupy had expired as a mass movement, that the general assemblies were down to the tens in number or that there had been anything like the number of social problems with the encampment that I had described. At the time, I decided not to call him out on his earlier conversation because it would have felt like humiliating him. He’s a nice fellow, a really nice fellow. He’s intelligent, hard working and is keen to develop strategies which are successful. Sitting on the stage, listening to him defend Occupy, I felt a little sorry for him, struggling as he was with the confusion between what he had said to me thirty yards away outside the tent and what he wanted to say on a little stage. Nevertheless, the contributions from both Mr Barda and Ms Strickland were firmly rooted in the past tense. This was no ordinary festival audience but a crowd of committed activists, who are well informed and able to distinguish one argument from another very readily. I’m sure that they were able to tell the difference between someone claiming that something has a future and only talking about its past.
I cannot see the point of Mr Barda’s approach. Why fight a court case you don’t want to win? Why readily enthuse that Occupy failed and was heading for disaster to me and then make a conspicuous speech accusing me of being right-wing and defending the movement’s everlasting glory? There is a word for this behaviour. It’s not a very nice word. Hypocritical.
I’ve hesitated long before posting this account of the debate but, after much reflection, I’ve decided to call Mr Barda out on this attitude. We’ve had a lot of problems lately in the Brighton & Hove Green Party because one of our councillors made various promises to us when she was asking to be selected as one of our election candidates but after her election she consistently broke them and broke faith with the party. I am, of course, talking about Christina Summers. Our local party has convened a disciplinary panel which is in the midst of a series of meetings with and about her. Whatever the panel’s decision, there is a very large number of local members who have declared that they will petition for her expulsion. Throughout all of this, we’ve been taking a hard look at ourselves, our constitution and our selection procedure for candidates. At our social gatherings we enjoy partying but as a party we take our politics very seriously indeed. We intend to deliver what we promise. It seems likely that we will be researching candidates much more thoroughly in future, to prevent a recurrence of this debacle.
I hope Mr Barda does join the Green Party but I’m not sure that he’s ready yet to stand as one of our candidates. Occupy was typified by all kinds of claims, by contradictory positions and by confusion at every level. The Green Party isn’t like that at all. A common sentiment from long standing Occupy activists is that their struggle may take decades to complete. The Green Party is alarmed that recent scientific analysis reports that policy decisions in the next five years will irrevocably shape the planet’s climate. We haven’t even got one decade. This urgency means that we can’t risk wasting time. We have to be honest with people about this and everything else.
Hardly a day goes by without a reference to the most famous prisoner in London, Julian Assange. For many months he advertised himself as being imprisoned, when he was actually living, courtesy of Vaughn Smith in accommodation so luxurious that many would gladly commit serious crimes to obtain it. In fact, many of us regard living in a country pile that grand, when others sleep on the streets, as a crime in itself. Instead of lying low, Mr Assange had relentlessly made use of the high profile organisation he founded, Wikileaks, to campaign for his personal cause and in the process did much damage to the noble cause he once promoted.
This blog has long carried links at its foot to wikileaks and its mirrors. That’s not going to change – the organisation he founded is larger than Assange, though it might not seem so at the moment.
Bolsheviks whispering in public
The revelation of secret material is a just cause. Though the Bolsheviks have been rightly maligned by history, one of the main motivations for every foreign nation which had dealt with the Tsars declaring outright hostility to them from the start was that they published all Russia’s secret treaties. They proved that they could not be trusted. Of course, that meant that it became difficult to establish new alliances on the quiet. For a while at least. The lesson was well learnt, by radicals and moderates alike. Keep Mum and keep your friends. Blow your cover and blow your cool. However, whilst clandestine dealings may be a necessary evil, it is an evil which must nevertheless be challenged. All evil needs to be challenged and anything which harms us ordinary folk to the benefit of the rich is evil. The Bolsheviks were right to publish the treaties but stupid to do it themselves.
Belgrano’s last journey.
That’s where the inappropriately named Wikileaks comes in. It told us what we might otherwise only truly hope discover in the generations to come, if our various civil services or Judges sitting on Freedom of Information requests deemed the information was practically worthless. Who cares to find out now that Thatcher was truly angry about some stuff she appeared to be angry about at the time? What mattered during her reign of terror was that her government lied to the House of Commons about the reason for the sinking of the Argentinian battleship, the Belgrano. They said it was within the UK’s self-declared exclusion zone around the Falkland Islands and sailing towards them with apparently maliciously intent. We didn’t have Wikileaks back then but we did have one incredibly brave senior civil servant, Clive Ponting, who risked life imprisonment to tell us the truth: the ship was well outside the zone and sailing away. Mr Ponting lost his job, kept his liberty (against all expectations and a judge’s explicit instructions to a jury) and ruined the government’s credibility. Properly speaking, he allowed us all to call the government to account.
Bradley Manning is accused of passing the US diplomatic cables to Wikileaks
The people who take these risks are few and far between. The are brave or reckless, depending on your point of view. For far too long we’ve relied on disloyal souls like Ponting or Trotsky to break with tradition. Wikileaks mission was to provide a platform for people to share secrets without sticking their own necks into the noose. (Bradley Manning was apparently only caught because he confessed to a colleague.) It was inevitable that whoever could be identified with Wikileaks would run into serious trouble sooner or later. Assange headed for Sweden to avoid such trouble but his womanising proved to be his undoing. Having outsmarted the world’s authorities for so long, Assange’s decision to flee Sweden for London is as baffling as it was stupid. Why didn’t he go to Iceland?
Most unusually in such cases, the Swedish authorities released the statements of the two women who accused Assange of rape and sexual molestation. A British newspaper published them in its print edition. I read them and formed my own opinion of whether they could be easily attacked in a courtroom in cross-examination. My own professional opinion on the matter is irrelevant. The only relevant opinion is that of a Swedish criminal court, having heard all the evidence in a properly conducted trial. Incidentally, I now cannot find any web page in any British newspaper which contains these statements but I have a distinct recollection of reading them and their contents. Similar versions are easy to find online though, generally in unusual places such as here.
Unfortunately, there’s far too many people involved in the whole debate who appear unable to stick to plain facts. On one side, we have people who either support Assange or oppose American style corporate hegemony whenever they can, regardless of the merits of the issue at stake. On the other side, we see those who dislike the hacker’s original poster boy intensely and much of the established media, who have been embarassed by the apparent ease by which this startling character has scooped them out of existence for years. Much of the debate is characterised by mud slinging. We are left with the impression that both Assange and his detractors prefer to continue in that manner, rather than let their high profiles slip out of public sight for an instant, despite having little to add to debate.
Assange’s supporters have essentially aped his own party line, which is that he has been unjustly imprisoned, is the victim of a conspiracy to smear him and faces eventual extradition to the USA and the death penalty. His critics call him everything under the sun and accuse him of undermining women’s rights by refusing to face trial in Sweden on sex charges. Whilst both camps may rightly claim veracity in their causes, the arguments have now degenerated into little more than name calling. Pretty much the same thing happened to John Wilkes, whom we now remember mostly for allowing us to hear what happened in the House of Commons, rather than his disgusting sexual behaviour.
Unless Assange is arrested or manages to escape London, there can be little more news in this story. Anyone who has done what Assange has done is likely to fear for their lives. The US has form for killing people without trial, in all sorts of places. Plenty of it. He’s likely to live in the Ecuadorean embassy in London for a quite a while. Doubtless, he will be happy to hold court there, safe in the knowledge that he can live unmolested.
If you were in his shoes, you might well also be hiding in a flat in Knightsbridge, swapping insults on twitter and descending into increasingly petty disputes. How many people alive today have challenged the US so successfully? How many ‘Westerners’ are heroes across the Arab world? How many of us manage to maintain an even keel when under even half as much extraordinary pressure?
When Assange turned up on the first day of Occupy London, the 5,000 people gathered to make camp that night cheered him as he called for the “construction of law” (2:00 onwards in my video, where Julian Assange complains about the evasion of law). It is difficult to square that statement with his apparent manipulation of the legal process for his own selfish ends. Make no mistake about it, that is exactly what he has done. Rape and sexual molestation are extremely serious allegations. For years such crimes were not taken seriously by a world dominated by excessively powerful men. It has taken years of struggle to change that situation. We now know that Assange was making arrangements for his present asylum many months ago, whilst still apparently complying with the UK’s legal process. Why did he bother? Why didn’t he just jump ship sooner? No sensible or serious British lawyer could possibly have advised him that he stood a chance of avoiding extradition to Sweden by legal means.
We are driven to the conclusion that having lived so much of his life in the limelight, he is now heavily addicted to it. He has stood on many stages. There were the days when he appeared in an Australian courtroom as a teenage hacker, his years of mocking US power, to English courtrooms and now a posh balcony with the world’s media baying at his feet.
If his political skill matched his technical prowess, he would resign from Wikileaks to allow it to continue fighting the good fight without being tarnished by association with him. Lots of people resign their posts while they clear their names or flee justice. The time has come for Assange to follow their examples.
Last night I attended a meeting of Green councillors in Brighton & Hove. As a party member I have a constitutional right to attend these meetings. Since the party has won power in the City, they have had much to discuss which for very good legal reasons must remain confidential. Consequently, part of each meeting is now held in private. Following my post on the last occasion I attended one of these meetings, there was evident unease about my presence in the room.
With an injured foot, I walked several miles to get to the meeting. My hobbling was slower than expected and I was a little late. When I arrived I found the Green councillors listening to a lengthy sermon by Anthea Ballam. She’s a long standing Green Party activist who commands much respect, attention and affection both inside and outside the party. She’s also an interfaith minister. That means she’s a sort of freelance religious speaker. She’ll rock up at anything and talk nicely about whatever faith is required. For some reason beyond my ken, our local Green councillors wanted to listen to her at such length last night that they couldn’t complete all the business on their agenda. The issues pushed off the timetable by this religious episode were really serious. If they want to listen to preachers, can they not find space and time in their own lives, rather than derailing a political meeting to do it?
Ms Ballam’s 40 minute sermon concentrated on bigging up the contribution to the community by the religious folk in the City, declaring that the Green councillors were all in their flock and the dangerous nature of atheism. One of her constant themes was that all atheists are white middle class opportunists attacking their own community. She spoke at length about the resurgence of atheism post 9/11, describing it as a sudden and convenient phenomenon and driven entirely by white male middle class intellectuals. She detailed the crimes crimes committed by communist regimes. This was not an inclusive sermon, this was a blatant attack on non-believers. She focused her conclusions on a very wise and oft-tended religious theme: forgiveness.
Regular readers will know that I set up the part of the legal team in Occupy London which defended the encampment from eviction. Due to its location in St Paul’s Churchyard, we attracted a very high number of religious activists. By the time I quit the scene (in mid-December, when it became clear that Occupy was incapable of any form of strategic or political decision making), the whole thing had descended into a daily round of religious competition. I made friends with many of these folk. Some of them have been particularly effective activists. Some of them less so. I was very clear with all of them about my atheism. Nevertheless, I was repeatedly asked to join interfaith meetings. I’ll never forget one Church of England vicar, Adrian, the very spit of the holy men featured in the old Hammer House of Horror B-movies, declaring, “Atheists are welcome too!“, and shaking my hand in a vice grip so powerful I felt I might never type again.
Occupy may not have been very good at politics but it was excellent at social inclusivity. One of my new found friends, Tanya Paton, recently organised an activist’s pilgrimage to Canterbury. She also organised the already legendary Sermon on the Steps (my video at that link). So many preachers stood in line to speak on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral that in the end they had to be turned away. 22 spoke in all. There were priests, vicars, imams, hindus, buddhists, pagans and yes, atheists too. Hell, there was even a Satanist! This extraordinary demonstration of unity across all the faiths and with those of none pushed the Bishop of London, Dr Chartres to change his attitude to us. He came to talk the following day (another video) and spent a considerable amount of time with us.
When Ms Ballam spoke of the need for forgiveness, she had the air of a school teacher lecturing a whole class, admonishing them about the risks of a collective crime not yet committed. To say it was heavy handed is being generous. Clearly, she wasn’t asking people to forgive atheists. She was very specific. She was asking people to forgive religious folk for anything they had done to offend the body politic. Although she had been invited to the meeting weeks ago, the context was strikingly clear.
Four days previously, Green Councillor Christina Summers had broken with party policy and her specific promises to her colleagues and voted against a motion in favour of single gender civil marriage rights. The motion was was brought to a full council meeting by the Labour Party, after the government’s consultation period on the issue had ended. In fact, Brighton & Hove City Council had already made a formal submission to the government on the matter, supporting the right of gays and lesbians to be allowed to enter such marriages. The submission was supported by all three parties on the council: Green, Labour and Conservative. Since there are currently no independent councillors, that meant the entire council already supported the motion. Labour Party sources claim that the motion was brought to show the unity of the council but they must have realised that Summers would vote against it and this would create trouble for the Greens. Fair enough. That’s politics.
Summers’ vote sparked a fire storm of anger inside the Green Party. I’ve been conspicuous in calling for her expulsion from the party. Many people support that call, including many of our councillors; they’ve confirmed this in private. The biggest view is that she should be expelled from the Green Group of councillors. A small minority feel that she should be allowed to continue as a member uninhibited by any disciplinary action whatsoever and free to promote her fundamentalist view of Christianity from her political office.
Although in my recent posts on Summer’s outlandish behaviour have concentrated on her religious motivation, that is not the cause of the anger inside the party. Personally, I wish it was. I would like my party to be a party of science, to draw its policies from evidence based learning and leave it at that. However, I am not a member of an atheist party, far from it.
The problem begins and ends with Summers’ political relationship with her councillor colleagues. She didn’t attend last night’s meeting but she has spoken to the local rag, the Brighton Argus, to whom she declared that she does not consider herself accountable first and foremost to her party. That is a big problem. Political parties can only operate successfully if there is a loyalty between their members and, in particular, loyalty to the platform their members are elected on. Without that, they cannot hope to obtain credibility with the electorate.
The Greens have positively encouraged diversity of opinion. Thus, I am free to write about whatever I like on this blog and still welcomed in the party. Frankly, after life in the Labour Party, it can feel very odd to find people I’ve heavily criticised choosing to go to the pub with me, chatting amiably about the issues that divide us and those that don’t and all the rest of it. No-one is ever ostracised for their views in our party. Those attitudes just don’t run in the Green blood. The problem is not concerned with Summer’s views, the precise nature of her faith or her religious motivation. The problem is that she has been elected to represent voters under the Green Party banner but has voted against party policy in strict breach of a written contract with the party which she signed.
Her view appears to be that she takes a different interpretation of the contract. Being a lawyer, I know that there is often room for interpretation of such things. However, the proper interpretation of the contract is clearly understood to sit with our party policy. We were the first mainstream party to declare support for ‘gay marriages’. Our record on such issues is impeccable, widely respected and very dear to us. This isn’t a side issue. It is one of our core policies. Before being accepted as a candidate, Summers was specifically asked by a formal party panel whether in the event of a conflict between her conscience and party policy she would vote with her conscience. She told the panel that she would vote with party policy. Assuming that she thought better of that agreement afterwards, she could have absented herself from the vote on Thursday. She could have abstained. Instead she turned up, made a speech and voted against every other councillor in the City!
After Ms Ballam’s sermon concluded, the Green councillors voted to exclude me from the meeting. Properly speaking the vote was to exclude people who were not members of the ‘Green Group of Councillors’. However, some others were allowed to remain. I understand the reasons for their inclusion. Without saying who they were and although annoyed at their privileges, I’m pleased that they were there. The issue on the table was Summers’ vote and the consequence. The motion being discussed was whether she should face any discipline from the party. The reason for the exclusion of myself and other party members was to prevent any report of the ensuing discussion to leak out. The councillors were considering whether to trigger a disciplinary panel. By excluding me, they prevented any risk of that panel being prejudiced by what I might write. That is absolutely right and proper. Anyone facing such a panel must have a fair hearing.
When the excluded were invited back into the room, we were informed that the Green councillors had decided to call Christina Summers to a disciplinary panel. It’s not actually called that, it’s called a Panel of Inquiry. That’s what our constitution calls it but everyone knows what it means. The panel members are also chosen by our constitutional rules. Summers must have realised that this would happen, when she cast her vote.
Update: the Brighton & Hove Green Party made an official statement on the matter, about four hours after this post was published. Here it is:
After a meeting of the Green Group of Councillors on Brighton & Hove City Council last night (Monday July 23, 2012), deputy convenor Councillor Phelim Mac Cafferty said, “Following the recent vote by Councillor Christina Summers on equal marriage [at a session of Brighton & Hove City Council], Green councillors met on Monday evening 23 July and requested that the party’s official inquiry process be initiated to ensure a fair, speedy and transparent outcome.
“It is for the inquiry panel to determine if any further action may be needed and it wouldn’t be appropriate to say any more at this stage.”
This is a process governed by the party’s constitution to ensure the rights of all party members are protected.
Yesterday I discussed the evolution of the policing of political protests, particularly in Brighton, noting that much improvement had been made but that there was still a considerable distance to go before the police performed their job properly in this regard. Today’s post is concerned with the tactics of those who would turn various public political events into a physical fighting ground for Their Revolution. Sometimes the established media calls these people Anarchists but that’s a slur on some of our greatest philosophers and some of my best friends. The people I’m discussing are just thugs really and, frankly, there isn’t a great deal of difference between them and the various fascist and racist groupings which they love to hate the most.
Not everyone who acts violently is a thug. Sometimes it is necessary, in self-defence or the defence of others. This is not only recognised in law but also our culture generally and rightly so. Therefore any discussion of violence by the public, as opposed to the police, at political events is fraught with complication. Clearly, there are more numerous occasions than would be appropriate to mention in a short blog post like this when the police have either started the violence or deliberately created situations where it would become inevitable and people have reacted accordingly. The most infamous example in recent times was the Poll Tax Riot of 1991 in London. This video is contains a record of how the day’s events unfolded and is narrated by some the demonstration’s organisers:
I wasn’t in London that day but I knew plenty people who were. The chronology of events described in that video and others like it (better ones, which I couldn’t locate this morning) prove beyond doubt the culpability of the police that day and the complete lack of investigative journalism by the mainstream media at the time. Regardless of the inflammatory policing before the events narrated from 22m onwards, anyone caught in or near the path of the police vans driving at speed directly into the crowd was, in my clear opinion, legally fully entitled to attack the vans, their drivers and supporting police in self-defence and the defence of others. Of course, at the time, the press coverage was such that the courts took a different view.
With the benefit of hindsight, the view that the police started the riot that day is generally accepted. This scenario has been so common and its consequences so serious that any discussion along the lines of today’s post can too easily be taken as a criticism of all unruly and/or riotous crowds. There are so many examples of the mainstream media failing to report events properly close to the time, that people on the ground often feel extremely defensive towards any critical point of view. With that context properly acknowledged, we can turn back to those who attend public demonstrations with the intention of physically attacking the police.
These people turn up at almost every demonstration which has a left-wing point to make. That’s hardly surprising. Traditionally, right-wing political views were not demonstrated on the streets, largely because they are already manifested in the rules by which our society is governed. That changed with the emergence of the Countryside Alliance. The joke that they were the armed wing of the Tory Party was funny because was obviously untrue. Since then other right-wing groups have exercised their democratic right to assemble and protest their views. Campaigners against the right to choose abortion have followed in the footsteps of their political cousins across the pond and taken to harassing women entering termination clinics, by holding static demonstrations outside. People bent on violence against the police do not join those groups. In the last few years an ultra right-wing group called the English Defence League (EDL) has begun to hold provocative marches. Although undoubtedly responsible for much covert violence, they themselves do not attract into their own ranks the sort of people being discussed here. However, they always attract large crowds of all sorts of people opposed to their racist views. The people looking for a fight with the police routinely join the resistance to the EDL and use the occasion to attack the police without prior provocation.
In the various political events I have attended, my worst experience of these people was in Plumstead, in October 1993. Earlier that year a racist gang had murdered Stephen Lawrence. There had been a rising number of racially motivated attacks in South-East London. It seemed clear that the British National Party (BNP) was behind these crimes, either directly or indirectly. Consequently, various community groups, trades unions, sections of the Labour Party and various other left-wing parties, came together and organised a demonstration against the BNP. The BNP had it’s headquarters in a bookshop in Plumstead. The march was billed under the title, “Close Down The BNP”. At least, that was the official title. There were plenty of leaflets circulating (we didn’t have a workable internet in those days) with the title, “Burn Down The BNP HQ”.
I cannot imagine any civil society which would permit a march with those intentions to get anywhere near its target. Any community which wants its police force to turn a blind eye to that sort of behaviour hasn’t got a police force as we understand the term. Nevertheless, I went along to the protest. I was young and, like many other people at the time, I was very angry about the lack of a clear crackdown on these racist thugs by the authorities. The police banned the march but the coaches were hired anyway and we all descended on London.
As usual, it is difficult to obtain accurate figures for the numbers on the day. The organisers claimed that there were 60,000. I think the figure was probably closer to between 8-12,000. Numbers do tend to fluctuate at this sort of thing. It’s not a football crowd watching a match. My estimate is based on me counting a section of the crowd when it was densely packed and then multiplying it up by physical space, from a vantage point on a wall in Wickham Lane. Whatever the true figure, the vast majority of people were not intent on violence against the police. To what extent they were intent on violence against the BNP was unclear. However, it’s fair to assume that had the crowd got anywhere near the so-called bookshop, it would have been dismantled, brick by brick. More than likely, anyone inside would have been murdered. We wanted revenge for the violence they had visited on our communities.
Faced with substantial numbers of people attending an unlawful demonstration, the police sensibly chose to route the march along a route which they could control. We marched down this picturesque suburban lane:
Wickam Lane, Plumstead, London.
If the residents of Wickham Lane didn’t previously know about the proximity of the BNP’s headquarters before that day, they certainly did afterwards. Those that were in that day must have been staggered by the sheer weight of numbers and deafened by the noise.
At the end of Wickham Lane the police made another sensible decision and chose a spot that was easy to defend and provided us with an exit route to our left up Lodge Hill, where they had directed our coaches to take park up ready to take us home. Here’s the cross roads:
Scene of the Plumstead Riot on a quiet day
Of course, at the time it looked very different. The police blocked the road straight ahead, which took the most direct route to our destination. The road to the right, going up hill was also blocked and the road to the left is Lodge Hill. The police allowed us to walk a little way down the road straight ahead (Okehampton Crescent) and made their stand there. During the stand off between the crowd and the police, dressed in riot gear, I walked up and down the gap between the two sides. It was about two yards wide. I remember wishing I’d brought a camera because it would have made for some excellent photography. For a while, everything was calm.
However, the protestors were determined to make progress. When the pushing began, I found myself pressed up against a riot shield, with the pressure of thousands of people behind me and thousands of police officers in front. It was a frightening crush. I remember realising that the front row of a rugby scrum turned out to be little more than a cuddle compared to it. Somehow I managed to get back from the front line.
Then someone in the crowd made a clever announcement through their megaphone. He said, “There’s a couple of thousand of them and twenty thousand of us. If we coordinate ourselves, they won’t be able to resist our great force. Link arms and a-left!” Without any warning, we all spontaneously cried out, “Left!” As we did so, we put simultaneously put our left foots forward. The megaphone man cried out, “… and a-right!” We all cried out, “Right!” In this manner we walked effortlessly up the road. There was no shoving or violence in the normal sense of the word. The police could not resist the physics of the situation. We advanced ten or twelve steps like this. Suddenly it was going to be easy. The megaphone man called out again: “Now, untangle your legs!” That was a good idea, below waist height in the crush we were all caught up with one another. After 30 seconds, he started coordinating us again and again we were on the move.
This was obviously a tactic which the police had not foreseen. They reacted to it by charging the crowd with horses and arresting the man with the megaphone. Without him it was harder to manage the process but the idea had taken root and we took it in turns to call out the coordinating commands. It worked because we all took each step in unison. Although force was being used, it didn’t feel like a violent situation. However, it was getting increasingly dangerous. The pressure was immense. I felt an arm slip through the nook of my elbow and heard a short woman next to me asking if I could hold help her stay upright. This sort of situation is how people get trampled underfoot. Without warning the police horses broke though their side of the front line and charged us. We ran back to the junction and regrouped. The police regrouped and there was another stand off, this time with a wider gap between the two sides.
Whilst charging mounted officers into the crowd was dangerous, I could see why the police had done it. They couldn’t allow us to break through their ranks and burn down the BNP headquarters. They had allowed us space to the left at the junction to escape through. We weren’t taking that option. Instead we were clearly capable of overwhelming them, without resorting to an actual attack.
I was about two or three lines from the front of the protestors, when suddenly a brick dropped out of the air right beside me. It landed on someone’s head, gashed it and took them down. The crush had collapsed the wall of the old cemetery on Wickham Lane. Masked men, dressed in black had started to break the remnants of the wall up and were throwing them.
I suppose they meant to throw them at the police. I could understand their anger towards the police. We all knew that the police were racist. Even today, there’s evidence that large sections of the police still are institutionally racist. Back then, we knew that they had deliberately bungled investigations into racist crimes. If they’d have done their job properly, we wouldn’t have had to wait 20 years for Stephen Lawrence’s murderers to be convicted.
However, they weren’t throwing them at the police. They were throwing them at us. Plainly, they couldn’t throw their missiles far enough to reach the police lines. They stood behind those of us at the front and threw large bits of masonry into our own numbers. We called out, with increasing desperation, for them to stop. They shouted back that we should join them. Someone shouted a suggestion that they throw their bricks from the front of the crowd and not at the crowd but they weren’t interested. They just wanted to hurt people.
The person on the ground next to me was helped up Lodge Hill by various people, some of whom were holding their hands in the air to show that they were covered in blood. As soon as they had fled the scene, the police charged again. This time, it wasn’t a controlled maneouvre. It was a violent attack on us. As they charged in, they lashed out with their batons at anyone they could reach. They weren’t trying to get specific individuals, they were after all of us. To be fair, we had all chosen to take them on and push them back.
The stone throwers turned and ran with the rest of us. Then the police retreated to the junction, which again provided us with an escape route to up Lodge Hill. This episode became repetitive for the next few hours. During this time the stone throwers injured many people in our crowd and rarely hit a police officer or contributed to the general effort to push the police back. In my view, they created the riot themselves. Without their antisocial behaviour the police may have attacked us anyway but these people didn’t wait for that. Responsibility for the injuries and fear that day lies firmly with them. I’d estimate their numbers at no more than 30. That a group so tiny could cause so much trouble and not be held back by the vast numbers of ordinary people mystifies me.
Eventually the police must have decided that they had to move us out of the lane and towards where our coaches were. Another contingent pushed us from behind and we were corralled up Lodge Hill. They repeatedly charged us with horses. Although I’d had more than enough fear and loathing for one day, I was keen to stay put. I felt strongly that we had to make our mark, we had to make sure that the issue made the news. That certainly happened but not in a good way:
Incidentally, a word to the wise. I discovered that a crowd’s sudden unity can evaporate equally quickly. During one of the final stand offs, I called out to the crowd on Lodge Hill and asked them to recall that scene in the film Ghandi, where the protestors lay down in front of the British mounted officers. In the film, the horses refuse to trample on the people on the ground. I suggested that this was true and suggested that we all lie down. About a hundred people, maybe more did precisely that. I lay down at the front, looking towards the horses and thought, “this had better work.” Having encouraged this form of peaceful resistance, I didn’t feel able to abandon it when the horses charged again. Unsure of the film’s veracity, at the last moment I turned my head to cover it with my arm. I saw everyone else get up and run. I was lying down on my own directly in front of a dozen charging horses. They ran around me.
Occupy London made many mistakes but it did work out a solution to the problem caused by the thugs bent on getting punch drunk fighting the police. Immediately that we had occupied St Paul’s Churchyard, we received messages of support from various shady groups who declared that if the police came into clear us out, they would turn up and defend us physically. Privately, the activists who took on most responsibility for the various essential features of camp life asked them not to. Right from the start, there was much talk about how to deal with these people. We regarded them as agents provocateurs. The consensus view was that if anyone saw anyone being violent (without reason), we would stand back from them and point at them. Early on myself (and others, it wasn’t just the legal team doing this) spoke to as many officers as we could to inform them that we would facilitate their arrests. We made these communications as official as possible by tweeting the numbers of the police we had spoken to or videoing the conversations. From time to time, I’d hear someone say that if the police came in to clear us out, he’d attack them. Every time I heard that, I’d hear other people immediately tell them that if they did that, they would stand back, point at them and assist the police in arresting them. There was no violence.
At the recent so-called March for England by the EDL in Brighton on St George’s Day, more than a thousand people from all walks of life turned up to line the streets and boo and harangue the racist protestors. Me included. Amongst our numbers there were about thirty young men dressed in black and masking their faces. Doubtless some of these people were just worried about losing their jobs. Not all the objects thrown at the EDL came from their ranks (I saw one man open an upstairs window and throw a bottle at them). However, it is fair to say that yet again there was a tiny group of people who deliberately used violence against both the EDL and the police. They threw bottles and fireworks. Yet again, they weren’t too fussed about who they hit with their missiles. The EDL have persistently complained that a young girl was hit by a bottle. This claim has embarrassed the anti-racists organising the counter-protests that day. By and large they have been silent about it. Those bottles were gifts to the racists. They were thrown on several occasions. Some of them sailed directly over the thick heads of the EDL supporters and into the large crowd of Brightonians on the other side of the moving police kettle. More than once, I had to duck a flying bottle and a firework landed close to my feet. Whilst walking down North Street, I spotted my local MP, Caroline Lucas, and suggested that she stand back a little to avoid the flying glass. “We need you to be able to work hard for us in Parliament, not go to hospital“, was what I said.
We were rightly proud that both the then Leader of Brighton & Hove City Council (Bill Randall) and our local MP turned up in person to oppose the racists on our streets. What on earth was the point of throwing bottles at them? At anyone? As Plato famously put it, cui bono?
Clearly this tiny minority of thugs benefits. They get to have their excitement, in much the same way as football hooligans fighting have theirs. Previously, those parts of the police and our political classes who want ever stronger powers to control us, also benefit from this behaviour. That begs the question of how many of them are actually undercover police agents? Perhaps we’ll never know. Although the law on self-defence permits someone to strike first, the facts of the situations I witnessed in Plumstead and in Brighton do not give rise to that defence. In neither situation were we being attacked or under immediate risk of attack by the police (or anyone else) until these people became violent.
I’m heartily sick of having our rebel culture hijacked by these troublemakers. I’d like to see the Left discuss the issues involved far more readily. We must adopt solutions to the problems these people cause us. If we don’t, we’ll be permanently stymied in our ability to recruit others to our cause. For all its failings, the good people in Occupy London have provided us with a tactic which works. When we film trouble at demonstrations, we should unequivocally film all of it and make it all available publicly. If the police cannot or will not arrest the thugs and we don’t feel able to do so, we should stand back and point at them, so as to distance their behaviour from our beliefs. If we can do that on every occasion, it won’t take long before they stop trying to railroad our beautiful peace movement. Our inactivity shelters them and encourages them.
No wonder the vast numbers of people angered by the current crisis of capitalism still don’t join the ranks of political activists, socialist, Green, or otherwise. How on earth can we recruit if we can’t root out this systemic problem? Seven years after the Plumstead riot, I was working as a law reporter in London. During a pub lunch myself and the editor were encouraging the rest of the staff to become more politically active. One fellow declared that he would never get involved in any public demonstration because they so often turned violent. He told us a story about such an occasion in the road he grew up in. He told us that the protestors had broken up a graveyard wall to throw the constituent bricks at the police! I asked if he had lived in Plumstead and he said, yes, near there. I blurted out that I had been there that day and tried to explain what happened. He wasn’t interested. After our crowd had gone, the rain had come and the skeletal residents of the graveyard had emerged from the earth which had previously been hidden by the broken retaining wall. We hadn’t just broken the wall that day, we’d broken any chance of recruiting him and his neighbours to an active political life. Whether it is broken windows or dead bodies we leave behind, neither is a good calling card.
Brighton has long been at the forefront of the peace movement. That’s why the EDL want to parade around on our streets. They hate us and want to provoke us. Although this year we humiliated them, we also allowed them to argue that they have good reason to hate us. We need to tackle that issue properly before next year’s confrontation. The confrontation isn’t the problem, it’s the manner in which we handle it. We must raise our game. We need to stop avoiding our own issues about how we handle ourselves and the misguided people amongst us. Next year, the police may want to kettle the anti-racists again, as they did two years ago. We need to be clear that the violent idiots will be treated as the criminals that they are. Practical steps must be taken to ensure that Sussex Police understand there has been a definite change in our strategy. They’ve been making efforts recently to build trust with our activist communities. We’ve got to make some effort too.
Sussex Police wantonly attacked a peaceful political demonstration on 24th August 1996 in Brighton. The occasion was billed as a Reclaim The Streets. For the uninitiated, that’s a celebratory protest against car culture, which makes its mark with peaceful protestors physically standing in the road. It was intended to be a beach party. As far as I could tell, the word was to attend dressed for the seaside and be ready for beach games.
That morning I had a wisdom tooth extracted. Head full of anaesthetic and minus one large tooth, I strolled into town to join in with the fun. I was expecting a nice fluffy event and a rare break from my legal training. I had returned home to live with my parents so as to be able to afford my studies and this was exactly the sort of thing I imagined that they most feared – me apparently returning to old party driven lifestyle. Nowadays, I look back on the rock ‘n’ roll years of being a fire-eater and fondly call them The Soft Years. Back then, I was as keen as my folks were to see the back of them. All the same, I chose not to mention this protest party to them, lest they got the wrong idea.
When I arrived in Churchill Square, there was a rather tense atmosphere. There were a lot of police. Hundreds of them. There were also a few hundred people standing in a loose group some distance from the police. I asked someone what was happening. They explained that a couple of Legal Observers had just been arrested and the others had been warned that they would be arrested too. That resulted in all of them taking off their orange bibs and concealing them. One of them had apparently been arrested for handing out leaflets explaining a person’s rights on arrest. I didn’t like the sound of that.
Whilst I was digesting this information and wondering what to do about it, someone else told me that the people with the sand had been arrested in a pre-dawn raid. Their idea had been to arrive at the Clock Tower with a massive truck and tip a huge quantity of sand onto the road around it, so that we could have a genuine beach party. I was never all that convinced by the merits of this plan. It would have been a very dramatic form of defiance. It could easily have created dangerous road conditions in the wet. Drivers could hardly be expected to foresee slippery sand on this junction, on a hill or deal with it competently in busy traffic. Overall, although I could see that it would grab the headlines and probably get a photographs onto the front pages (we still read newspapers in those days), it was very provocative. Having sniffed the story out, the police were bound to come down hard on those they perceived responsible.
The sand boys had been frustrated but the police were probably wondering what other ideas were up which sleeves. Reclaim The Streets, CriticalMass and similar events were a direct response to legislative changes designed to curtail demonstrations. Since official organisers would get into serious trouble in so many scenarios, people just abandoned any attempt at official organisation for anything. The resulting chaos was and is much harder for the police to cope with. Like the original Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, it was a classic knee-jerk law-making; arguably it created more problems than it solved. These days, the police have become a little used to the idea that we do not trouble ourselves with organising committees. Back then, they found our new methodology simply incredible. Their view seemed to be that the organisation had gone underground: organisers had become conspirators. Instead, an idea was launched and people made their own arrangements around that.
The police and the protesters continued to eye each other nervously. I borrowed a Legal Observer’s bib. Various people, none of whom I knew, urged me not to put it on. I didn’t know anyone there. I crossed the physical space between the two groups and spoke to the police officer in charge: Chief Inspector Streeter. I told him my name and address. I told him that I was about to start the Bar Vocational Course at the Inns of Court School of Law and asked him why the Legal Observers had been arrested. He declined to comment. I said that in the absence of any explanation as to why a Legal Observer should be arrested, I intended to become one there and then. I explained that I had borrowed a bib from a stranger. I suggested that if he wanted to arrest me, perhaps he could let me know. He said, “So long as you don’t play any part in the demonstration, you won’t be arrested.” I put the bib on and walked back.
The police moved to the other side of Western Road. The crowd exhorted itself to get the show on the road. We collectively tiptoed after the police. Just as we got to the kerb, someone shouted, “They’re not going to stop us!” Suddenly beach balls were being thrown in the air, the traffic was blocked and there was partying on the road.
It was a short lived party. The police lined up into ranks and advanced. West Street seemed to have been closed off for our benefit. Looking back now, I wonder whether the people who shouted that we were being allowed to take over West Street were in fact undercover officers. We were corralled down West Street. As we did the police at the bottom advanced towards us. Then the police appeared on both sides of us. The police on all sides pushed and shoved us into an increasingly small rectangle until there was only just room to turn on the spot. I didn’t know to call it a kettle then.
People were shouting and asking for more room. It got very ugly, very quickly. Pleas to leave were ignored. Between us and the police was a thin strip of space. It was as wide as the length of a copper’s arm. Anyone straying into this region was attacked by the police, physically. Realising that this was not going to end well, I decided to ask a police officer if I could leave. Hands by my side, I asked the nearest officer. His neighbouring colleague drew his truncheon and stabbed it into my chest repeatedly.
The standard issue truncheon had just been replaced. He stabbed me four or five times and only stopped when I pushed the tip of his weapon away. I said, “There’s no need for that, I only asked to leave. You could just say no.” Whatever was going through that man’s mind is anyone’s guess. Perhaps he was worried about being obliged to defend himself from having to articulate a response with his extendible rod? He raised it and tried to beat the top of my head with it! I caught the end of it in my hand and said, “What do you think you’re doing? If you can’t talk, you could just ignore me. There’s no need to try to kill me. You must know the risk of death or serious injury involved in hitting someone on the head?” As I said those words, we played an absurd version of unbreakable crackers. He yanked his end of the truncheon and I pulled back at the offensive end. When I let go, he knew it was because I had chosen to. He looked sheepish and put his weapon away. I asked him again if I could leave and he ignored me, avoiding eye contact.
One of his colleagues ordered me to move away. “Where am I supposed to go? You’ve left me no room to move.” He could see my point. There were people standing directly behind me and people behind them. At this point I felt someone tap me on the shoulder from behind. I turned around. A large furry microphone was pushed in my face. Next to the boom operator was a man holding a large video camera. A woman asked me if I wouldn’t mind being interviewed for French television. “Sure, I don’t have anything else to do.“
She asked me if I was hurt. I said no. Then she mentioned that they had seen the police hitting me with his truncheon. I said something about him not wanting to let me leave and go home. She pressed her point and asked, more insistently, that it must have hurt me. Although not keen to help the police at this point, I didn’t want to lie either so I said, “Oh no, it was nothing.” Her face was incredulous, as if she was annoyed that I hadn’t immediately complained of maltreatment by the heavy hand of authority. She pressed again, saying that I looked really badly hurt and I replied that I wasn’t, that there was nothing to worry about. She pointed to the blood running down my chin. Wiping my chin, I discovered that I there was blood on it. I felt the back of my mouth. Realising that this wasn’t too hygienic, I pulled my hand out and wiped it on my hankerchief, which I then wiped my lips with. It turned from white to red. The interviewer said something like, “Look, you are bleeding quite badly! You are hurt!” My reply must have reinforced every cultural stereotype possible about the British stiff upper lip: “I’m telling you, this blood has got nothing to do with anything. I’m not hurt.” Her face was complete confusion.
I realised that I could use the blood as a means to escape the inevitable fracas. I approached the police again. I pointed out that I was bleeding, took off my bib and asked to be allowed to attend hospital. That worked. On the way home, the anaesthetic wore off and the pain kicked in. Sitting in my kitchen at home, my Mum asked me what I’d got up to that afternoon. “Nothing much“, I replied. Then she told me that one of our neighbours had seen me on BBC South Today in the middle of a riot. Oh dear. The neighbour had related the whole incident to her. “Better not tell your Father“, was all she said.
Now that’s my personal recollection of the events on the day. Luckily, there were people taking a proper record of what actually happened. I’m the Legal Observer mentioned at 14:50 at that link. The following day there were extensive press reports, focussing in particular on the exceptionally high arrest rate. The police broke the law repeatedly that day. The demonstrators did not. Although the Human Rights Act had not yet been drafted, the UK was a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights: it was the first country to sign it and the last to legislate. The legislation made remedial action swifter and clarified the relationship between the Convention and all our other laws to some extent but it didn’t actually introduce any new rights. The police broke those rights over and again. Let me be completely objective about this: the policing was a bloody disgrace.
I knew no-one at the protest. I went back to my studies. I kept my newly acquired bib. Since then I’ve moved house over sixty times. I’ve given away all my possessions, lost stuff, sold stuff and been separated from stuff. I’ve treasured the bib. When I was completing my barristerial training in London I sometimes turned up at events like Critical Mass. I put my bib on and watched the police very very carefully. I would hear people say things like, “Who’s he? The other observers don’t know him.” Other people would note that a few words from me and the police would change their behaviour. A little. Normally Legal Observers have training to ensure they remain in role. I never did. Effectively, I acted as a freelance observer. I’m not pretending to have saved any days but I did contribute to keeping the peace on a few occasions. I wish I could say the same for the police. I’ve observed them breaking whatever laws they want until they heard me recording everything into a time stamped dictaphone.
At Occupy London the police attacked us on the first night. However, a combination of events kept them at bay after their initial foray. One was the fact that the City of London Police had little experience at dealing with civil disobedience. Another factor was that man of the cloth turfing them off the Cathedral steps first thing in the morning, creating the possibility of a political crisis between the City and the Church of England. There are more factors than I care to name in this essay but one of them was the fact that they knew that right from the start we had an excellent legal team. Once more I had turned up on my own and put my legal head to work. On the first night I recruited John Cooper QC(to advise me on behalf of Occupy London). I suggested warning them via twitter that there were children asleep in the tents and that they ought to read the Children Act before piling in. The tweet went out. A moment later, their lines pulled back. It could have been a coincidence, of course.
The biggest factor was almost certainly their knowledge that no matter how much they filmed and photographed us, we were capturing their every movement and streaming it directly to the world. Probably with better cameras than them. The name Ian Tomlinson was doubtless on every officer’s mind. His death was a tragedy. It was also part of a pattern. The police have form for injuring and killing people at protests. People they are supposed to protect. Previously, they got away with murder because they could cover up the evidence and we couldn’t collect it ourselves. There’s no point stopping people handing out leaflets explaining your rights on arrest any more because everyone has a video camera.
Back to Brighton. Sussex Police have recently developed a new approach to policing protests. They deploy protest liaison officers. We first saw them used when they turned out in force at Brighton Uncut‘s Never Mind The Jubilee Street Party in Churchill Square. Elsewhere in the town, large numbers of officers kept a close eye on a day trip to the seaside by the EDL. Afterwards, Sussex Police made attempts to discuss this new form of engagement with people interested in the protests, by talking to them via twitter. Some of us, myself included, tried to engage with them. Others rejected the approach out of hand. Others still were indifferent. After all, the police have a lot to prove. It is them who have to win trust, not the people.
Although there is a long way to go before this new initiative could be described as a turning point in the relationship between the police and people protesting their rights and their political views, we have also come a long way since 1996. The Brighton Uncut street party was just as unlawful as the ‘beach’ party, yet the police did not just pile in, beat anyone who dared to speak to them and arrest as many people as their cells could hold. Instead they talked to us. That looked like an improvement to me.
Unfortunately, after that the new look protest policing faltered. The protest liaison officers were next deployed at a demonstration by the SmashEDO campaign, which protested against the possibility of war with Iran on 4th June 2012. Sussex Police have been coy about the behaviour of the protest liaison officers on this occasion. It has become clear that they tried to mingle with the protesters and only left the crowd when the protesters mocked them so much that their continuing presence had become inflammatory. Having already discussed the new strategy with the police via twitter, shortly after that protest I asked them whether those reports were true. Instead of replying that they were waiting for reports to be filed and would answer later or admitting it or denying it, instead the police tried to duck the question. (10th paragraph at that link & screenshots of conversation below it.)
These people work for us! They are public servants. I’ve paid tax. I’ve paid their wages. Why they think that they should treat any enquiry much as a politician treats a journalistic question is baffling. I fear it reveals much about police culture. Close ranks, cover up and kill the story. When will they understand that these old tactics won’t work? We have video. We own the internet. The more intelligent approach would be to get straight to the point and admit the truth. Then the merits of the facts could be discussed.
Let’s park the issue of Sussex Police being unable or unwilling to just confirm the facts on the ground. The decision to deploy officers charged with engaging with protesters uninvited inside the protesters’ ranks must be categorised under “Undiplomatic”. There is a deep seated suspicion amongst many political activists that these officers are simply on an intelligence gathering mission. For my part, I suspect that even the police would realise this technique would be an utter waste of resources. Last year’s half a million plus requests to snoop on our communications was much more likely to bear fruit than donning a uniform and walking amongst us. Film is more useful than individual personal recollection. Undercover agents who are still allowedto rape their way around the activist community will certainly acquire more information than watching people wave donuts on sticks at you. The average plod may not be the brightest soul in the force but surely those further up the chain of command cannot have really intended these particular officers to gather intelligence? It’s much more likely that the decision to deploy them like that was a bungled attempt at public relations and the slowness to withdraw them a reflection on the reflexes of the command structure. After being pinned down on this issue, Sussex Police later implied to me that their officers had as much right to the public space as anyone else. That’s true but it isn’t the way to develop new community relations. It’s like the landlord turning up at your birthday party and telling you he owns the house.
Many local political activists point to the officers wearing the liaison bibs being the same people employed on more pernicious tasks. There’s not much mileage in that point. These liaison officers are not a completely separate unit from the rest of the police. They’re just performing a role on the day. Performing different roles is a feature of professional life. Rather than picking on the people involved, we should point out the problems with the new role in the hope that they can be ironed out.
It is early days still. The gap of understanding between the two sides is wide. There is too much distrust on both sides. There will always be some political activists who view the police as a front line in their battle for regime change. There will always be some police who regard anyone who isn’t shopping for retail therapy to be a troublemaker. In between, there are many who would like to find a better approach. The problem is that the police have all the power. The ball is in their court. My guess is that they get a few more chances to serve us properly but only a few. If they fail to get those right, this new initiative will crash. They’ve come a long way from mindlessly attacking everyone in sight but that’s happened because we have empowered ourselves. As Marx argued, a change in technology has ushered in a change in the relationship between the powerful and the weak. Therefore, the police don’t get any credit for abating their traditional methods. They need to win credit by backing off.
At Occupy London the City of London police won much sympathy with the protestors by keeping their distance. Sure, they walked through our camp but only in ones and twos and even then only occasionally. They stood back. I knew when they followed me through the streets because they weren’t that clever about it. I expected them to anyway. Often they followed me and other conspicuous people whilst others took on more important tasks, online. These days we don’t talk to the people we’re standing next to by using our voices. We use direct messages on twitter, off the record encrypted channels, the tor project and various other methods.
Brighton & Hove is now officially a City. It is run by the Green Party, which openly welcomes citizens’ asserting their democratic rights to protest. The City Council has explicitly stated that everyone has the right to protest and they expect the police to facilitate those protests. Thus the EDL was allowed to march under the cover of the so-called “March for England“, even though every member of the local administration is deeply opposed to everything they stand for. That event was bound to carry big risks of trouble. There were people determined to disrupt the march, themselves exercising their lawful right to a static demonstration without advance permission. There was trouble. Bottles were thrown at the racist EDL. Some EDL supporters attacked local people (myself included). The police had a complicated job to do that day and on the whole they managed it very well, which is why I have not pursued a complaint against them for failing to arrest the man who attacked me. They probably didn’t deploy sufficient numbers to cope with the predictable stress lines across town that day. No doubt lessons are being learnt for next year.
The point the police have to grasp is that it is not for them to control demonstrations, let alone become involved in them to any extent. Their job is to maintain the peace. Nothing more, nothing less. If a protest group doesn’t want to engage with them, there’s nothing they can do about it. Without any threat of violence, there’s no need whatsoever for more than half a dozen police officers. Two at the front, two at the back and one walking along either side. If they want to park greater numbers around the corner, to be ready for spontaneous trouble, fine. Barging in on a political demonstration which they cannot support is not engagement, it is incitement. If the police don’t understand this, they need to take a long hard look at themselves and their role in our society. We all know what it should be – to keep the peace, not to keep control.
Rather than try to stop political protests, the police should allow people to make their point and, if necessary, use their power to arrest people for a breach of the peace. Peaceful activists will not resist that type of arrest. Activists will make more impact by getting arrested for civil disobedience than for fighting. The police need to make a judgment call on when such arrests are justified. We can have the arguments in court later, rather than on the ground. If an activist is released, they should be allowed to move freely again. If the police lack the resources to deal with large numbers of protestors in this way, then they have a political argument with the government.
People must be able to talk to any police officer, without fearing violence. If there is a role for specific protest liaison officers, the police need to spell out how it differs from all other police officers. Having justified that distinction, it must be maintained cogently. Bibs on bobbies is meaningless unless there’s a properly understood role. At the present time, the purpose of the new role is far from clear. I’d like to see Sussex Police complete their journey from their nasty behaviour in the nineties, to transform themselves from being political tools to being the protectors of the peace. To promote the chances of their success, several sections of the activist community are giving them the benefit of the doubt, for now. The next outing of the new protest liaison officers will be watched very closely indeed. The pressure is on the police to behave like concerned citizens, not control freaks.
Recently, I discovered that a website called Occupy City of London Corporation had republished the entirety of one of the posts linked to above (I forget which). Sure, they had given me a link, but I did think that copying the entire post was a bit cheeky. So I got in touch with them. Thus Mr R Moore contacted me via Facebook again and we had what I thought was a polite conversation. During that chat, I politely asked him if he would remove my text and made it clear that I was not making an “hard demands”. Next thing I know, he was is warning me to “beware”. Here’s the whole conversation – click on the image below to enlarge it.
Why, exactly, should I “beware”? What sort of person is this, who first scrapes content written by someone else, then claims it wasn’t published (when it was) and, finally, warns off the polite blogger by telling him to beware? I look forward to hearing about whether there will be a mass voter registration scheme made successful in the City of London Corporation. However, I doubt very much that someone with this aggressive attitude can be relied upon to maintain the long term alliances necessary for political action.
Mr R Moore, I just browsed through your Facebook wall, before cancelling our “friendship”. Was a bit surprised with what I found there. You’re no ordinary progressive political activist are you? Certainly, you don’t seem to have a problem with our cultural proclivity for the objectification of women. Here’s a picture you shared.
Stephen R Moore shared this image under the title, "DREAM GIRLFRIEND"
Dream on, buddy. There were various pictures of women on your Facebook Wall. These were not pictures which referred to the awesome role played by the women of Tahrir Square. They were not pictures which showed women in a positive light. Do these pictures reveal your attitude to women, Mr R Moore?
Stephen R Moore says he is an Occupy activist. He shared this image on his Facebook Wall.
Okay, it’s a funny image, perhaps. Actually, I think the humour here is weak. However, taken together with all the images of women shown from a sexual point of view, it rather looks like Mr R Moore posted it on his Facebook wall because he likes images which objectify women. Here’s another one.
Stephen R Moore posted this image on his Facebook wall. He claims to be an Occupy activist.
All of this raises once again, the ugly side of Occupy. Without any form of structure or coherent policies around which they are united, there seems to be no desire to exclude people like Stephen R Moore. People who warn others to “beware”, for no apparent reason. People who routinely post pictures of women which highlight their sexual ‘function’ above all others. Whilst there are a number of estimable individuals involved in Occupy, sadly there are too many people like Stephen R Moore. This is not the first time I’ve been warned off. The trouble is, it isn’t even clear what I’ve been warned off this time!
In 1986 I was a 17 year old sixth-form student at Bhasvic, studying A-Levels. Economics was one of my subjects. Our teachers had organised an “Economics Trip To London” in December that year for a seminar with some bankers on the top floor of the NatWest Tower. Looking back, this was quite a coup for them and I now completely understand their angry looks when I answered the final question, “Was this an interesting day for you?“, with the words, “It was a load of bollocks.” If my old teachers, Paul Christmas and Jai Trivedi ever read this, my apologies.
It was a load of bollocks though. Back then, A-Level Economics was an incredibly right-wing subject. It took no account whatsoever of any factors other than private enterprise, which rendered almost all its analysis fatally flawed.
Us students had travelled to London on a group train ticket. That meant that we had to all travel together in both directions. The seminar took up the whole morning and half the afternoon but the teachers had thoughtfully allowed us a couple of extra hours to go and have fun in London before we had to reconvene at Victoria Station for the return journey. Unsupervised fun! Such a thing would, I imagine, be impossible these days. There were 35 of us: 17 young women and 18 young men. Can you guess what we got up to? All the girls went to Harrods. All the boys went to Soho, except me.
Highgate Cemetery West
I decided to visit the monumental grave of Karl Marx. All I knew was the famous communist was laid to rest in Highgate cemetery. Determined though I had been to pay my youthful radical respects to the great man, I didn’t undertake any planning. I’d never travelled around London alone before either but I had not brought a map. Instead a relied on the London Undergound – transport, not political! A map on the wall of a station revealed that there was a tube station in Highgate. I made my way there. On arrival, I asked the startled staff where Highgate Cemetery was. One of them explained that there were two: the ‘old’ and the ‘new’. They are both old. Properly named, they are referred to as the ‘West’ and the ‘East’, with the East being the new one. Karl Marx is in the new one. Armed with the ticket taker’s guidance I started walking around the boundaries to find an entrance.
Highgate Cemetery East
The West seemed to be surrounded by a very high wall and the East by a fence. Both were closed. It had never occurred to me that they would shut in the night and it was really dark by the time I got there. Having come all that way, and having fended off a rather pathetic mugger just outside the tube station, I wasn’t going to let this final hurdle defeat me. I realised that the West wall was unscalable and hoped that my chosen tomb would be in the new one – at that point I still didn’t know where it was. The fence around the East was also difficult to get over but I found a place where a tree hung over it and, with some difficulty, I managed to climb in. It was even darker inside the cemetery. Without any street lighting, I could not see what I was dropping onto from my branch. It wasn’t far but my landing foot slightly entered a gap between a crumbled capstone and a stone vault. Urgh!
In The Darkness, The Angels Did Not Comfort Me
Unnerved by my foot going into someone’s grave, I became quite shaky. After a while I found my way to the path. It was a cloudy night. I can’t remember if there was a moon or not. I just remember the darkness. I could see a little – London’s light had penetrated the graveyard a little. Looking around, I realised the utter folly of my task. I hadn’t even brought a torch! Reading the names on the tombs was very difficult. There were hundreds of them. My nerves were exacerbated by the numerous angelic statues, with arms outstretched, standing over tombs. I’d never seen anything like it. This was no regular cemetery. In the gloom, these figures were terrifying. It became a real act of discipline to pursue the search. I knew what Marx’s distinctive monument looked like so I reasoned that it would be fairly simply to find. Yet I could not find it. Disheartened, eventually I concluded that I would have to give up.
Imagine Escaping From Here In Darkness
I looked around for a place to climb back out. This was not as easy as you might think. The ground was lower on the inside than the pavement outside. The fence had spikes on it. The prospect of a night in the graveyard did not appeal to me. I looked at my watch. There was only ten minutes before the rendez-vous time in Victoria. No chance. They would have to wait. Being in lots of trouble for being very late was one thing, having the police search for you through the night only to find that you had been hiding amongst the dead – that was not worth contemplating.
I found another tree which I shimmied up and used to vault the fence. I dropped down directly in front of an unseen passerby, who cried out in shock. Actually, he nearly jumped out of himself. I apologised and he said, “What were you doing in there?” My sheepish explanation met with unexpected approval. He told precisely where the Karl Marx monument was. Not only that, he offered to help me climb back in. With one of my feet inside his interlocked fingers, he hoiked me back up into the tree. Thus assisted, I re-entered the graveyard.
This time I felt much more comfortable. Appellant angels and overgrown tombs couldn’t scare me! The helpful pedestrian outside had explained the scheme of the paths and so I walked confidently in the right direction, without studying much around me. Suddenly I noticed that a tomb ahead was on fire. Disbelieving in all that gothic mystical nonsense, I reasoned that I was not the only living soul in there. It also seemed obvious that whoever was warming themselves with a fire in there was up to no good. Frozen, I watched the fire for a couple of minutes. It was about a hundred and fifty feet away but I couldn’t see anyone around it. What was going on?
I approached ever so slowly and quietly, stretching my toes gently down onto to the path in tiny steps. When I was very close, I suddenly realised that my mind had tricked me into seeing a fire. In fact, it was one of those plastic tubes with little lights inside which flick on and off to make it look like the light is moving around. Disgusted with my fear, I walked up to it and picked it up. It was twisted into a figure of eight and had a battery attached. Whatever it was doing there, I didn’t stop to think. I hastened to my left and soon found what I was looking for.
The mighty man’s monument was everything I had hoped for. Flowers lay all around, knee deep in places. At the time, I imagined that I was standing over Karl Marx’s body. Before writing this, some brief research revealed that actually he is buried nearby and the monolithic block and head is actually just a memorial monument.
I stood there, clenched my fist in the then traditional communist salute, sung The Red Flag out of tune and diligently placed my copy of the Militant newspaper at the foot of the monument. Had anyone come back to find their Christmas lights, I dread to think what a fool I must have looked like! I turned to go and then returned several times. All that effort was not going to be rewarded by spending only a couple of minutes there. I don’t know how long I communed with Marx. Maybe it was half an hour, probably longer.
Marx left specific instructions in his final will and testament that he was to be buried in a simple grave. His funeral, on 17th March 1883, was attended by less than a dozen close friends and comrades. Engels gave the first eulogy in English, which was followed by Marx’s son-in-law reading addresses in French from Russian, French and Spanish socialists. After that the legendary Liebknecht gave another eulogy, in German.
Clinton Might As Well Have Saluted Marx
Whatever you think of Marx’s economic, historical and political analysis, his influence on politics is beyond question. Aside from the massive historical events carried out by people who claimed to follow him, he introduced key analytical concepts which everybody uses today, all the time. Whenever a proposal is made, we question the motive and interests of the proposer. That is marxist. When we talk about globalisation, that is marxist. When Bill Clinton famously declared, “It’s the economy, stupid“, in his 1992 presidential election campaign, that too was marxist because it was Karl Marx who introduced the idea that politics revolved completely around materialism. When we complain that our spiritual lives have become tyrannised by commodification, that is also marxist. In fact, Marx probably wrote more about our relationship with commodities than anything else.
Although I hadn’t yet embarked on a politics degree, by the time I stood in silent witness at Marx’s monument, I had read a great deal of his writings. I confess that I never read Capital but I had managed to finish the Grundrisse! Reading his works is not easy because, in common with other philosophers, he invented much terminology. Later on at, at University, I read the works of the man who inspired him – Hegel. They were equally impenetrable until you got the hang of them. Both of these mighty thinkers were much mistaken about various matters but they both were incredibly accurate about much else as well. Whereas Hegel had restricted himself to providing the first proper development of philosophical logic since Aristotle, Marx went out and organised people to stand up for their rights. If you’d like to learn about Marx the man, rather than Marx the thinker, I highly recommend Francis Wheen’s biography. It reveals him to be a man of action as well as of words. A humourous, life loving, risk taking, larger than life character. Standing before the quotation inscribed on the monument, I swore I would dedicate my life to carrying following that instruction:
Philosophers have only interpreted the world. The point is, however, to change it.
Despite what the thieving Tory bastards say about the Green Party, we are not Marxists (note the capital ‘M’), because we consider the pursuit of endless material growth to be ruinous for our planet. In keeping with everybody else in the nineteenth century, Marx did not question the dominant ideological belief of his age – that there would be endless economic growth.
When at last I turned to go, I was cold, hungry and fearful of the trouble I was in. Karl Marx was a penniless political refugee when he arrived in London, pursued by the authorities in almost every European country. Nowadays he would be called an asylum seeker. In 2005, BBC Radio 4 listeners voted him the greatest thinker of all time and The Daily Mail went berserk. He was a man so far ahead of his time that the revolutions and military coups launched in his name, barely recognised his true importance. After perestroika, there was a lull in his popularity but it has returned again with avengeance.
As regular readers will know, in the last quarter of last year I became involved with Occupy London. On the day of the Lord Mayor of London’s procession, St Paul’s Cathedral held its traditional event for children. A few hundred children attended inside the church, under the guardianship of their Christian parents. Simultaneously, outside, several thousand young people packed out the Cathedral steps to hear David Harvey of New York City University deliver a lecture on modern economics. Harvey is said to be the most famous living Marxist. His speech was bang up to date, drenched in Marx’s terminology and repeatedly interrupted with applause. At 42 years of age, I was amazed to find that 90% of the audience was younger than me. The Daily Mail can suck on that too. It was cold on the flagstones and stone steps, it was dark, there were easier places to go but the young people stuck it out, listening avidly to this old Marxist. Don’t take me world for it. Here’s a film of it, shot from about half-way into the audience.
At last I returned to Victoria Station. I was very late. It was close to nine o’clock. Whatever anger my teachers had felt towards me at the top of the banking world, was nothing compared with the tirade they delivered on my arrival. All my classmates had been standing around in Victoria Station for the best part of two hours, becoming increasingly worried about my fate. I hadn’t told anyone where I was going. In fact, I had just slipped away from the group of boys without them noticing. They all looked very strained. I felt bad. I should have told someone. I shouldn’t have been so selfish. My male friends had been given a particularly hard time because they’d let me give them the slip. Now I can easily imagine what must have been going through the teachers’ minds. Apparently they had agreed to contact the police if I didn’t show up within the following two minutes. The sight of me waltzing into the station, nonchalantly confident in my newly confirmed life’s mission, enraged them all.
They’d all had to telephone their parents to explain their late departure. The girls looked at me with an unusual combination of anger and admiration. Most of them later told me privately that they thought the boys’ chosen tourist target was loathsome and that they were impressed that I had such an individual character. Though not famous for promoting individualism, I think Marx would have approved. When the teacher first asked, “Where the hell where you?“, some of the girls nodded knowingly but all of the boys muttered words like, “Who? What? Why?“
On the train home, I sat with the others but felt very alone. Somewhere along the line, Jai Trivedi leaned over and whispered in my ear, “You shouldn’t have done that, Duncan, but I’m impressed. Very impressed.“
In keeping with the organisational methods which launched Occupy the London Stock Exchange (OccupyLSX), there is now a public planning process to relaunch Occupy London. The activists have agreed dates and invited everyone to be ready for action then. The dates are May Day, 12th May and 15th May. Locations have not been agreed yet. Presumably the activists have realised that there is little point in premature location announcements. Landowners just obtain injunctions. Last time around mere rumours inside OccupyLSX caused the corporate landowners of both Canary Wharf & the land around Liverpool Street Station to apply to the High Court to prevent protests on their property. Their applications were successful. Further announcements about actions will appear at OccupyLSX and its public Facebook page.
There were two faces of the first wave of Occupy London. There was the image presented in the partisan and privately owned media which, unsurprisingly, depicted the protest as meaningless, self-indulgent and confused. Then there was the reportage from various left-wing groups and the trades unions, which presented the protest as a mass movement enjoying popular support, presenting a serious challenge to the establishment. Both were little more than propaganda. The truth lay somewhere in between.
Crudely, the chief complaint that can be made against Occupy London relates to its naive political attitude. It generated many slogans and contributed enormously to the rising consciousness about the problems of inequality (traditionally a job for the Labour Party but one it appears to have. dropped, like an embarrassing friend) but it never endorsed any holistic solutions. It produced a handful of proposals, all aimed at the City of London Corporation. Politically, it was ineffective precisely because it appeared unable to formulate strategy and proffer solutions. These problems were inevitable because of its internal organisation – it declared that nothing would be agreed unless everyone agreed. Whilst that inclusive methodology generated considerable cohesion amongst the disparate activists in the early days, it was also a hostage to fortune.
On the plus side, Occupy London filled a political vacuum with a positive idea. The idea was that we, the people could solve our problems by cooperation and, crucially, that we could do this peacefully. In times when none of the main three political parties appears to have even the slightest idea where they would like society to go, this protest proved enormously popular with Londoners. They flocked to it, especially in the first two months. Financial and physical donations poured into the camp.
Unfortunately, after the first couple of months, only the hardcore were left. Their cause subtly mutated into a struggle for the existence of the camp itself. Being situated in a churchyard, it attracted increasing numbers of religious preachers. The need to separate religion from politics is one of the fundamental lessons learnt early in the democratic age. Many of us original activists despaired of the spiritual quagmire that the camp descended into, characterised by pointless sermons in the day time but untrustworthy and often violent lost souls in the night. A significant number of activists did not spend the increasingly long nights in the camp. Consequently, they were defending something which they little understood.
I hope Occupy London 2.0 tackles these problems and roots out the antisocial elements which drove people away from the first wave. A great many good people were introduced to politics through Occupy London. A significant number of them weathered the winter in support of the cause. By May, they will have enjoyed a well earned rest and be ready for more. The public will also be ready for more because the thieving Tory bastards have thrown off the pretence of trying to help everyone. The challenge for Occupy London 2.0 is to successfully translate our anger into meaningful political action. Many of the activists fail to recognise that refusing to vote is antisocial. Until they overcome that puerile response to politics, they will be destined to remain on the outside edge of politics.