17th – 26th October
From hippies in tents to Boris Bouncers, Sylvia Mann discusses Britain’s protest culture and the inherent failings of the ‘violent arm’ of the state.
‘They’re all arseholes, them in that building there’
Proclaimed an old hippy pointing towards Parliament after a copper had asked her motivation for protesting. This encounter typified the convoluted layers of this political and social experience. On one level, this lady had said it all. We instinctively exclude those from society who we perceive as breaking our accepted moral code. Individuals are treated differently to those who are seen to be breaking with accepted behaviour for some higher purpose. But these players are seen as compromised; so the public hates politicians because in order to do their job they can have no morals. Everything is up for negotiation.
But this is more than an abstract plea for politicians and the ruling elites to have a value system. There are systematic failings that exacerbate the harm the tragic flaw of human greed can inflict upon the public and the environment. The ‘press-tithes’ have managed to promulgate the view that the hippies in tents have no solutions. Russel Brand, who insidious narrative that there is no obvious answer is a gift to those who can only be harmed by them, has aided this. Since 2011, the demands have become very specific as Tory policies have become more pernicious. This is the list agreed in a meeting on Sunday 26th illustrated below.
People Before Profit
- No privatisation of the NHS
- Programme of green social housing
- Close down tax havens
- No TTIP CETA & TISA trade deals
- Abolish tuition fees
- Living wage for all
- Universal basic income
- No to privatisation of all public services, including but not limited to schools, police, public transport and public spaces
- Reverse privatisation of public spaces
Environment Before Profit
- Ban tracking and invest in renewable energy
- New green deal including one million climate jobs
Democracy Before Profit
- Reform of party funding and lobbying and ensure full transparency
- Reform and democratise the City of London Corporation and end the role of Rembrancer
- Introduce proportional representation
- MPs not to have second jobs
- Close the ‘revolving door’ (between government and corporations)
- Oppose corporate secondment
- On entering the Houses of Parliament members must divest themselves of all financial interests and this must be subject to credible oversight
- Hold a citizen-led Constitutional Convention for real democracy which must recognise that a constitution is a living document
- Major democratic reform of the media in order to break the stranglehold of the media by vest interests
The layers within the violent arm of the state were shown: present were police officers in abundance. They also had ‘Liaison Officers,’ whose job it was to remain detached from the implementation of the violent part of the violent arm and mediate between the police and protesters, counterparts of our ‘Legal Advisors’ and as impartial. The TSGs (Territorial Support Group) got called in to lift the protesters when things got serious and the grass was threatened. Then there was the violent arm of the Mayor, or Boris Bouncers, the ‘Heritage Wardens.’ They are employees of a private security firm: ‘C.U.K. Security Services LTD.’ They are hired by the GLA (Greater London Authority) for £1,928,431, or in other words, taxpayers’ money. However, Dean Eardley, the manager and former Army Engineer, now works for ‘Accent on Security Ltd,’ based in Manchester as opposed to Glasgow for the former and in a state of liquidation. Eardley’s LinkedIn profile professes he is ‘responsible for the management of the Heritage Warden Service … for the Mayor of London, including the training and implementation of enforcement status for the Heritage Wardens.’ The law against protest on Parliament Square was ‘The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011,’ stated below.
For the purposes of this Part, a ‘prohibited activity’ is any of the following-
- operating any amplified noise equipment in the controlled area of Parliament Square;
- erecting or keeping erected in the controlled area of Parliament Square-
- any tent, or
- any other structure that is designed, or adapted, (solely or mainly) for the purpose of facilitating sleeping or staying in a place for any period;
- using any tent or other such structure in the controlled area of Parliament Square for the purpose of sleeping or staying in that area;
- placing or keeping in place in the controlled area of Parliament Square any sleeping equipment with a view to its use (whether or not by the person placing it or keeping it in place) for the purpose of sleeping overnight in that area;
- using any sleeping equipment in the controlled area of Parliament Square for the purpose of sleeping overnight in that area.
So the battle begun. But lying there in the mild rain amongst an assortment of hippies, vague anarchists and fairly straights, the fact that we were only trying to stay dry and sleep and that there was a fellow wandering around offering people tea from an actual, genuine tea pot, and another guy near me knitting, made the whole thing seemed ridiculously British. The comparison with Hong Kong does not paint either side in a good light. Some that got arrested later on told me that the police said they should be so lucky; they would be treated much worse in Hong Kong. They were proud of tolerating protest more than a totalitarian regime that harvests the organs of its political dissidents. It did seem, however, that Occupy were doing the police’s job for them. The premise was that the site was a ‘safe space’ that included banning alcohol. When we were drinking we were not bothered about the police; we were hiding our cans from Occupy. This did jar me, especially when we got told not to swear at the police officers. There is no law against that, but they didn’t want to antagonise them. But what about the lack of hierarchy and individual expression of protest? I disdain our freedom of speech being taken by the most insidious of methods: self-censorship.
Tuesday saw Green MP Jenny Jones getting arrested. She wrote about the erosion of the right to protest. The fight seems to have become an existential one for Occupy. So back to our friendly policeman chatting to the lady. The police appear to be trained to have two personas. One warms the white middle-class to their cause. The other kills an immense number with no accountability. When I asked an officer his opinion on the protest, he gave a potentially telling response, that as he was constantly being recorded there were things he couldn’t say. This could have been a sign that he sympathised or it could have been a cynical ploy to make us assume this. The ambivalence is shown by the fact it can be definitely one or the other depending on whom you ask. But what is certain is the tactic of getting information by having a ‘friendly chat.’ This is most effective in this country. Protesters in Ferguson facing a tank would have no such conflict. So when you benefit from (if you are white and middle-class) being able to ask your local bobby for the time (I might be losing my audience, but you get the picture) ask at what price your good experience of the police costs other demographics.
Photography: Creative Commons