Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Various forms of passion

Most Britons are good, conscientious people - content to live together in peace and the pursuit of happiness. But there are groups living among us who don't share those values. They make no contribution and play no part in wider society. They speak their own languages, live in sealed communities - hothouses for extremist thought - and wall themselves off from contact from outsiders. They declare themselves hostile to the majority of people in this country, and openly call for violence against their enemies. Most shockingly of all, in the name of 'liberalism'(!) , they look for ways to twist the legal system in their favour, and scheme to inflict their warped values on the rest of us. While tolerance is an admirable quality, we must surely accept that it has limits, and that any sensible country would have rooted these people out long ago.

I refer, of course, to think tanks.

Paul Mason's sharp, much-linked piece on the Newsnight website considered one reason for the wave of dissent to be the complete language and values disconnect between ordinary people and the Westminster Village - "I'm finding it common among non-politicos these days that whenever you mention the "Big Society" there's a shrug and a suppressed laugh - yet if you move into the warren of thinktanks around Westminster, it's treated deadly seriously." Disjunctions between politics and wider reality aren't a new phenomenon, but a Government like ours (hardly of-the-people), and its attendant policy shops, seem to revel in the division, positively gleeful that they don't share the same empirical reality as the rest of us.

Tory think tanks - driven by a characteristic combination of cloistered ignorance and batshit ideological fervour - have always been the experts at considering the unspeakable and presenting it as common sense. Here you can find the ever-popular Policy Exchange conduct a rational, calm, and proportionate discussion in which they compare anti-cuts protesters to the IRA, and conclude that the Met Firearms and Headbangers Club have been far too tolerant and need to take a considerably more physical line against street protests.

Assorted Tory figures have taken the same tack - endorsing water cannons because the protesters "need a good wash" (total projection, as Dom Fox observes), cheering the use of CS spray* on people pushing leaflets through doors, and so on. The police have contributed their tuppenceworth too - from Hugh Orde's comments about those pesky trespassers who go into Boots without intending to buy anything, to Paul Stephenson's completely feasible and not-at-all panicked threat back in December to ban protest marches entirely.

Among the recommendations of the PE is that kettling 'be retained at all costs'. Ah, kettling. The Spectre of Hillsborough itself. For anyone watching the government and senior police going into full-blown frothing authoritarian heat, it's a flashback to the football crowd control policies in the 1980s. You've got the casual dehumanisation of those in the crowd. The sense of collective responsibility (one person throws a missile, you can all expect a baton charge). For the BBC's 'tough' attempt to exculpate the authorities of any responsibility for Jody McIntyre's treatment ("were you wheeling yourself toward the police?" - one of the most contemptible and pathetic things I have ever heard on television), read the questions asked of bereaved relatives among the cooling bodies of the dead in Sheffield ("so, your husband... he liked a drink, didn't he?). The CPE's considered reponse to the McIntyre incident was to declare that he should have stayed away from the protest altogether. The message is that if you go to one of these demonstrations, you're fair game, and anything that happens is on your head. And for the proposal to ban protest demonstrations entirely, we have an analogue in the final, draconian scheme to introduce ID cards, which would by implication have criminalised all football supporters, as well as killing off casual attendance at a stroke and smothering football's revival before it had even started.

Football survived - just a few years after Hillsborough, MPs who had seen football as a 'law and order issue' were seen fishing for votes by ostentatiously attending games (in suspiciously pristine-looking scarves). I think that whatever strongarm measures are wheeled out against us, and whichever Tory blowhards denounce us over the airwaves, we have real cause for optimism. Just like football, the anti-cuts movement is profoundly popular (even polls in Tory tabloids reveal that the majority have sympathy), and the harder the authorities crack down on it, the worse they will look in the long run. Does anyone really believe that our movement isn't going to outlast this Coalition? The only question is how many of us are going to be injured or imprisoned before then.


Much as we're all enjoying this new wave of unrest, and looking forward to the start of the kettling season and the chance to quote some Lacan with our fellow hipsters, we must remember that the bread-and-butter work of the left goes on. Uncannily enough, the very morning that the world heard David Cameron loudly denounce the 'failed experiment of multiculturalism', the English Defence League were staging a rally in Luton.

More careful analysis of Cameron's speech can be found elsewhere. The first thing that struck me is that, if moderate Muslims (as suggested) must take responsibility for policing their own communities, it follows that if any terrorist attacks do take place, all Muslims bear some of the blame. For the PM to make a statement along these lines on the day of an anti-Muslim march** (sample chant: 'burn down mosques' - also on Youtube, if you're not squeamish) is astonishing. The League predictably leapt on the publicity, declaring that the government had 'come round to their way of thinking'. This kind of political maneouvring is normally referred to as 'dogwhistling'. Can it still be called that if it's brazenly apparent to everyone's ears? The speech had no other substantive content (as far as I am aware, the previous government offered no special suicide-bomber grants).

Most of the speakers at the Luton UAF counter-demo eschewed peace-and-harmony platitudes for a more militant tone. The union reps in particular took pains to link this blatant attempt to create divisions among ordinary people with the wider programme of cuts - much better to draw attention to the brown people taking your jobs and/or benefits than for anyone to address the real causes of our recession. Gathering in one place to be kettled by a (proportionally) heavier police presence than the League felt as futile as ever, but at least the sentiments were right.

I'm sure Cameron's speech was very carefully vetted by Party apparatchiks - I'm sure it has tactical value and will win a few votes among closet racists and the they've-banned-Christmas crowd. Nowadays, though, even the Government's friends in the media can't offer them unqualified support. Even the Mail condemned the forestry sell-off, and even the likes of the Spectator expressed their 'concern' over the economic contraction (the US economy managed to grow despite much of the country enjoying the worst winter in living memory).

As Armando Iannucci quipped, they're dogmatists disguised as pragmatists
- except the disguise is increasingly frayed, and the dogma is one supported by blind faith alone. Tch, eh?

Meanwhile, here's Michael Gove falling over.

  1. The fact that the officer concerned managed to catch himself in the blast is one of those lovely cosmic twists that give atheists momentary pause. The family of officer CW2440 are presumably very grateful he wasn't in Armed Response.
  2. Originally the League were only opposed to extremist Islam, but that distinction seems to have gotten lost behind the proverbial sofa cushions. Frankly I doubt that the average League member could tell a fundamentalist from a normal Muslim, or even from a Hindu or Sikh, without the aid of a map - and probably wouldn't even want to know.
  3. UPDATE. The highly instructive guide, 'How To Win At Kettling', appears to have been taken down, but can still be found in google's cache.

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