Student riots: so, what’s next?

In what is becoming a depressing trend, the left’s position on the student riots is another example of polemical cul-de-sac. Their approach so far has had limited (if any) positive impact; yet their rhetoric promotes further chaos without constructive solutions.

Already the media is asking whether water-cannons, rubber bullets and tear gas should be used to control future protests. The less extreme alternative I’ve heard involves the police monitoring social media accounts and arresting potential troublemakers at the first sign of trouble. Based on the discussions I’ve seen on Twitter, blogs and the news, both these options would be seen as an act of provocation by protesters.

Revelers

But what else can the police do? If the propaganda of some on the left is to be believed, the violence is an understandable reaction to the coalition’s “cultural vandalism”. The suggestion is that it is not only unsurprising, but inevitable. It may surprise these commentators to learn that such language would not invite a softer approach from the police.

If we ignore the fatalists and instead listen to those we might call the determinists, the student violence is a direct consequence of the actions of the police. This line of argument goes: you buggers started it; if you stop bashing us with bats, we’ll stop tearing up central London. Determinists know the police are the problem. The negative energy generated by all those badges and batons drive good middle-class girls and boys crazy.

You only have to remember the storming of Millbank Tower to spot the flaw in that line of thinking.

With neither side backing down, we’ll either end up with the kind of authoritarian police state radical lefties have wet dreams about, or a continuation of the misdirected aggression that will eat away at public support until talk of loony lefties and militant socialists destroy all the credibility built up by the progressive movement over the past decade.

But there could be a middle ground. Protest leaders should work with the police to confirm a mutually acceptable route and accept responsibility to ensure that route is followed. Any groups who break away from this route are NOT protesters, and can assumed to be in “breach the peace”. If they refuse to rejoin the protest proper, they should be immediately arrested. Sounds harsh (and mighty simplistic), but if this can be done quickly and efficiently there is no need for violence to overshadow the cause of the genuine protesters.

There are a few glaring problems with this.

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The first being: lefty-liberals won’t like the idea. Mass arrests. Officially-sanctioned protest routes. I may as well suggest they glue identification cards to their foreheads. Many will prefer rioting. They seem to agree with Donald Rumsfeld who once said (much to left-wing derision, I might add), “Freedom’s untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things.”

The second problem is that I get the feeling the police were actually attempting a more liberal approach to this already. From what I understand, the theory behind kettling is that it contains a potentially unruly crowd without the bad press of arresting a whole lot of innocent people. At the moment, the police study CCTV footage after the event to identify criminals. I assume they do this to avoid inciting more trouble by dragging teenagers into police vans in front of their mates. If the less heavy-handed version of my compromise plan already enrages the left, a concerted effort to ‘beat’ the police’s change of tactics will be a certainty.

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The third problem arises if the vast majority of protesters, even those who flee down side streets to escape the agreed route, are genuinely peaceful. I, for one, don’t buy the idea that these protests were infiltrated by a small group of thugs (European-anarchists have been blamed, but the worst example was on Newsnight. They blamed the violence on “London gangs” and attempted to back up this claim using a shot of a few black kids wandering through the crowd). The unapologetic language of virtually every student group and left-wing organisation, twitterer or blogger I’ve seen tells me that even if it was all the fault of a few bad apples in the pot, there’s no real desire to have them removed. However, if it really is a minority who are the problem and the majority would gladly see them identified and detained, the ‘middle ground’ approach is too broad a brush and innocent people will likely be wrongly arrested.

The fourth and final problem is that, so far, I’ve seen no evidence the organisers of the protests are willing to accept any responsibility for the chaos. They all fall into either the fatalist or the determinist camp and talk about the protests as if people randomly turn up and do whatever they want. In other words, it’s not really their problem and they don’t care. This is a failure on two levels.

  • One: as Malcolm Gladwell explained in his controversial article about social activism, movements succeed by utilising rigid, almost military-like command structures. If there is no central force organising the protest they’re not only inviting anarchy onto the streets, but the movement as a whole is also likely to fail.
  • Two: this makes it far more difficult to achieve a middle ground between police and protesters. Without a clear idea of who’s organising the campaign, the police can not properly plan for it and will therefore have to resort to less sophisticated, more reactionary measures to cope. Without control over the situation and a working relationship with the police, protest leaders can’t protect those who want nothing more than a peaceful demonstration, which could result in more people being hurt (by both club-happy rozzers and brick-hurling agitators).

And so we’re stuck in a game of chicken between the protesters and the police. One in which neither seem keen to back down in. You could argue the police literally can’t back down. They’ve tried hands-off and it was a disaster. At best they could move sideways and try to refine the current techniques, without resorting to more exotic tactics. I hope (but don’t really expect) they can find a way to quickly spot and remove the ringleaders, without stirring up more animosity in the process. I believe the left has far greater leeway to tone down their inflammatory language and help isolate the firebrands. But to many that would be seen as surrendering to the coalition and Police State UK.

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It’s easy to lose sight of the fact there’s tens of millions more people in the UK watching these protests on their TV screens than there are taking part in person, or in their own particular echo chamber on the infoweb. There’s millions of royalists appalled at the attack on the Prince’s car. There’s millions of nationalists disgusted by the desecration of our national heritage. There’s millions of bemused, ordinary people who aren’t too fond of the cops in a vague British fashion, but also reckon (in a level-headed, detached, not unsympathetic kind of way) that if you rush head-first into a line of riot police carrying clubs, you’re probably going to get smacked. There’s also millions of people whose families have never gone to university, never expect to go to university and are wondering why they should pay for a bunch of feral, narcissistic idiots to get a better career and earn more money than they could ever dream of.

The real battle isn’t between protesters and police. It’s not you versus them. It’s winning the hearts and minds of voters and politicians. Explain to me how the behaviour we’ve seen over the past month has helped achieve that.

Photo credits: honeylotus, guerillaphotography

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The guy who is currently running the country has the support of only 12% of the population (and other such stories)

Apparently, the honeymoon is over. But at least we’ve all been fucked. Last week, the Daily Mail unleashed a report based on a Harris Interactive Poll that contained some genuinely interesting findings. In true Daily Mail fashion, their summary is a lesson in spin:

The Coalition Government’ s honeymoon with the British public is all but over… the survey finds that some of the shine has come off the Coalition, with 57 per cent of people describing its performance as ‘disappointing’.

But the Harris Interactive poll also identifies strong support for Mr Cameron personally, along with backing for the Coalition’s programme of cuts.

I suppose that’s true (and are we supposed to be capitalising coalition?). But while 57% described the coalition as ‘disappointing’, 52% described it as ‘effective’. “Strong support” for David Cameron turns out to be that 26% of those polled thought he was performing better than expected – only 4% more than the 22% who said worse than expected. What the Daily Mail reporter Jason Groves interpreted as backing for the Con/Lib’s cuts was presumably based on the 56% who said yes, deep cuts are essential to tackle the deficit. What this analysis doesn’t seem to take into account, however, are the 41% who disagreed with the coalition’s programme of cutting quickly, compared to 37% who agreed, and the 38% who believe the coalition has the wrong balance between cuts and taxes, compared to 32% who think they have the right balance. (It could be more accurately said, in this case, that the country was divided on the issue, but with slightly more people seeming to favour Labour’s system of cuts).

But I suppose that’s what makes this such an interesting poll: the questions are vague enough so that any interpretation is valid. With this in mind, I’ve made a few observations of my own…

Why aren’t the Lib Dems doing their own bit of soul-searching?

According to the Mail, 28% of those polled said they would vote Labour at the next election. This is down slightly from 29% at the election. This election loss has triggered an immense period of reassessment and analysis from those in the Labour party, with many members calling for a rethink of just about everything that made the party electable since 1997 and, unsurprisingly, a major lurch to the left. This followed a crushing 5% loss in share of the vote compared to 2005.

Meanwhile, after the most high profile Lib Dem campaign ever, in which Nick Clegg was widely hailed as the winner of the televised debates and both the Independent and the Guardian came out in support of the party, their vote share increased from 22% in 2005 to… 23% in 2010. (I’ve rounded these results up to the nearest whole number; for the record the actual increase was 0.9% – for those who prefer mathematical symbols, that’s <1%). Of course, votes didn't matter to the High Prophet of Politics 2.0 after he'd secured entrenchment in Cameron's government.

But with the Lib Dem vote having now collapsed to just 12%, I find it strange that Clegg's party appear completely unresponsive to these damning figures. Of course, they are technically in government, so I don't expect them to embark on the sort of excruciating process of introspection currently boring anyone following the Labour leadership contest, but Clegg's arrogance seems inversely proportional to his support. If an election was called tomorrow, the man who is supposedly running this country in his boss' absence might only expect 12% of the popular vote.

For The Party of Perpetual Opposition, a stubborn, high-minded adherence to so-called principles, at the expense of the will of the people, may have held a certain noble/underdog charm. In just over 100 days of government, however, we've seen how easily such self-righteousness has been channeled – at the glaring expense of the righteousness. If the Lib Dems ever want to be anything more than a prop for whichever of the two main parties are found the least unpopular at the time, maybe they should start the difficult job of figuring out how a clique of disaffected idealists can build support in advance of the next election.

In 100 days, super-slick “Call me Dave” transforms into Calamity Cameron… and yet is considered to have performed “better than expected”. WTF?

Cameron’s litany of gaffes has been well-reported. And with one of the more prominent examples elevating the non-existant role of the U.S. as Britain stood alone against the Nazi war machine, it can hardly be said that this wouldn’t have touched a nerve. Despite this, Cameron has the exaltation of being the only minister in the Mail’s poll to exceed public expectations – in that 26% of people said he’d performed ‘better’ and 22% said ‘worse’ than expected. Crucially, 42% said he’s performed “as expected”, with no indication of whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.

Regardless, as the other ministers (Cable, Clegg and Osborne) were deemed to disappoint, Cameron must be doing something right. If it’s not pissing on our country’s “finest hour” or pissing off the Iranians and Pakistanis, then what is it?

Cameron’s greatest skill has been distancing himself from almost every decision and action being made by his government. Instead, he’s touring the country, visiting the downtrodden and answering questions ‘from the hip’. He’s flitting around the world, hitting it off with The Hope Incarnate and leading a vast entourage of seemingly important businessmen, doing seemingly important things. He’s encouraging tourism, not in the despairingly modern New Labour sense, but in a proper English sense using words like heritage, in a way that will, presumably, attract the ‘right’ kind of tourists. Cameron’s been reassuringly traditional and superficially ineffectual: a perfectly non-threatening example of aristocratic folly.

I wonder if, as a schoolboy at Eton, he was perceived as ‘keen’. He certainly fits the type. And you can’t dislike the ‘keen’ kids. Though they may not be as bright or as imaginative as the others in his class, you’ll always give them an A for effort. Osborne can’t pull this off. He comes across as the spiteful little tosspot cheering on the bullies in the hope that they’ll leave him alone for another hour. Clegg is the egotistic overachiever, and Cable the sanctimonious nerd. The problem with the ‘keen’ kids, though, is that they too can be right little bastards. Only worse, because they seem so utterly harmless (after all, they want to do right, they really do). Behind this facade lies… well, that’s the point, who knows? 100 days as Prime Minister and Cameron is still playing the act of facile do-gooder, saying whatever he must to get people to like him. That may mean slagging off Israel in Turkey, Pakistan in India, or… uh, Britain in the US. As an example of his super-teflon mutant powers, which of this government’s cuts can you really pin onto him?

He doesn’t want these cuts. No, no, no. To cut hard and cut now is a difficult decision, made unavoidable due to Labour’s legacy. These next four years are going to be painful and he wishes there was another option. But there isn’t.

When asked in one of his PM Direct town hall meetings if these “painful” cuts will be reversed in better times, he stressed that these are “once and for all” measures. As Hélène Mulholland reported in The Guardian’s live politics blog: “He is not for turning things back once the country’s finances have improved.”

Something doesn’t add up here. But, I have to admit, he has performed better than I expected.

“We want the troops home as soon as practically possible!” Define as soon as practically possible…

The final question that caught my eye in the poll asked, “when should British troops pull out of Afghanistan”. A whopping 66% replied, “as soon as practically possible”. The Mail chose to present this piece of information with the headline, “Voters Want Troops Home”. Which is understandable really. I’m sure the Independent would have opted for a far more decisive angle, probably along lines I’m already overly familiar with due to excessive exposure to left wing bloggers: the war can not be won, we’re making things worse, the Taliban weren’t so bad, we just don’t understand their culture, women like to have their noses cut off… stuff like that.

The beauty of such a vague question means I too can choose to read it in a way that suits my world view…

Only 14% of voters want our troops out of Afghanistan within 5 years. Two-thirds say they believe we should wait until practicalities allow us to withdraw – presumably, this means waiting until the country is stable, secure and the people finally have some hope that, after decades of being fucked over and forsaken by foreign powers looking after their own interests, they can enjoy some of the comforts taken for granted by these invaders. Even if this takes a generation.

Whose analysis are you going to trust, dear readers? The Mail’s or mine?

What kind of new lifestyle awaits the British public at the end of this Tory/Lib Dem detox?

I was unfortunate enough to read this pile of garbage by Matthew d’Ancona in today’s Evening Standard. It’s an oddly toothless piece considering it covered almost an entire page (that’s valuable advertising space), seemingly designed to push several of the coalition’s favourite narratives. My favourite has to be where d’Ancona casually, slavishly, refers to 10-20% cuts in defence and education as “efficiencies”. And thus develops a fresh piece of unspeak.

Trust me, the vast majority of d’Ancona’s commentary is crap and not worth even a quick scan. However, one remark did get me thinking:

Tell somebody he has to scale back his mortgage, his family’s food bill, his spending on his car, his holiday budget by 10 per cent, and he will wince. Tell him that he has to slash 40 per cent from his monthly spending and he will have to change everything about the way he and his family live.

What d’Ancona’s inadvertently getting at is that, thanks to our government’s excessive cuts, we’re soon to experience a dramatic change in our “national lifestyle”. Sounds quite exciting in a “change we can believe in” kind of way. Who reading this hasn’t pledged to reinvent themselves at some point in their lives?

The scary thing, however, is that nobody seems to have a clue what this new “us” looks like.

To use a personal analogy, so favoured by coalition politicians, if you make big, restrictive changes in your life you usually have some sort of desirable end result in mind. Partly to help encourage you through the difficult times, but also to help you structure and plan what to keep and what to cut.

For example, if you’ve lost your job, you’d do well to cut down on booze, fags, satellite TV and might consider selling the Xbox. On the other hand, you’d be foolish to cut spending on transport, broadband and may even want to invest in some shirts from Peacocks. Similarly, any company wouldn’t dream of “efficiency” savings or, let’s be more accurate here, huge fucking cuts, without some sort of strategy.

This is what bothers me the most about the Tory/Lib Dem hack-frenzy; there’s no clear direction. Like crime scene investigators we’re slowly discovering the victims of the coalition massacre piece by bloody piece, but we don’t really know the killers’ motives.

There’s a vague understanding, evident in the articles of certain columnists, that a crippled public sector is a desirable thing. It’s generally assumed that this is the Tories ideological intention, but this wasn’t communicated to the electorate by David Cameron before the election, this wasn’t what Nick Clegg promised his voters, and this still hasn’t been addressed since the formation of the ConDem alliance. Also, what does a small state actually MEAN!?

Ok, we’re being told that nobody wants to do this and it’s unavoidable. For the sake of argument, let’s say this is true. That still doesn’t make the need for a strategy any less valid. There must still be some sort of end result in mind that’s guiding these cuts. Or is it simply a case of hack away what you can?

I would speculate that the Tories have plans so hideous they intend to keep it silent or risk terrifying the voters. Unfortunately, based on what I’ve seen from the ‘new politics’ so far, I don’t think even they really know what they’re doing.