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There is no long term security response to something that is essentially a political problem

December 17, 2010

The government may be heartened by the news that the English Defence League is offering to come to the aid of beleaguered Bobbies in their struggle against student protesters. Well, it’s another potential weapon in Cameron & Co’s arsenal to consider, along with kettling, water canons and banning demonstrations entirely. The problem with all these options is that they are security responses to what is essentially a political problem. You can intimidate, batter and proscribe people but at the end of the day you’re still left with the stark reality that there is no mandate for the coalition government’s cuts. Without a consensus or discernible popular support the coalition has abbreviated debate and resorted to force in order to pursue its agenda. That is a crisis of democracy.

What else would account for the recent demonstrations? Did the people in England suddenly and inexplicably become ungovernable? Did a generation once regarded as largely apathetic and politically disinterested succumb to a sudden surge of raging teenage hormones and take to the streets by way of releasing all that pent-up youthful, libidinal energy? Of course not. Rather as Johann Hari points out in his column today, the protests are an expression of the will of the majority of the British people. ‘Look at their two great causes’, writes Hari:

opposing £27,000-a-degree fees for university students, and making the super-rich pay the £120bn they currently avoid in tax. Opponents of top-up fees outnumber supporters by 10 percent, while 77 percent of us support a massive crackdown on the people who live here but do not pay taxes here. This isn’t an attack on democracy, it’s a demand for it. It’s a refusal to be part of the silent majority any more. When politicians are defying the will of the people – and breaking the “solemn pledges” on which they took our votes – protest is necessary.

In Northern Ireland we have a long history of insurrection and civil disobedience. So does England, for that matter, but the ruling class prefer you don’t mention it for fear it might undermine the myth of a glorious history uninterupted by social conflict. Northern Ireland’s violent past is too fresh to be denied (and perhaps not entirely settled) but it’s interesting to hear that some have been looking to the experience of police in Northern Ireland for inspiration. Ian Paisley Jnr has called for water cannons to be made available for use in London and it was reported last week that Scotland Yard were liaising with police in Northern Ireland on this issue. Mercifully, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, made clear that water cannon were not government approved for use in England and Wales, presumably because they work better on Micks.

But the real point here is that Northern Ireland does have a lesson it could teach the government in Whitehall and the boys in Scotland Yard, and that is, you cannot resolve a political dispute with draconian acts and repressive measures. You can perhaps contain it for a short time, but the simmering resentment remains and eventually explodes, often with tragic consequences. We’ve come close to that already on the streets of London with the head injury sustained by Alfie Meadows.

The talk of water canons and bans are a distraction from the key issue: the UK is currently governed by an unrepresentative cabal pursuing an agenda that is diametrically opposed to the interests of most of the electorate. Now, let’s be frank, this has never bothered anyone much before. What’s different this time is that the people of the UK have been marched into two unpopular wars in Iraq and Afghanistan by politicians who lied in the process; they are suffering because profligate, greed bankers destroyed the economy; followed shortly by the exposure of widespread political corruption in the shape of the expenses scandal; and now the same discredited political class are cutting jobs and public services to clear up a mess created by the fat cats in the financial sector. Fuck, seen in that context, the protests have been mild. I’m surprised we haven’t witnessed a gunpowder plot. The government is probably anticipating one. There’ll be tanks on the streets by the new year.

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