N*ck Clegg? Dick head.

Posted on January 1, 2011 by


Demonstrators outside Parliament

Ninth of December 2010. London. I went to a demonstration. I don’t often, but I felt strongly about the issue and someone had brought it to my (often not attentive enough) attention. Allegedly as an “austerity” measure, the government was about to make tuition fees for university (for UK students too) maximum £9000 (more than €9000) per year (they’ve done it now by the way). They were about £3000 maximum before. That was high enough, thought I. Yes, you get a government loan, but in Sweden they pay nothing and get grants, thought I. I could not sit back and let this happen without an eyelid batted. You may disagree, but this isn’t about that. That’s for next time. This is about the demo and the atrocious farce it became.

So! I followed the police and TV helicopters and found the march about 1pm. We walked down to Parliament and it was a sunny day. “When I say ‘Nick Clegg’ you say ‘dick head’!” and other witticisms rang through the streets. We reached Parliament Square and did a lot of shouting and placard waving. I stood, shuffled and watched mostly.

The first ‘event’ was that there was a fenced area in the middle of the square keeping everyone off the sacred grass. It didn’t last long. It toppled and the police gave up trying to untopple it. It went no further though. We just wandered on the grass.

Around 3pm everyone rushed to one entrance to the square. I rushed too as I had no idea what was happening, and am sheep-like. It was pretty packed, so I squirmed my way back to a more open area. I think what had just happened was that the police had shut us all in, and people had surged towards the last entrance to shut. All several hundred of us. All several hundred almost entirely peaceful protesters. We were contained. Or “kettled”[1] as the popular term is. I didn’t realize at the time though.

I went back and joined a few less-incensed stragglers waving placards in front of Parliament. I had an apple. I listened to some salsa. I shuffled. I decided to wait till the working day was up and it was dark. I was going to a carol concert at 6:30, so aimed to leave by 5. Things seemed to be getting a bit heated at the edges, with many a placard stick being thrown at police. I stayed well clear.

So! It was 5, and I tried to leave. I walked down Whitehall (an effing massive street named after an effing massive palace that burnt down an effing long time ago). There was no exit. I asked. “I don’t think there is one is there. You’re stuck in this time warp.” imparted an officer wryly. I thought he was joking. He wasn’t. “When can I get out then?”. “I don’t know. If there is an exit it’ll be down there [end of Whitehall].”.

Eff. Tänkte jag. No carols for me.

To cut a long story short, I was still stuck in there around 8 or 9 when things started getting interesting. With several hundred people still trapped outside in freezing conditions with no food or water, harbouring a large dissatisfaction with the government, they started smashing. Smashing the Treasury. Smashing the Supreme Court. Smashing the edges of their compound. Smashing the bullet-proof windows of the institutions of power which were effectively detaining them. Most were not involved (including myself), and most who were were hardcore smashers or school kids. I absolutely don’t agree with the smashing, and would like to have seen a demo at which everyone could have felt entirely safe. After a few hours however I must admit though even my well-mannered though rumbling stomach and chattering teeth felt the odd inclination to damage property.

Around 9:30-10 we were herded onto a bridge and kept for an hour. We were then individually paraded past video cameras on our way out. We got out around 11pm. We were all freezing cold, had had hardly any food for hours (an apple’s not all that much), and dying for a p*ss (having dutifully restrained myself).

I looked at BBC news when I got back. Prince Charles and Camilla attacked by protesters. Terrible violence by protesters. I avoid BBC now. The Guardian had a more balanced view, and didn’t dwell on Mr. Eco-Gardening-Architecture’s pseudo-Cornish associate quite so much (not that I mind eco-gardening-architecture). I was there, and I agree. Nearly all of the violence happened after the police containment. According to all sources however we had been “off the agreed route”. They didn’t kettle the “agreed rally point”. The police told us with tannoys. Hm? Hm. No they didn’t. Not me and the hundreds of “dick head!” chanters I was with.

So? Well that wasn’t ideal. Trapped outside by police for hours when you expected to pop along for a quick chant. I’m sure it was even less ideal for the many with families, and many families themselves (there were plenty of kids) who were stuck too. For them so too would the violence have been very worrying, but as mentioned most occurred after containment, as was against property. Fundamentally I think, from the experience of it, the kettling tactic is outrageous. It stifles and undermines the very concept of peaceful protest, and means that those who care can’t get involved. We don’t shut off parts of countries because they have a higher crime rate than the surroundings and only let people out one by one, so what justification is there here? And in this case all it did was make things worse as far as I could see. “Too many kettles, not enough tea!” as the chant went. Worst however was the media and political reaction. It was our fault apparently. Not only a small minority, according to the Prime Minister, but many smashed stuff. Should I smash him up, thought I? No, I’ll write him a letter. So I did. Hello Dave. Please read carefully Dave.

Roland Sookias

[1] “kettle” is a literal translation of the German Kessel which means a boiler really rather than a kettle (though as ever it’s kind of complicated). I think the analogy is contained potentially dangerous energy!

Posted in: Education, Politics