It’s not easy being a protester

12:45 pm - March 7th 2009

by Septicisle    

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When it comes to protests like Leila Deen’s yesterday morning, it’s difficult to know where exactly to draw the line. Undoubtedly, having any liquid substance thrown over you is unpleasant, yet unless it’s something spectacularly nasty, such as the far more available urine rather than the “acid” mentioned by the likes of John Prescott, there really shouldn’t be any repercussions for such rare political statements, and Peter Mandelson doesn’t seem to want to take it any further.

In fact, if anything I’d further support the sliming of politicians, or the throwing of custard pies in some circumstances: a politician that can’t take the odd act of direct action is one that really ought to get over themselves. The power they wield, especially someone unelected like Mandelson, is out of all proportion to that of the humble protester; sometimes you have to take your cause to the next level. Deen might have came out of this looking slightly infantile, and her arguments are not as convincing as she might believe, but she succeeded in getting her own personal message across.

It would also be nice if some people could digest such events without restorting to straw men, as the noble Martin Kettle just had to. The greening of Mandelson proves that we don’t live in a police state, even though only those addicted to hyperbole have said we do. Sleepwalking towards one potentially, already in one no. Still, it seems to have been good timing for Kettle to say just that, as the Guardian today has an exclusive on… the police building databases on peaceful protesters.

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About the author
'Septicisle' is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He mostly blogs, poorly, over at on politics and general media mendacity.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Civil liberties ,Our democracy ,Westminster

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Reader comments

1. steve lindsey

So, you would support the “the sliming of politicians” , how grown-up. The plane stupid organisation are anarchists who deny my rights we should not tolerate their intolerence.

It was an assault, she should be arrested and dealt with, hopefully she has friends abroad (eg USA) which she’ll then be unable to visit)

“Right” to what exactly Steve? Your right to a smaller queue? Your right to a bigger seating space perhaps? I think you don’t really know what rights are if you’re so ready to bandy that word around in response to what is, I agree, a fairly adolescent protest all around.

Also, I really dislike how you term this as an assault. An assault really has to result in real harm, not loss of face or simply embarrassment…both of which I doubt Mandleson even felt anyway. It is a sorry state of affairs if you can ever determine this as being anything more than anti-social behaviour.


Are you really arguing that no laws were broken in this protest? That the rule of law does not matter?

I absolutely uphold the right of the individual to protest and break any law they see fit to break but they must be prepared to accept responsibility for the consequences of their actions.

And the application of the rule of law by the police should be even handed and seen to be so. If the protester had been a BNP supporter would he have been arrested? Rightly?

The rule of law does matter, but civil disobedience has a long and honourable tradition in this country and elsewhere. Sometimes law breaking is justified if it is done in the name of the greater good. Obviously there will be differences of opinion about what the ‘greater good’ is, but many campaigns have resorted to civil disobedience to achieve noble ends – suffragettes, Indian independence and gay rights are some examples which immediately spring to mind. A line needs to be drawn, but I agree with Lee on this occasion that no real harm was done so the line wasn’t crossed.

Loved it. As Graham pointed out this country has a long tradition of protest. Don’t know what Steve is crying about.

As for calling this a ‘twattish’ protest – well I’m afraid I refuse to sneer like that. Students and youngsters generally like direct action as opposed to writing letters to the Guardian or something. All power to them.


I agree with everything you say except the last sentence. Every day I am tempted to protest at one of the 6000 appalling new laws introduced by the current government but I know if I decide to do so do so I will have to accept the ramifications of my actions.

My 18 year old son was recently prosecuted and fined £80 for extinguishing a cigarette on the pavement. No real harm was done. Surely, Ms Deen’s act was a greater crime than my son’s- even in terms of littering!!!

That’s why I say the rule of law must be applied in all circumstances. Or not at all.


Answer my question please.

Would it have been correct to prosecute her if this woman was an anti-immigration protester?


The significant difference is that putting a cigarette out on the pavement wasn’t a political act, the other was.

That makes all the difference in the world. Of course the police/courts can respond to both, but I do believe that the police should exercise some further restraint when responding to political protest – within limits of course as they still have a duty to protect personal safety.

On a side not, I can’t stand it when smokers throw their litter all over the place – but £80 seems a bit steep! (in fact real harm is done with cigarette litter –

I do believe that the police should exercise some further restraint when responding to political protest

So you are happy for the BNP to get away with it?

with what?

If the protester had been a BNP supporter.

Let’s not get into whatabouttery. Regardless of the cause, someone throwing custard over a politician should not find themselves arrested and charged, unless they keep doing it repeatedly.

13. Robtherich

Thought youd find this intresting – whose the minister?

Yes. More so, given that a prosecution would only add fuel to their publicity. If we’re going to prosecute BNP members I’m sure there are more serious reasons to do so than a stunt like this.

It’s not worth prosecuting them for something like this if it means diminishing the tradition of civil disobedience and giving the BNP publicity all at the same time.

15. steve lindsey


What I mean by “my rights” is to live in a place where democracy rules, I don’t agree with the third runway but that does not give me the right to pick and choose which laws i’m going to obey. If i do choose to break one then i’ll know what is coming.

As for the word assault, look it up, you’re wrong; in law this was an assault.

Sunny, let’s assume I think you’re a dickhead, so you won’t mind if the next time we meet i pour something over your head. Septicisle seems to think it’ll be ok as long as i don’t do it too many times (how many – I need to know)

Thanks Graham. A good liberal answer.

As with free speech, if you are prepared to uphold everyone’s right to throw the custard even when you disagree strongly with their views, that’s fine.


What was this protest supposed to achieve? I can see the value in direct action – and reminding politicians that, yes, we do exist – but this one seemed a tad pointless. Ross Garman didn’t even elaborate on it.

Don’t know why ppl keep assuming I want to treat BNP ppl differently. What Graham said above. I always argue for free speech and expression because I know that when it comes to enforcement, these restrictions affect minority groups first. Especially environment protesters


Well, she’s been arrested now.

21. Shatterface

Throwing custard over someone is no more a matter of ‘free speech’ than throwing a bucket of piss.

Mandleson is one of the most loathesome representatives of a pretty despicable bunch but this was an assault.

Over on another thread we’ve got writing letters counted as ‘intimate violence’ to boost the statistics of violence against women, putting that on par with rape.

Let’s have some consistancy.

Are you really comparing stalking someone with throwing a custard in someone’s face?

23. Shatterface

So I’d be okay if I threw custard at my ex-girlfriend?

24. Shatterface

Or piss?

You seem to assume the law doesn’t take context into account. So this faux-comparisons are useless.

26. Shatterface

So this is a matter which should be settled by ‘the law’ then?

Because it seems like ‘the law’ is precisely what you have issue with here.

Because it seems like ‘the law’ is precisely what you have issue with here.

Erm, my point was throwing custard at the face of a politician is different to hitting your girlfriend with something. If I threw custard at my GF in a friendly food fight, I’d expect to be treated differently than if I threw something at her during an argument. the law should take that context into account, and it usually does. Clearly not in this case.

28. Shatterface

If you threw custard at your girlfriend in a ‘friendly food fight’ it would be consensual: clearly Mandleson did not consent to this attack, which is what makes it an ATTACK rather than foreplay. Likewise couples can spit or piss on each other during sex (so long as it is consensual) but cannot do this to strangers in the street.

If this had been a Christian fundamentalist throwing custard at Mandleson (or spitting, etc) because of his sexuality we would not be having this conversation.

You are completely right, Shatterface. Its also wrong for the Independent to celebrate the assault by giving the protester an opportunity to pen a piece in their newspaper. Just imagine the if a protester did the same to Woolas to protest against mass immigration and the Daily Mail asked them to write an article supporting their actions. You wouldn’t be able to move for Left hypocrites throwing their toys out of the pram.

“If this had been a Christian fundamentalist throwing custard at Mandleson (or spitting, etc) because of his sexuality we would not be having this conversation.”

Why not? The same principle applies.

I think you’re missing Sunny’s point about the context of each incident. Throwing something at Mandelson might not be consensual, but it is political. Therefore any reaction can also be deemed political (including the action of not doing anything).

Throwing something at your girlfriend in an argument is neither consensual nor political.

Is throwing something at Sunny political then. For god’s sake this is schoolboy politics.

What is?

“I don’t agree with his politics” is not a defence against an assault charge.

If this had been a Christian fundamentalist throwing custard at Mandleson (or spitting, etc) because of his sexuality we would not be having this conversation.

Oh jesus, you really have a problem reading what I say. I said above that if a BNP person did the same thing I’d have a problem above… so why would I not be standing up for the rights of a Christian fundamentalist? If you want to use that argument against me, at least read through what I’ve written above on the same thread. I’d expect that from chavscum – he’s just a stupid troll. but I expect you to read around shatterface.

Shatterface: We’re not consistent because we don’t share all the same views. I thought that would be obvious.

“As for the word assault, look it up, you’re wrong; in law this was an assault.”

Let’s not look to the law here to determine our own levels of interpretation, eh? It’s defined in the law (as someone above said) that putting your cigarette out on the floor is littering, even if you pick it back up again. It is law that you are acting dangerously enough to receive a fine if you cycle through a red light on a pedestrian phase, but not if you get off and walk your cycle instead.

No doubt this person can be charged with assault, but that is not what happened, regardless of what the law says. We should all be a little more careful about how readily we accept legal definition before Labour goes any further down the lines of making perfectly or relatively harmless activities tantamount to serious crimes

As for your rights, democracy wasn’t hurt by this stunt, only perhaps someone’s pride.

“If this had been a Christian fundamentalist throwing custard at Mandleson (or spitting, etc) because of his sexuality we would not be having this conversation.”

I happen to disagree with this protester, and the one that threw custard at Clarkson back along. There are just some of us that don’t think getting hit with custard holds any equivalence with being slapped in the face.

“Let’s not look at the law”
“that is not what happened, regardless of what the law says”

Fortunately for the rest of us, the law does not depend upon your interpretation of it.

If you don’t like it we have mechanisms to get it changed.

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  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    New post: It’s not easy being a protester

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