The siege of Climate Camp

3:38 pm - April 2nd 2009

by Stuart White    

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There is an old anarchist saying: the state creates the violence which it uses to justify its existence. Like a lot of anarchist sayings, it is an exaggeration of the truth. But it nevertheless contains a partial truth. If you needed evidence of this truth, one only had to be present at the G20 Climate Change Camp in Bishopsgate on April 1, 2009.

Image from Indymedia.

Kathy (my wife) and I met up at the Climate Change Camp at around 4pm. We went to ‘Space 3’ where the New Economics Foundation (NEF) was scheduled to run a session on transitioning to a low carbon economy. Andrew Simms, from NEF, was the speaker. Kathy and I sat down amidst the throng, and gratefully accepted pieces of the tasty vegan chocolate cake that was being passed around. A family group sat next to us, their toddler just about able to walk. Andrew said a few words about NEF’s work and then threw the session open for people to make their own suggestions about how to lower our carbon footprint.

We then took a walk around the Camp, spending a long time listening to the drumming and dancing at the far end. The sun was out. The music was great. Various kinds of food were being cooked and consumed. We started to need a pee, but neither of us could quite work up the courage to try out the Camp’s hastily assembled eco-sensitive toliet facilities (advertised with the not entirely enticing slogan ‘Another poo is possible’). Around ten past five, we sauntered off to Brick Lane for a meal, feeling that we had done our eco-citizenly duty.

On the way we heard on the radio that the situation in Bishopsgate had suddenly become ‘tense’. This surprised us as the atmosphere when we left, about 15 minutes before this radio news report, was entirely peaceful and convivial. It also seemed surprising since at 6pm, the scheduled activities in the Camp were:
(1) Buddhist meditation;
(2) how to fight climate change with poetry; and
(3) activist trauma support.
We decided that we’d take a careful look back at the Camp once we’d finished the important business of having our dinner.

When we approached the Camp for the second time, at around 7.15 pm, the situation had changed completely. Approaching from the Liverpool Street station end we were confronted by a line of police vans, nose to nose, completely blocking entry to the Camp. Police officers in riot helmets were lined up behind the vans. Gradually, they formed a line in front of the vans. Noone was to be allowed in to the Camp. As if to fart in the face of the Climate Change Camp, all the police vans, though stationary, had their engines running (and this superfluous engine running continued for about an hour).

Beyond the first police line we could see a second police line of officers shoulder to shoulder. They appeared to be refusing to let any of those in the Camp leave. Nobody walked out of the Camp in the two and a half hours we stayed. One woman told us that she had managed to run out, had been grabbed by police officers, given an £80 fine for swearing at police officers while she was grabbed, and then released. (I have no way of verifying this.)

We learnt that the same police lines had been constructed at the other end of Bishopsgate, and that the alleys leading into the area were also being blocked off by the police. (The one alley we tried was certainly blocked off.)

The police were besieging the Climate Change Camp.

No-one allowed in; noone allowed out. We thought of the family with the toddler. Had the police allowed some people, e.g., those with young children, to leave before they drew up their lines?

Why were the police doing this? One answer: “It’s the superior powers, I’m afraid”, said one policeman in good temper (rather in the spirit of the WW1 infantry song, ‘We’re here because we’re here because we’re here because we’re here’).

Another police officer (something like): “I don’t have to give you an explanation because I am acting on information which is not available to you.”

A third police officer: “There was violence inside the Camp.”

Now this I knew, almost certainly, was a complete, bare-faced lie. I had been inside the Camp up until about twenty minutes before the police started this deployment. Given the atmosphere when I left, it was inconceivable that the Camp had suddenly become violent. It was a party!

So I looked thepoliceman in the eye: “That’s bare-faced lie – I was in the camp just before this started and I know it wasn’t violent.”

His reply? He immediately conceded, with a bit of a laugh, that, yes, he had indeed lied. Feeling a rush of republican self-righteousness hitting me, I asked him if he thought that this is how police officers properly serve the citizenry: by telling them bare-faced lies. Obviously hoping that I would just shut up and go away, he sort-of laughed again and agreed that, yes, this is how police officers properly serve the public.

Some officers were wearing balaclavas under their riot helmets. I pointed out to one officer that this meant I couldn’t see his face properly. (I later learnt from another officer that they are worn because of their flame-repellant properties.) I then also noticed that he had no identification number on his jacket. Thus, if things got nasty, and he ended up in a tussle with a protestor, the protestor would have no way of identifying him: no face, no number. I reported this to the Legal Observer on the scene. About ten minutes later, another officer hastily tacked on some identification numbers to the offending jacket.

So what do I take away from all of this?

First, I feel somewhat sorry for the police. Earlier in the day, they had been relaxed and good-tempered. After the seige started, they were tense – everyone was now tense – and their attitude veered between those who managed to remain reasonably good-tempered, and those who adopted a defensive attitude bordering on contempt. I don’t think most of the rank and file really wanted to be there. What a waste of their time and energy, and distortion of their professionalism.

I say ‘waste’ of time and energy, and distortion of their professionalism, because, despite all of my questions, I never did get an explanation of why the police had decided to lay siege to the Climate Change Camp at around 5.30pm, when the mood was convivial, and, you’ll recall, the next sessions were scheduled to be on Buddhist meditation, how to use poetry to fight climate change, and ‘activist trauma support’.

I can understand not letting people in. Maybe you want the Camp to disperse? But then why also, apparently, refuse to let people out? What is the point of beseiging the Camp? Besieging the Camp would only have one obvious, predictable effect: to create a tense, potentially violent situation where none previously existed. Either the people making the operational decisions are stupid or very sinister indeed.

Third: the one report of this episode I have seen in the mainstream media so far – the tail-end of a piece on BBC News 24 – is superficial and gives no sense of the dynamic I have described above. I invite readers of Next Left to test what they get from mainstream media outlets against the account I have given here (which obviously is only one, limited account).

Finally, I think this episode provides some much-needed perspective on the recent discussion on Next Left around what lessons the British left can learn from Barack Obama’s campaign.

A key aspect of the Obama campiagn was that someone from within a mainstream political party managed to connect with broader social movement politics outside the party system. Obama built a bridge between the two. So to replicate Obama’s success, we surely need to build bridges between Labour and similar social movements here.

The Climate Change Camp is one, vital – and vitalising – expression of this social movement politics. Yet here is a Labour government treating it – or condoning its treatment – with what can only be described as contempt.

Unless Labour stops laying siege to such politics, and builds bridges to it, we will never get the change we really need.

Cross-posted from the Fabian Next Left blog.

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About the author
This is a guest article. Stuart White is lecturer in Politics at Oxford University, based at Jesus College. He blogs at the Fabian society's Next Left
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Civil liberties ,Environment ,Our democracy

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Reader comments

I too saw the escalation of police presence at the Climate Camp and was confused.

I’d been through there about 6 and all seemed pretty peaceful and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves.

I left to nose about and see what was happening elsewhere. I spent some time being amazed at what was happening around the BoE and after watching the police and protesters clash as they moved along Cornhill I thought i’d check out the camp and see what was going on there. So i get up to the camp and was amazed by the sheer numbers of police there. I too saw the van “barricade” and managed to snap a shot

I knew this was going to happen. I was at the Climate Camp gathering too till around 3pm or so. There were people handing out bread, flapjacks and even nice quiche. The atmosphere was excellent, spoiled only by the tons of police vans everywhere.

And I thought to myself – this is too nice and peaceful for the police. They would want something to kick off here because otherwise they’d look stupid for spending so much money on policing.

And lo, they decided to kettle in the Climate Camp protesters too. No doubt right-wing libertarians and conservatives willl jump in joy, until their own people get harassed by the police – then they start blaming ZaNuLieBore like the hypocrites they are.

I’m deeply saddened at the police response to what was the most peaceful part of the whole protest yesterday.

Quiche? Blurrgh. Horrible hippy food. :o)

4. Cheesy Monkey

This is an excellent article, thank you. A couple of questions, as I couldn’t make it there:

1) Did the police become more heavy handed only when the media went home?

2) The location of the Climate Camp was where there are a lot of financial company headquarters. Could the police crackdown be on the orders of the Corporation of London? (For those that don’t know, the Corporation of London is essentially the government of the Square Mile, one which companies in their own right has votes for.)

“The Climate Change Camp is one, vital – and vitalising – expression of this social movement politics. Yet here is a Labour government treating it – or condoning its treatment – with what can only be described as contempt.

Unless Labour stops laying siege to such politics, and builds bridges to it, we will never get the change we really need.”


When are you people going to get it? Labour doesn’t like protest, it doesn’t like wider movements, and it is firmly on the side of the police in this case. The sooner sensible people like yourself GET OFF THEIR BUS, the better. They are not your party. Get over it.


David T – cheers, corrected.

Andy – much as I’d also like to use this as an excuse to stick the boot in to Labour and their willingness to hand over so much power to the police, I’m afraid the Tories will be much worse. I’m not saying Libdems won’t, but I am saying this is symptomatic of our culture now, where people happily defer to the police even more minor protests.

I had an almost identical experience to this: leaving a peaceful climate camp to get supplies in the early evening only to return an hour later to see the whole camp beseiged. Not only did the police seal off the perimeters of climate camp, they also created smaller holding pens within the camp itself, dividing it up into ever-smaller sections. We returned to Bishopsgate about 10.30pm to see what was going on (not before several of our group were stopped and searched under s44 of the Terrorism Act). By that point the police were clearing the streets, charging at protesters with shields and batons and whacking anyone that didn’t get out the way fast enough. All the media had left by that point.

If I have one problem with your account it’s with the conclusion. You say:

“The Climate Change Camp is one, vital – and vitalising – expression of this social movement politics. Yet here is a Labour government treating it – or condoning its treatment – with what can only be described as contempt.

Unless Labour stops laying siege to such politics, and builds bridges to it, we will never get the change we really need.”

Surely the important lesson that Labour needs to learn is that peaceful protesters should not be subjected to this kind of brutal treatment no matter what they are protesting about and that the government should take steps to ensure this is the case rather than doing what they have been doing which is to collaborate with police authorities in the demonisation and criminialisation of protestors. The reason for this is that we live in – or aspire to live in – a free society and not simply because it suits the electoral interests of the Labour party to forge links with “social movements”.

I find your inability to look beyond the prism of party politics to see that important democratic principles are at stake quite depressing.

9. Shatterface

I doubt very much that the police on the frontline wanted it to kick off ‘because they’d look stupid for spending all that money’ since it isn’t them who made that decision (and it isn’t their money).

That’s a decision made at a much more senior level.

And it’s a bit rich sniping at Andy for blaming Labour when you’ve just made a sideswipe at Libertarians, who have fuck-all to do with this.

It’s Labour which has criminalised protest in this country, not the police.


Could someone there tell me whether or not this is the same police force who were jolly earlier. If these are separate PPUs (Paramilitary Police Units), this might explain some of their activity.

It’s Labour which has criminalised protest in this country, not the police.

As much as I hate to agree with that – it’s true.

12. Shatterface

Whenever the police clashed with protestors in the 80’s we all denounced them as Thatcher’s shocktroopers. We were under no illusions about them being anything other than the repressive arm of the state.

There’s a chain of command here with Gordon Brown at the top.

I would just like to clarify, I’m not really all that bothered about blaming Labour on this occasion (plenty of time to do that on other occasions), and if you look at what I wrote on Sunny’s post, I didn’t spend any time doing so.

I was just despairing of the attitude on display from Stuart’s ending. You know, the one where it doesn’t matter how dismal they are, as long as they aren’t actually wearing blue rosettes, they’re still “our” party, and if we all come up with enough ideas about “reviving” the party (which take it as read that “the change we need” involves Labour) then it’ll all be OK. I’m not saying everyone should run off and join my party (Lib Dem if you don’t know), but for goodness sake, give up on this rotting corpse of a progressive party.

I just don’t see any point in making this party political, especially since the police have a long history of doing this, and both the big political parties have a habit of giving them more powers to carry on.

Though, at least Labour isn’t going on about civil liberties, while the Tories are. On New Labour though, my position is that while the govt is clearly illiberal, not all Labour ministers are.

15. Sunder Katwala

Guy (8), Andy (13)

I understand the point you are making. I don’t think Stuart is hyper-partisan in the party rosette way you take that. He is a Labour member and supporter, and very much a pluralist, as those who follow his writing and blogging will know.

I think the way he ended may reflect the fact that he was writing for the Fabian blog, and so for a predominantly though not exclusively Labour audience, and I assume he wanted people to reflect on the damage done to Labour if they were not actively vigilant in challenging such actions by the police. I felt that the post would also interest a wider audience. Given what Sunny was writing about the protests, I felt that it was relevant to Liberal Conspiracy, and suggested it might be cross-posted. It seems worth pointing that history out in fairness to Stuart, though I think the content of his post will be of interest to people from different and no party backgrounds here on Liberal Conspiracy.

Sunder: Fair enough, I understand a little better why he wrote that ending, but I can’t really say it changes my thoughts on it.

I suppose I ought to also say that, as is the nature of such comments threads, I took issue with the ending because I wholeheartedly agreed with the rest of it!

18. Stuart White

Thanks to Sunder and Sunny for the cross-posting.

Guy Aitchison at (8): you’re quite right that there are bigger lessons about the right to protest and democratic citizenship which Labour – everyone – needs to learn. I have focused on one of these in a follow-up blog. As Sunder says at (15), my focus on Labour/movement politics in this post reflects its Fabian/Next Left origins where I was trying to relate the experience to debates there.

Andy Hinton’s ‘get over it’ at (4): I think your view is very reasonable, but at the end of the day I don’t see a feasible way forward for progressive politics which doesn’t centrally involve the Labour party. But even if we can’t agree on that, maybe we can agree on the issues raised around policing and the right to protest. That’s what’s coming through as urgent here.

19. douglas clark

There must come a point, mustn’t there, where there is a huge kick off in the Labour Party about Liberty, at least the Shami Chakrabarti model?

Or not?

Stuart: Indeed, see my comment at 17.

21. Charlieman

Two days ago, I thought that the four Lib Dem parliamentarians attending these protests as observers were wasting their time. I expected a few balaclava clad nutters to trash something (expectation correct), that the police would not launch indiscriminate attacks on demonstrators in the manner of Italian police (expectation correct-ish) and that the police would treat non-violent demonstrators with respect (expectation utterly destroyed).

I regard most of the protestors as clueless and delusional, but I will always defend their right to protest. I will also defend their right to go home peacefully, without being photographed and ID checked. This forum is attended by a good number of financial experts, but are there any human rights lawyers to answer my questions?

UK law effectively gives the police the right to detain (restrict the right to move) when civil commotion occurs. The intention of the law is limit a riot zone.

If people wish to walk away from a disturbance, what information should be given by police to detainees about their previous detention? When and why should detainees who want to go home be rejected? Which laws give the police the right to interrogate and photograph citizens going home? What actions will the Home Secretary and judiciary take against police who have detained non-violent civilians?

And, most importantly, why don’t the organisers of the mainstream protests get their act together in advance to maintain our law?

It’s funny how when Footbll supporters were beaten senseless by Italian/Spanish police last season the press backed the fans and said the treatment meeted out was excessive – even the scummy Sun backed the fans.
Yet here in dear old Blighty the media seem to always to back the police – yet the treatment meeted out seems to be the same!?
New Labour (Old Tories) don’t give a flying fuck. Interestingly English fans going to English games on coaches have been stopped by police, detained, searched, and then sent back the way they came – even escorted along motorways. All this on the basis that they may be going on to cause trouble – irrespective of the ages, professions or whatever of those on the coaches. Fans forums are trying to band together to stop this happening as it is becoming more and more common.
Lets face facts, civil liberties are being eroded, usually under the guise of anti terror laws. The problem for me is that New Labour and the Tories have no ideology. Ideology is dead. All we have are a bunch of self serving, money grabbers who are in it for what they can get out of it – money and power for power sakes. So what do they care if some poor unfortunates get their heads wacked with truncheons, or are kettled? Its all about keeping the status quo and obviuosly the police are an instrument with which to do it. In the original post there was made mention of a family with a small child but whats the odds of them showing again, or anyone seeing the guy with the bloodied head in all the papers going on the next demo? A job well done for some me thinks.

Even as a Labour supporter I felt the ending was completely tacked on, but I can understand why you felt the need to include it for a Fabian audience.

For me this episode shows how powerful non-violence can be as a way of politicising people and persuading them to your point of view. I am not ideologically wedded to non-violent protest, (eg I’m happy for violence to be used on fascists where tactically appropriate, but that’s an argument for another day), but it can be an incredibly powerful political strategy at times.

There are plenty of people (including many of those on the climate camp demo itself) who disapproved of the actions of those who vandalised the RBS building and on some level excused the actions of the police there, but who were shocked by these events into realising something about the nature of the police on demonstrations, their relation to the state and place in capitalism.

Just being the devil’s advocate here but why can’t we hold peaceful climate change protests in sunny parks on quiet days far away from a concentration of the worlds most powerful people. Obviously the police we saw (and I’m sure the thousands we knew nothing about) are very tense – how would you have liked to explain to the rest of the world how we allowed somebody to shoot or bomb their leaders.

Everytime there are G20 meetings, things get heated – everybody around the world knows that – so its not a good time and place to meditate, eat quiche or bring toddlers just learning to walk.

Its not about freedom of protest at all its about everything having its proper place and time.

I can’t think of a movement that has successfully engaged the wider public through disruptive sit-ins and vandalism but am happy to be educated otherwise.

And talking of things that are known but not said, I know that you know that a lot of people go along to protests of this sort to stick two fingers up to ‘the man’, and watch a few windows get kicked in.

The police also know this, so raise the ‘price’ of attending to levels that only the hardcore want to pay – long frustrating waits needing to go to the loo.

This might be protesting (and gentle repression) but only of the most farcical and ineffectual kind.

I was at Climate camp from 12:30 pm, with my friends, all students from Cambridge, Central Saint Martins etc… We were having a great time, dancing, performing (we create some costumes !!! ) having a laugh.
It was a great atmosphere all afternoon but around seven everything changed. I was standing with my boyfriend by the North Side of the camp and suddenly people started screaming : NOOOOOOOOOO!!!! we turned our heads and the police started kettleling the camp. So we all starting screaming THIS IS NOT A RIOT!!!! with our hands up but the police started beaten up everyone. It became a battle field in two seconds. People with blood in there faces. WHY???????????
It was so frustrating, standing up there screaming to please stop but then more police was arriving dressed in black by the side of one building and my boyfriend grabbed me and we ran away. We end up in the south side were no one was aware of what was going on at the other end of the road but the police started to close the south end too.
My boyfriend make me realise about our bags so we enter the camp again and it was the worse mistake. Two minutes afterwards the camp was closed and no one was allowed to go in or out.
It was really scary.
After standing by the police for 4 hours, they let us go out in small groups of two walking to the left. I cannot understand what happen or why the police reacted like this. We certainly didn’t deserve such a treatment. It must be some record of it, in pictures or video. This cannot happen again.

if you want a fun non-violent day out, go to the park; if you want to be held in a corral by grumpy rozzers, go to an anarchist demonstration in the middle of the financial district on the day the world’s 20 most important leaders come to visit. The point about protesting is that it isn’t supposed to be fun – if you have a jolly party and nobody gets hurt, then you haven’t actually proved anything…

(and the difference between G20 and foreign mistreatment of football fans is that the police handled this in a terse and heavy-handed but non violent way – they didn’t fire tear gas, launch baton charges, club stragglers, etc)

28. Stuart White

John B; you miss the point entirely. Whether or not one has right to expect protesting to be ‘fun’, one certainly has a right to expect these things: (a) that the police do not themselves create tension and make violence more likely; (b) that the police do not adopt tactics which put vulnerable people (like children in the ‘kettle’) at risk by refusing them means of exit from the protest area; and (c) that the police do not treat you in a degrading way when you are protesting peacefully.

John, it sounds like they did do a fair amount of clubbing, actually.

Sounds like the police were acting pretty terribly to me. The question is what institutional/leadership arrangements make them do so. One answer is obviously “because they can”, hence the need to roll back the police’s legal powers.

A follow-up post from Stuart White on this here

Why hasn’t the BBC shown this film?

For most of the last 10 years I have been arguing – from the Left – that it needs to move on. To use a phrase of Fred Halliday, a great deal more critical thinking required. I watched the live feeds (I’m a journalist at a big news organisation) of the protests with my head in my hands.

The protesters did the same thing they did last time, and the time before, and the time before that. The police have got smarter (it’s not pretty, nor fair, but it’s effective), why can’t the protesters?

Ultimately, the protest worked only for the protesters. As a recruiting drive it probably worked. Up the blind alley the Left go again, alienating the wider public with public displays of irresponsibility and childishness.

That film is hardly a smoking gun. The carnival of stupid reaches its triumphant conclusion. I live in a part of London – SE4 – with some really good (Green) councillors, working diligently for the local community. They attract the support and respect of the community, and slowly introduce green/left ideas to a hitherto sceptical community. I compare their behaviour with that seen on Wednesday and can’t help but draw conclusions.

As a young student, with really strong concerns about my future and the future of my children I feel the need to do something. The protests in Climate camp are just a plataform to show the ideas on which organizations are working on. They are not the usual kind of protest with screams and nonsense.
I don’t understand why the discussion on this wall is going in all directions.
The point here is that a protest on a really important day was organized. We closed a road, it was not a joke neither a nice day at the park as someone suggested, but all was really peaceful, people from all ages and backgrounds were taking part of it as a comunity all sharing a discontent for the economical crisis and wanting to prevent a future bigger crisis: a climate crisis, which is even more scary. Its obvious that in a protest you don’t find solutions, is a moment to show your points of view and pass a message, creating a dialogue, that’s it. And it was organized in a fun way so families can take part of it etc…

And the point is, under those circunstances the police acted with violence and disrespect, injuring young people that was not creating trouble. Why ????
It is really easy to make all kind of comments seating down infront of your computer saying this or that about the protests. I was there and you cannot imaging how frustrating it was to see the police injuring my friends that were with their hands up screaming to stop the violence. I NEVER THOUGH that in London something like this would happen. Arrest all those anarchists, yes I do understand, but what they did at climate camp does not have any reason. Any.

I can’t think of a movement that has successfully engaged the wider public through disruptive sit-ins and vandalism but am happy to be educated otherwise.

google “mahatma gandhi” and “martin luther king”, then.

36. Stuart White

Cashandburn: ‘carnival of stupid’?

There is a long tradition in liberal (left) thought which emphasizes the right – and, on occasion – moral duty of proportionate civil disobedient and protest action in response to grievious injustice.

The risk of irreverisble and catastrophic climate change is real (and high). If it happens, it would constitute a grievous injustice to future generations. Blocking one street in London for one day for a peaceful event that protests this injustice is an entirely proportionate response to this potential injustice.

Within the Camp itself, there were three workshop spaces running sessions through the day on issues such as how to reduce one’s carbon foorprint. I learnt a lot. The Camp was both protest and educative.

This hardly warrants the label ‘carnival of stupid’, does it?

Now you will say: but look, this just doesn’t get the message across.

Well, no, when the police act in a way that makes violence the issue, the message is going to have trouble getting across. When people in the media – like yourself, apparently – take their cue from the police, and report the whole issue from the standpoint of whether or not, or how much, violence there is, the message is going to have trouble getting across.

So what we are we to do? Stop engaging in peaceful protest/civil disobeient action because of the stupidity of the police and the media?

I think the right approach is to try to combat police and media stupidity.

There’s some extraordinary footage of the police attack on the Climate Camp here

you can see them wading in whilst people hold their ground but with hands in the air chanting ‘this is not a riot’.

Naadir Jeewa – it was the same police beating heads with batons who were being all nice and cheery earlier in tyhe day.

CashandBurn – “I can’t think of a movement that has successfully engaged the wider public through disruptive sit-ins and vandalism but am happy to be educated otherwise.”

In addition to John B’s suggestion that you google gandhi and MLK, I recommend you ask a trade unionist or a Suffragette.

“The police also know this, so raise the ‘price’ of attending to levels that only the hardcore want to pay – long frustrating waits needing to go to the loo.”

So it’s OK to discourage non-smashup people want from protesting?

“This might be protesting (and gentle repression) but only of the most farcical and ineffectual kind.”

Please give me your address and I’ll baton you over the head and set dogs on you. Don’t worry, that’s only gentle repression.

38. Charlieman

I had a long look at the video recommended by Sunder.

The video is recorded from a building above the camp site and audio quality is dodgy. It starts off with 30+ seconds of peaceful hippy camp activity, and people can be seen leaving and entering the camp. It then switches to a group of coppers in conversation. In the background, you can hear somebody pointlessly shouting “F*ck off”.

An excerpt of a speech by Gordon Brown is then inserted, thus demonstrating that the recorded material that we see has been edited and is not continuous. Post GB, we see the crowd shouting and waving fingers at something that is not caught by the camera. We also see some people running in open space between the crowd and the police. At that time, the police are moving forward and close off the camp.

Somebody in the top left hand corner of the film then starts waving arms and shouts “forward, everybody” or similar words. The crowd rushes at the line of police who use hands and shields to reject the protesters. The crowd appear to be shouting “This is not a riot”, under the illusion that you have to throw bricks and light fires to behave riotously.

And the video goes on and on. The faces at the front change from time to time, because it isn’t nice to bashed by a police riot shield. Some people try to take photographs of the coppers — coppers in a full face helmet, but uniform and numbers are visible.

Coppers: Zero marks out of ten. All marks were deducted for “kettling”.

Protest Organisers: Minus five marks out of ten. You failed to steward the event (the video shows no signs of steward activity during the protester/police confrontation) and you failed to educate people how to behave when police act oppressively.

It is laughable – and insulting – to compare Martin Luther King and Gandhi to the scenes from last week. Protesting is a political tool, not a way of life. It should be used carefully, and with precision if you want effect.

I don’t remember King putting on a balaclava and implicitly approving of kids in balaclavas fighting the police. I also don’t recall Gandhi scrawling unfunny puns on pavements and threatening violence against those he opposed. Again, I could be wrong.

It was in the mid-late 1990s that I first noticed the link between testosterone fuelled louts and hippies and realised it was probably doing more harm than good. That was when I – and many of my age – stopped going to protests because the people involved had very different (often advocating ‘revolutionary’ (ie highly reactionary) violence) agendas to the rest of us.

Setting up a ‘climate camp’ in a street may appear subversive, but only if your definition of subversive is very, very, very limited in scope and scale.

In fact, it is what the protest movement has done since Reclaim the Streets almost two decades ago. It was fun then, it is not effective now. It neither ‘sticks it to the man’, nor demonstrates an alternate way of life. In fact, it is merely another step along a blind alley a substantial section of the left has marching along for some time now.

CashandBurn @43:

It was in the mid-late 1990s that I first noticed the link between testosterone fuelled louts and hippies and realised it was probably doing more harm than good. That was when I – and many of my age – stopped going to protests

You’re presumably talking about the road-protesters?

Regarding your first sentence, though: good lord. I started hanging out with hippies partly because everyone’s so chilled out; your mileage clearly has varied.

41. Stuart White

CashandBurn: your comment at 43 does not engage at all with my argument at 40 rebutting your earlier post – and, by extension, your later post at 43.

“There is a long tradition in liberal (left) thought which emphasizes the right – and, on occasion – moral duty of proportionate civil disobedient and protest action in response to grievious injustice.”

Indeed. But if you claim such a high moral ground (the highest) then you had be pretty sure of your territory.

Are politicians rejecting your case out of hand? Have all other options been explored? Are you absolutely sure that your facts are completely straight? Are you just protesting for the sake of it? Are your protests focused, effective and with a clear point?

I remain thoroughly unconvinced that only through anarchic protesting will there be change. I also suspect that protesting only serves the extremes at the cost of the effective. (And no, this isn’t because I’ve swallowed police propaganda, it’s because I have grown tired of listening to the self-righteous mouth cliches for their own advancement).

And John, yep, protesting is a lifestyle choice for some. I think that’s half my point really.

CashandBurn @46:

But you’ve completely ignored mine. Hippies are the most famously pacifistic and relaxed of political movements. “Testosterone-fuelled”? In my experience they tend to be fuelled by guarana, weed and an addiction to Facebook.

Protest as a life-style choice; well, yes, Arthur Scargill for one. But you’re varnishing some pretty broad political trends with a very dry brush here. Protest got to be a life-style choice because too many people’s life-styles came under attack. The clamp-down on off-grid living, the changes in the law to prevent atypical rural communities, the closure of Stonehenge in the 80s, the road protest movement in the 90s; Pride marches, Reclaim the Night, Stop the War. A good deal of good work being systematically ignored by the forces of authority except when they’re forced by attrition and persistence to recognise a legitimate interest.

Protest has become a way of life because the Thatcherite revolution was as much about social conformity as it was about money.

John, sorry not to respond more! I remember watching hippy friends of mine at a protest in c.1996 (?) attacking police in trafalgar square with much gusto. afterwards they were most pleased at their behaviour. they smoked a lot of dope and talked about pacifism too.

I agree with your background, but we are talking about history now. events of 20 years ago or more. but the protesters didn’t move on. police tactics, on the other, did.

45. Stuart White

CashandBurn at 46: you still only address a part of my argument in 40, ignoring the points about police and media ‘stupidity’ (my term).

Let’s turn to the part you do address. You set out some tests for whether protests satisfy the proportionate response to grievous injustice condition:

‘Are politicians rejecting your case out of hand? Have all other options been explored? Are you absolutely sure that your facts are completely straight? Are you just protesting for the sake of it? Are your protests focused, effective and with a clear point?’

‘Are politicians rejecting your case out of hand?’ They certainly are not taking action of the kind necessary to contain the risk of irreversible and catastrophic climate change. Yes, they will talk the talk. But their actions, to date, show a repeated failiure to back the talk with the necessary action. The G20 summit is no different in this respect.

‘Have all other options been explored?’ I vote at every available opportunity. The conventional mechanisms of representative democracy do not seem thus far able to bring pressure to bear on the political class, as evidenced by their failure to act.

‘Are you absolutely sure that your facts are completey straight?’ I am absolutely sure that we face a high and growing risk of irreversible and catastrophic climate change. The vast bulk of scientific opinion tells us this.

‘Are you just protesting for the sake of it?’ No. I hardly ever go on protests. I have a busy professional and family life.

‘Are your protests focused, effective and with a clear point?’ The Climate Camp had a clear message: ‘Nature Doesn’t Do Bail-Outs’. That is focused and clear (and true). The protestors did nothing to diminish the effectivess of the protest, though effectiveness also depends on things that they/I cannot reasonably be held responsible for: (a) the attitude of the police; (b) the attitude of the mainstream media; and (c) how many other citizens come out to protest.

Taking (c) first, if more people like me – people who are very far from being ‘lifestyle protestors’ -joined such protests they would be a lot more effective; so I support their effectiveness by joining such demos.

As regards (a) and (b), the appropriate response to police and media failure is not to stop demonstrating, but to work to correct these failures. Otherwise, one is basically surrendering a basic democratic right because others – the police, the media – don’t respect it.

So far as I can see, my rebuttal of your posts in 40 stands.

I sympathise generally with some of what you say but disagree on the actions required. For one thing, I think it’s incredible that anyone has done anything at all about climate change, given that the science remains largely forward-looking and we live in (inevitably short-termist) democracies (flawed though they may be).

Politicians may not prioritise climate change in the same way as you do, but they do talk about it and put forward policies, so your measure is subjective.

Moreover, the ‘strong’ climate change campaigners ask politicians to restrict people’s liberty in the name of the future – an incredibly difficult challenge, especially when these politicians are also on the rack for attacking people’s freedoms. The politician who arguably pushed this the furthest – Ken – was voted out, partly because of such actions, highlighting such difficulties.

If you want change, then our present system allows you to put together a platform of ideas and gain power if you can convince others that you are right. It’s not perfect but many, many people fought extremely hard to secure what we have. There seems to be a lack of respect for them in some of the positions I see here.

I don’t agree that the protest was focused. Yes, it had a slogan that we could all agree with. But then so does New Labour.

Politics is about conflicting and colliding interests, ideas, individuals and moments. Self-styled radicals adore the purity (and luxury) of avoiding this, and – too often – preach upon high whilst undermining the real efforts of others. It is rare that protests help, oftentimes they don’t. (Jubilee 2000 was a good example of this, as were some of the road protests. Belfast in 1968 is an example where protests really didn’t help at all – listen to the recent R4 documentary about it!)

Re your points about effectiveness, I’m not onside at all. It wasn’t the media or the police that made the protests ineffective, it was the nature of the protests themselves. It just seemed petulant, childish and all-too-predictable. And I talk as someone who sympathises with these causes and knows many people on the protests. Imagine how it looks to others, the conservative masses outside of the political bubble.

Discipline, duty and imagination will help the progressive left’s cause. Another decade of gloom-mongering, cynicism about process, romance about revolution, and capture by single-issue campaigners will see it remain ineffective for another 20 years.

Just a little idea of how the police behaved on the 1st of April.

I am not going to discuss anything about the causes of the protest anymore.
It was a paceful protest at climate camp and the police used violence. I was really concerned about the way they were beaten people on their heads as you can die from a head injury!
It was not fair!
There has to be more footage out there because this was not right.

CashandBurn @50:

If you want change, then our present system allows you to put together a platform of ideas and gain power if you can convince others that you are right. It’s not perfect but many, many people fought extremely hard to secure what we have. There seems to be a lack of respect for them in some of the positions I see here

The above is only true if you have money, or can get backed by money. Also, it is only true if you can convince either Labour or the Conservatives to put you on the front benches. The two-party system is so entrenched that instead of acting as a facilitator for democracy it is now acting as an Establishment counter-weight, driving the entire weight of British parliamentary politics to the right as Labour fight for the Conservatives’ ground.

Regarding respect: I disagree entirely. In my view, the highest respect for the many extraordinary people who fought to improve their world (most of whom would have been shocked and appalled by the extent of personal freedoms in ours: such odd things as universal suffrage and freedom from slavery) is to continue their work. Make it better. When the system doesn’t work, work around it til you have the power to change it. Learn and teach: the determinant factors in the type of society you build are what do you know? How well do you learn? How fast can you spread the word?

The difficulty with current Governance, and that includes how most organisations are run, is that they are top down, rather than bottom up.

Thus Policemen and Soldiers will follow orders, even if they are potentailly harmful to people who are not threatening anyone. As we have seen, and been discussing above.

And party members will adhere to the Party Whip. Every now and again someone makes a principled stand, and resigns publicly. Robin Cook. But they also give up their role. They are lost to the process.

The Power Inquiry Conference of 2007 was very interesting, in that Menzies Campbell was there to speak, and formed part of a panel, for a Q&A session in the afternoon, as did Ed Milliband. David Cameron left after his spech in the morning.

A question was asked of the panel concerning the voting age, and the usual arguments AGAINST lowering it were given voice. They’re too young to understand. etc etc… and so it went for about 10 minutes.

A hand was raised at the front. A young boy of 13 had something to say.

He said ‘Why don’t we take all the money being spent in Iraq and Afghanistan, and spent it instead protecting the elderlys pensions’ (Pensions had been discussed earlier).

The hall erupted with applause. The panelists ignored his comment, and continued it’s deliberations. This is the nature of top-down organisation – those at the top ignore genuine input from those ‘below’ them.

Children have no voice in this society. That is authoritarianism.

Those who wish to see real change, and who have done their homework, many of whom are engaged in workable solutions (that undermine POWER and FINANCE as we know them). And they have no voice in Parliament.

The are forced to take to the streets.

In order to undemine this, Governments and corporations have long took to using a combination of covert Agent Provocateurs, heavy handed policing (or troops) tactics, and media demonisation. Read EP Thompsons astounding “The Making of The English Working Class” for a detailed history of these approaches in the 1730s onwards. Little has changed in the dynamics of POWER.

The Power Inquiry was dismissed by Labour and Tory alike as ‘impractical’. The LDs did precious little to help promote the very sound, common-sense ideas that The Power Inquiry threw up, ideas that were generated by ordinary people, all over England and Wales. Ideas that were tested. Ideas that work.

Because those ideas threaten the very concept of top down leadership.

The incidents in The City must serve as a warning to all people to get serious about our childrens futures, and soon. If the voices and sensings of decent people are ignored, then the anger and pressure will only increase.

The fear of those who form leadership as we know it is coralling the people. It is a ‘kettle’ in it’s own way.

Read it, it’s intelligent, workable and is the best offering on the subject in th UK. Ever. Because it contains and demonstrates the wisdom of people.

Kindest regards


do what you love, it’s your gift to universe

Sadly, Brittan, a nation on the cusp of energy tragedy, diverts the people’s attention with none sense their presence cannot possibly alter, while the home fires grow dim and they are outstripped world wide by Asian efforts in all fields! Go home! Concentrate on super-insulations for your old buildings, Work at fusion, and better fission methods. Look to tidal, wave, solar, look anywhere to resolve your panic level energy crisis. Stop fooling around in the streets, study, get enlightened, emigrate to areas of higher energy supplies. Look to Spain, desperate, and seeking solar solutions. Take Denmark seriously, in their fight for energy survival. Look to the German resolve to survive. You have little time left for fooling in the streets waving your arms for nothing. Get down to “brass tacks” and work hard on energy consumption. Look to Sweden, Norway, anybody with new and innovative solutions, no matter how trivial they may seem, and in spite of your British sense of entitlement, scratch a little for yourselves and come up with a better plan for surviving. The “Cheap Oil Era” is over! GM in the ‘states doesn’t make SUV’s anymore! Even the Yanks are hitting hard energy related times! Wake up! Your butts are on the line, your standard of living sinking as we speak, and your hope of a better future depends on engineering, in all its forms for a new and different lifestyle, better accommodating of the new world realities!

Reactions: Twitter, blogs
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