Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
Why do we persist in telling ourselves that in Europe, it’s the French and the Greeks who protest whilst the British are too apathetic to take their dissent out onto the streets? Marches and demonstrations have always been an important part of Britain’s political culture and there was little sign of any stereotypical indifference when students braved sub-zero temperatures and snow to march against rises in tuition fees at the end of last year.
There is widespread public support, too, for the principle that a healthy democracy depends upon on the basic right to protest. However, it’s a sad reflection of our lack of collective memory that, not long after criticism of the policing of the G20 summit protests and the death of Ian Tomlinson in 2009, so many people are apparently still shocked by the police tactics used against student protesters, especially ‘kettling’ or enforced containment.
Curbs on the right to protest have existed for as long as there have been governments to create them and over the last twenty years, the powers of the police to control and limit demonstrations, often by force, have grown increasingly broad and repressive. What the student protests therefore tell us, if anything, is that despite the pledges made by the Chief Inspector of Constabulary Denis O’ Connor in a review into public order policing in 2009 after the G20 protests, very little has fundamentally changed.
In the coming months, this means that anti-cuts campaigners can expect a heavy police presence and a readiness by the police to use their powers extensively at any protest that isn’t firmly contained within a prescribed route – which in London usually means a low impact, ‘self kettled’ stroll through the streets from Embankment to Hyde Park. It’s the kind of restriction that we’d obviously want to avoid, but a risk of sustained police heavy-handedness is that, as Johann Hari suggested in the Independent in December, potential demonstrators may increasingly be frightened off from taking part in anti-cuts protests.
Cuts in police numbers might instead tempt senior officers to ban protests altogether. This was mooted by Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson after the tuition fees protests. One police officer, a Sergeant Dan Stoddart writing in the magazine Police Review, has gone as far as suggesting a limit on the size of protests, saying that “having tens of thousands on the streets seems to have become an expensive luxury” and questioning whether ‘modern pressure groups’ need to protest at all when “instantaneous global communications and media… puts any message into the palm of your hand”. If nothing else, this illiberal argument should hopefully provide a sobering warning to those who place such great emphasis on the value of online campaigning.
Then there are the lessons we can learn from the spate of undercover police officers who have recent been unmasked after infiltrating green activist groups. In his interview with the Daily Mail, former undercover officer Mark Kennedy acknowledges that the peaceful climate campaigners he spied upon “had no intention of violence.” However, they were still targeted in the kind of operation normally reserved for drug dealers and criminal gangs, presumably because their campaigns focus on disrupting major economic and business interests such as power stations and airports.
If activism grows against corporate tax-dodgers like Vodafone and Top Shop, which is difficult to police because it invariably involves nothing more than trespass (which is a civil, rather than a criminal offence), might groups like UKUncut start to face the same kind of surveillance and infiltration? It’s far cheaper than intensive public order policing and as I suggested in a short piece for Manchester Mule last year, the government may be persuaded of the benefits of “targeting potential troublemakers” through greater use of intelligence, as a cost-effective way of using reduced police resources.
Finally, those expecting a change in attitudes as, for the first time, the cuts hit the police too will almost certainly face disappointment. It’s important to remember that in general, the police do not institutionally share public perceptions of the importance of dissent. Protests are seen as a nuisance, a distraction from the maintenance of order and, as an episode of the Channel 4 series ‘Coppers’ showed in November 2010, demonstrators are often viewed with contempt. The naïve idea that the police can somehow be ‘shamed’ into better treatment of protesters by actively opposing cuts in their numbers – what one campaigner recently called ‘proving our moral superiority; – represents a failure to understand the deep-rooted prejudices against dissent that exist within the culture of the police.
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Nick Dowson looks at the new wave of co-ops and community groups where people are building their own truly affordable homes
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going
A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism
Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase
Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields
Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton
Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi
A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain
Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank
Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded
West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens
Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age
Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun
Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh
With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook