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.
Drawing connections between events as disparate as the ‘social murder’ of Grenfell and recent mudslides in Sierra Leone, Remi Joseph-Salisbury points to the enduring relevance of Pan African thought for anti-racist struggle today.
We work ourselves into the ground for little economic benefit. It's high time to for a change, writes Aidan Harper.
Deregulation and tax loopholes are justified by saying that they 'protect growth'. But really, they just protect the wealthy, writes James Fox
Inequality is often treated as a law of nature - but really, it's the result of conscious political choices. It's time to choose equality, writes the IPPR's Carys Roberts.
Tom Palmer, aka Agent Kingfisher, was the 'messiah' of London's squatting scene until his death last year. But who was responsible for his fate? MI5, late capitalism or simply a drug overdose? Matt Broomfield investigates.
'Docs Not Cops' write that we must resist attempts to make our NHS any less universal
Louis Mendee explains the real human costs of climate change for the global south.
From climate change to automation to demographic shifts, Mathew Lawrence explains the challenges our economy will face in the coming decade.
Fifty years after the Abortion Act, women are still dying from being denied basic services, write activists from Feminist Fightback
We need to tackle the patronising ideology that lets Tory think-tanks sneer at social tenants, writes Emma Dent Coad
Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism
Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists
Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson
As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win
The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution
Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.
‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny
Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke
The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana
Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth
Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company
You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild
Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University
This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback
Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein
Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up
Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement
‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic
Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden
There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright