An unholy row is brewing in Brighton regarding protests in the City. Green councillor Ben Duncan, Cabinet Member for Commnities, has said that peaceful protests are welcome in the Ity. Of the Spanish protest camp that has been set up in the Old Steine, he has described it as “the model of the kind of engaged peaceful protest the Council and the Police are committed to facilitating.” Former council leader Mary Mears has said that she is ”astonished” by the statement and that she fears that Ben Duncan’s comments would encourage more protesters.
Now Simon Kirby, the Conservative member of paliament for Brighton Kemptown has said that the Green administration should not to use the city as a “laboratory for Green experiments.”
Mr Kirby has written a letter to Brighton and Hove City Council chief executive John Barradell in which he has said: “Whilst it is right that local authorities undertake their duties so that they comply with the law, I am very concerned at the impression being given to residents and visitors alike. I believe that business confidence will be eroded, in my opinion the rule of law is being challenged and unnecessary tensions are being created in the city. The Green Administration rests on minority support. It should recognise that. I am very concerned at the turn of events in the last few weeks and there needs to be a rapid change of direction. Brighton is a city where people want to go about their business in peace, not be part of a laboratory for Green experiments.”
My views are as follows:
Protests are part of our political life. The police have been unnecessarily heavy handed in dealing with, for example, the recent anti-EDL protests. By their tactics a generation of activists are being politicised (which is a good thng) but will have developed an anti-police attitude (which is a shame).
The statement by Ben Duncan was ill-judged. So early into the life of the new administration, the Green Admnistration has attracted unwelcome headlines. Being in opposition and being a campaigner is one thing, being a Cabinet member another. I am not suggesting that Ben compromises his views and policies, but having gained elected office, use your new position to influence, persuade and enforce your policies. Start by talking to the police about their tactics on demonstrations, agree a code of acceptable behaviour in the policing of demonstrations, insist that kettling plays no part in police tactics. You are the local government. Use the priviledged position you are in.
Finally, careful what you wish for. The camp in the Old Steine should have been given to remain for a nit or two. Now the Council will find it difficult to move. And what if similar camps begin appearing throughout the summer in the squares and parks throughout Brighton and Hove. I believe in protests and extra-parliamentary action, but there is a danger that such camps might proliferate masquerading as ‘protest camps’.
The Green Council has my blessing (I sound like Bishop Brian) but it needs some discipline within it’s ranks before something more significant causes the Group to implode.