The politicisation of the police

Most people, myself included, would say that in most respects, the police in Brighton and Hove, led by the dedicated and impressive Chief Superintendent Graham Bartlett, do a fine job. They are engaged with the community and responses to individual cases are good.

However, there is a growing unease about an aspect of policing that runs counter to that – the policing of political protest. Here there appears to be a different approach, and different leadership.

The policing of the Topshop / Topman protest, that led to the arrest and subsequent prosecution of nine protesters, is a case in point. The protesters were acquitted on most changes although five were found guilty of recklessly damaging two mannequins which had been knocked over as the protesters had entered a window display where they glued their hands to the window. All were cleared of damaging the windows.

Those found guilty were given a conditional discharge and ordered to pay £200 towards prosecution costs. The total cost, excluding the policing of the demonstration, is estimated to have been £100,000.

The protest, which was held on December 4th last year, was aimed at drawing attention to tax avoidance by the owners of Topshop / Topman and To cuts to public expenditure. The defence given was that of ‘lawful excuse’, the same defence used by Smash EDO demonstrators at a trial last year. They had been arrested for causing £187,000 damage at the EDO MBM factory in Brighton last year. The jury decided that they had acted, with an honest and reasonable belief, to prevent war crimes being committed in Gaza.

Caroline Lucas MP (Brighton Pavilion) gave evidence in support of the defendants. Hove MP Mike Weatherley condemned Ms Lucas for giving this evidence, as well as condemning the protesters. He told the Brighton Argus: “I don’t consider the prosecution was a waste of public money and condemn their actions. It is not helpful when protesters are sending a message to the world that people can take action such as this and get away with it on a technicality. They were there to cause trouble and disruption to the retail environment.”

It is important to remember that they were all found not guilty on the main charge of causing damage to the window. Their defence was accepted. And picking up on a technicality of Mr Weatherley’s own protest, much tax avoidance (not illegal itself as opposed to tax avoidance) is often based on a technicality identified by highly paid tax lawyers and accountants.

But going back to policing, Sussex Police seem to have no problem in heavy-handed policing of demonstrations including the ‘kettling’ of young teenagers on student fees and EMA (Education Maintenance Allowance) demonstrations, and on anti-EDL (English Defence League) counter-demonstrations. The contrast between day to day policing and the policing of demonstrations are so contrasting one has to ask whether Graham Bartlett, a very decent man in every way, is removed from authority on these occasions.

Policing has always been politicised, but rarely more so than when policing political demonstrations. I conclude with an anecdote told to me by a prominent member of the Brighton and Hove community who was in Brighton Station during one of the EDL demonstrations. He and a row of police officers saw an EDL member giving nazi salutes and shouting abuse at what appeared to be a couple of Japanese tourists who were apparently showing fear and distress. When challenged why the EDL member had not been arrested or even spoken to, one police officer, who had witnessed the incident, said of the EDL group: “They’ve been as good as gold. It’s the other ones who cause the trouble.” I suspect the Japanese couple might disagree and it is unlikely that they will return to Brighton.

As with most things, your reputation is often only as strong as your weakest link.

The Blair Generation aim to take over the Tory Party locally

A member of the local Conservative Party has contacted me, writing “I am not keen on ‘leaks’ but as the foremost political commentator in the city …” (I like a bit of flattery – it impresses my four regular readers) “… I think it is important that you know that the young Conservative modernisers are cringing just like any rational observer does when Tory activists post comments on your blog claiming that the Greens’ are ‘Communists’ and the like. Such behaviour is in conflict with the ethos of the modernisers, who place the needs of our City and the need to make our city even greater for future generations above the temptations of divisive Party politics.”

It appears that the Conservatives are beginning a stage of renewal locally.  Conservative councillors from the Thatcher generation are, according to my correspondent, “finally yielding to the One Nationist Conservatives of the younger generation.  It might also surprise you to know that newly-elected leader Geoffrey Theobald is very aligned with the modernisers, in conflict to Mary Mears who in an enduring fit of hubris actively sough to obstruct the entrance of fresh new talent into Party affairs locally and thus became the main architect of the downfall of the previous administration, though there are also other reasons of course.”

Harsh words. I wouldn’t agree that Mary was the main architect – there are many, many reasons, not least government policy, EMA, student fees, etc. And then there is the continuing decline of Labour and the Caroline Effects and the impressive organisation of the Green Party. I understand that the organisation of the Green Party machine (with Pete West and Alex Phillips two of the main organisers) was as impressive as anything Labour was capable of in its heyday. And I wouldn’t blame Mary Mears for the Enigma that Is Christopher Hawtree who, singlehandedly, put the Tories in Central Hove to the sword.

One Nation Conservatives, perhaps. The Blair generation, even? I recall that Momma Grizzly (and she is not my informant) describing Blair as one of her political heroes.

But, my Conservative friend, your insight is fascinating, and I look forward to further such observations. (And I invite other party activists – even those in what remains of the Lib Dems – to email me their observations. I do respect anonymity). I would be particularly interested in the mood within the Lib Dems at this moment.

The fringe candidates in this May’s local elections in Brighton and Hove

In the last couple of days I have commented on the independent candidates standing in Wish (Mr and Mrs Jenny Barnard-Langston), Hangleton and Knoll (Jo Heard) and North Portslade (Theo Child). But there are other fringe candidates standing,and I don’t mean the LibDems or UKIP. If you read between the lines of what I have written about those parties you may have gained the impression, I can’t think why, that they are not my cup of team (forexample, “I’d rather stick pins in my eyes than vote for UKIP”).

The most spoken about Independent this May is former mayor, former Lib Dem and sitting councillor David Wakins who is hoping to defend his seat in Brunswick and Adelaide. His candidature could be characterised as the Mr Angry Candidate, not that David is the angry sort, but his treatment by the Lib Dems has not been kind and his is a spoiling campaign designed to undermine support for the Lib Dems in their last remaining area of representation.

Trade Unionists and Socialists Against the Cuts may have worthy intentions, but they are likely to mobilise no more than a few dozen votes. Standing for TUSAC are an uninspiring bunch who have failed to rally the working classes time and time again. There was a song, can’t member who by, that went “As soon as this pub closes, as soon as this pub closes, as soon as this pub closes, the revolution starts”. The chorus was sung by an increasingly drunk singer. The final chorus went “As soon as this pub closes, as soon as this pub closes, as soon as this pub closes, ……… I think ….. I’m gonna ….. be sick”.

Now I’m not suggesting that any of the TUSAC candidates are partial to a drink or two, but they are a mixture of uninspiring individuals (Bill North standing in East Brighton) and more enthusiastic, less cynical types such as Jon Redford (Hanover and Elm Grove). He is active in the Stop the Cuts Coalition and, at least, has some get up and go about him. At just 23 Jon is one of the younger breed of candidates and he has been part of the campaign against cuts in Education Maintenance Allowances.

Also standing for TUSAC in Hollingdean and Stanmer are Phil Clarke, Tony Greenstein (how is it that he hasn’t yet been expelled from TUSAC – he has been expelled from evey other fringe group on the left) and the Peter Stringfellow of Brighton politics, Professor Dave Hill. Dave Bangs is standing for TUSAC in Moulsecoomb and Bevendean.

What is touching, yet quite sad about this bunch, is that unlike Don Quixote who charged at imaginary enemies, this lot have real enemies yet they tend to focus on others on the left and fail to mobilise real opposition against the Tories. They just don’t know how to organise an effective coalition. Their handful of votes could just let the Tories in in very close contests. One wonders if this is what they hope for …..

Gerald O’Brien is standing in St Peters and North Laine. He has stood in more elections than the number of comments left on this blog by the Legend that is Christopher Hawtree. He is yet to top 100 votes and even being most generous, is unlikely to win in this seat, the safest Green seat in the country.

Mohammed Asaduzzaman is standing as an Independent in Queens Park. A respected local businessman, concerned with crime, he has stood before but has little chance of making more than a ripple on the result in Queens Park.

And finally we have Yuri Borgmann-Prebil (Preston Park) and Susan Collard (St Peters and North Laine) standing for the European Citizens Party. Now for many weeks I have been collating comprehensive files on both Yuri and the European Citizens Party. In fact I have focused on little else …. zzzzzzzzz

Doorstep Brighton: a round up of campaigning for the local elections

Between now and May 5th, I will be running a ‘Weekend Round Up” reporting on campaign activity in Brighton and Hove.  Please send in brief reports on what is happening in your ward or activities elsewhere.  Send details of turnout, trends on the doorstep, anecdotes, etc.  Either add them as comments to this post or email to brightonpoliticsblogger@googlemail.com. I will reproduce them faithfully except unfounded attacks on opponents.  This will allow readers to assess where momentum is.  This invitation is open to candidates of all parties other than the BNP and other neo-fascist parties.

Already this weekend there have been interesting reports on Labour activities, with Nancy Platts back in town reporting good response on the doorstep, and keen activity by Labour in Regency Ward.  Green candidates in Brunswick and Adelaide, Ollie Sykes and Phelim MacCafferty, report that they had met 2 former Lib Dem supporters who are outraged by this week’s cutting of Education Maintenance Allowance that they are voting Green for the first time in May. 

The Greens have announced their candidates in two of their key seats, Regency (which they hold) and Hollingdean and Stanmer (one of its key targets).  And inspired selections they are, too.  In Regency the Greens are going with Jason Kitcat, one of the best known and impressive ward councillors in the City.  Fellow councillor, Sven Rufus is moving to stand in Hollingdean and Stanmer, where he lives. The challenge for the Greens was to select a candidate who might one day match Jason in the name-recognition stakes.  And the Party has chosen someone by the name of ….. Kitcat.  Yes, Ania Kitcat, wife of Jason. They are up against Labour’s Dan Wilson and James Asser, nice guys but dull in comparison to the twin-pack Kitcat (sorry, that was pathetic).

In Hollingdean and Stanmer, in addition to Sven Rufus, the Greens have selected community activists Luke Walter and Christina Summers.  Both are well known and respected, and in Christina’s case, will reach residents that traditional activists might not reach.  I still believe there will be a split result in H&S, but with this selection I would predict that Jeane Lepper, Sven Rufus and Christina Summers will be elected.  Nothing against Luke, he will lose out because he will appear at the bottom of the ballot paper.

I suggest that those Tweeting should start using #doorstepbrighton.

The right and wrong way to demonstrate

Today we saw the best and worst aspects of protest.  Students from around the country descended on Westminster to protest against the decision to raise tuition fees, with particular anger focused on the Lib Dems, all of whose MPs pledged to oppose such an increase. 

It is many years since students were mobilised in such numbers, and a great deal of credit should go to the National Union of Students.  They had a serious, important point to make, and they were making it well until …..

….. an ill-disciplined group including non-student anarchists, occupied Millbank towers, which includes the offices of the Conservative Party.  One idiot, who I hope is identified and prosecuted, threw a fire extinguisher off the roof, missing a police officer by a matter of feet.  Swept up in this group were many very young protesters, probably school children who had joined the demonstration to protest against the cut to Education Maintenance Allowance.

Sadly, the demonstration will be characterised and remembered for the violent episode at Millbank.  One reassuring aspect, though, was the restraint demonstrated by the Metropolitan Police.  Of course they, too, are facing cuts.  They have also been stung by criticism of their handling of previous climate change demonstrations.

I would propose a demonstrators charter that protesters are required by organisers of demonstration to abide by otherwise they should be excluded from the demonstrations.  The charter could include:

  • No taunting of the police (some people come to demonstrations to have a pop at the police; the police are not the target of most protests)
  • No break-away groups (it allows the police to justify kettling)
  • No alcohol and drugs (protests need to be focused and disciplined)
  • Normally have live music (it raises spirits and sets a certain tone)
  • Walk in ordered rows and columns (a protest should not resemble an amble in the park)
  • Everyone should wear a common colour (green, red, black, etc.)
  • Protests should be safe for children and older citizens, so language should be appropriate.

In response, the police should be required to respect a disciplined protest and ensure that its command and conduct does not provoke or exacerbate the situation.

I imagine many people will think I’m barking, but if you have ever been on, or witnessed, serious and disciplined demonstrations (for example, republican demonstrations in Belfast or protests under Apartheid in South Africa), you will appreciate the importance of discipline and the power of such a protest.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 58 other followers