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.

6 Responses

  1. ……and try this for an alternative perspective

    A few broken Tory windows against a broken-beyond-repair welfare state perpetrated by a Government that wasn’t even democratically elected? I know what I’ll choose.

  2. The main thing I saw that bothered me was the fire extinguisher – that seems to be attempted murder and should be treated as such.

    Any similar acts notwithstanding it was a model protest – the bulk of peaceful protesters got to protest without stupid limitations being placed on *them* because of the possible actions of a few.

    Anyone with the small violent mob deserves what they get (if someone is too stupid to move away from trouble, its their look out).

    The police were brilliant, and the damage (a few windows) a price worth paying to allow the peaceful protesters to have their event.

    Nothing needs changing legally. But peaceful protesters should be briefed on how to ensure they are not mistaken for non-peaceful. This should be a part of every pupils ‘citizenship’ syllabus.

  3. @BPB – it’s a nice idea, but technically all protesters have signed up to a charter- it’s called the law. Whilst such a charter at least sends the right signals with regard to intent and I fully agree that a well organised, serious and uniform protest would send stronger messages, nonetheless you can’t control people- there will always be some who choose to ruin a good thing.

  4. 2 wrongs most certainly dont make a right all that has been achieved is a review in police planning and number which is completely off topic.

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