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On the front line of democracy

I was reporting the events in and around Parliament Square yesterday afternoon, for a French magazine. Having previously attended the 1998 Countryside March and the 2002 Liberty & Livelihood March, I was able to observe the differences in mood.

In 1998 the typical banner read “Please listen to us!”
In 2002 the banners read “The last peaceful protest…”

Yesterday was not a peaceful protest but an act of civil disobedience.
None of the people I interviewed believed that the government would or could deliver a deal. All criticised the leadership of the Countryside Alliance for as one Devonian middle-aged lady put it: “They are protecting their knighthoods.” Minutes later she was part of the first violent attempt to break into the House of Commons car park.

I took a careful look at the people, mostly men who took on the police. One looked like a soccer hooligan, baseball cap, beer gut and the drooling stupidity of English nationalism at its worst: the police didn’t even bother arresting him when he broke through the police cordon.

The others were in their late thirties or forties. They looked more like farm labourers than landowners. They also looked rather more interested in provoking a battle than dialogue. The campaign badge said “Bollocks to Blair”. No pretence at dialogue there.

In all the police acted with almost incredible restraint, police horses were shoved backwards by huntsmen who tried to unbuckle saddles and throw riders. Smoke bombs were thrown by Real C.A. activists, sometimes at police. The Real C.A. activists, who have promised a campaign of direct action against the ban on hunting, were handing out Real C.A. stickers but not wearing them themselves to avoid detection. Some of the demonstration leaders were giving instructions in Welsh to confuse the eavesdropping Special Branch.

There were eight arrests, but most of the violent offenders were allowed to rejoin the crowd. I overheard a reporter interviewing a campaigner and asking why they didn’t go through the normal channels: support the Tories, for instance. The reply indicated that for these protesters at least, they have to create their own opposition.

Shortly before I left I heard a police officer saying to a mother with two young children who were screaming “Blair Out!” and cheering a particularly vigourous charge against the mounted police:

“It’s one thing to be up against Swampy or those Greens, but this just doesn’t feel right!”

He looked as if he’d just realised that his parents could be attacking another part of the human shield of police. Unlike his Parisian police counterparts in 1943, he has the option of refusing to collaborate.

8 comments to On the front line of democracy

  • gberke

    Too many people on the planet. Too many people on the planet. Not enough room for the animals.
    Everything looks like something from Walmart, in those quantities, with that level of human care.
    Hunt animals? Eat them? Make things out of them? Certainly!
    But not on a planet with 6 billion and counting.
    “A real snake? Ha! You think I’d be working here if I could afford a real snake?” Blade Runner

    Sustainable growth? 6 Billion people and counting? Not a chance. Not a chance.

  • Nick Wade

    Mr Berke, what is your fear?
    That the planet cannot sustain us?
    Or that it can?

  • “For not upon these hills alone
    The doom of sport shall fall;
    O’er the broad face of England creeps
    The shadow on the wall.

    “The woodlands where my race has bred
    Unto the axe shall yield;
    Hedgerow and copse shall cease to shade
    The ever widening field.

    “The manly sports of England
    Shall vanish one by one;
    The manly blood of England
    In weaker veins shall run.

  • Oh [url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/2582811.stm]this[/url] is rich.

    “Student George Philip Todhunter Bramley, 20,
    from Gillingham in Norfolk: arrested and charged
    for Section 14 of the Public Order Act – breach of
    cordon and demonstrating in a non-designated


    “A 23-year-old man received a formal caution
    following his arrest for theft.”

    So you get charged for demonstrating in a “non-designated” area but get let off with a caution if you are a thief!

  • Sorry, above link should have been:


  • Tom

    In response to gberke, I thought Malthusian principles had been discredited. There already ARE six billion people and more than enough food for everyone. Starvation owes to political causes, not environmental. The percentage of wilderness, in the United States at least, is increasing. The government pays farmers billions of dollars to take land OUT OF crop production. Not a chance?! Heck, we’re already there!!

  • blabla

    It’s easy to repeatedly say, “Too many people on the planet,” like a banshee. It is a meaningless statement when put in the context of individual needs. Why is it that the average American is fat? Is it because there are too many people? Why is it that 3 days worth of calories costs 8 minutes of minimum wage labor in America? Is it because there are too many people?

    If you want “sustainable development” get rid of the socialists.

  • Ryan Waxx

    I don’t know about ‘sustainable development’, but ‘sustainable rhetoric’ certainly seems doable.

    Wild-eyed freaks have been treading this earth predicting its end for centuries. The environmentalists are the dubious heirs of this legacy of ‘We’re all gonna DIIIIEEEEE!’

    Fist, you predicted God was going to kill us for our sins. Then, we were going to die because we dared oppose communism and ‘crush the common man beneath our boot’. Now the ‘common man’ is becoming wealthy, so now they are the oppressors… of third-world countries and Mother Gaia.

    Make up your damn mind… is it global cooling, or global warming? Nuclear holocaust or the four horsemen? Third world terrorism, or wealthy Saudis?

    Apparently its escaped your notice that the planet warms and cools all by its lonesome, thank you.

    Well, at least we know you believe in recycling… your rhetoric.