Thursday, September 16, 2004

No Mr Blair, this was not a civil war

Talk about over-reaction. “Civil War” said the Daily Mail. Other media outlets talked about riots, storming of Parliament or, as AOL put it, “the heart of British democracy”. Peter Hain, the Leader of the House, is demanding a tightening of security, which is, according to him, completely outdated.

Let us get things into proportion. What happened yesterday was a very large (over 10,000 people), peaceful though noisy demonstration outside Parliament of people who are looking at the complete destruction of their lives, their livelihoods, their communities, their traditions, their freedom for no reason at all. Anyone would get angry and they were angry.

As someone who has been with these people on previous rallies and marches, who has also worked alongside many of them, I can testify that they are not unreasonable and are not full of bloodlust. Nor are they toffs, despite the hate-filled faces of the police, who, no doubt saw themselves as defenders of the common people. Many of those in Parliament Square yesterday were the common people. Mostly, they are bewildered. Just exactly, why are they under this attack? They have never harmed anyone. And why will their perfectly reasonable arguments (acknowledged to be so by every single commission of enquiry set up by this government) not be heard?

Among the many thousands there were a few who became somewhat more angry and possibly more abusive than is necessary. The police proceeded to clout anyone who argued with them on the head. It was a big mistake to arm the police with truncheons and night-sticks. Unarmed, they had to rely on their ability to control crowds through words and personality. Armed, they hit out.

Eight people managed to make their way into the Palace of Westminster and five of them in a still unexplained sequence of events ran into the Chamber of the House of Commons; one of them managed to reach the Minister, Alun Michael and harangued him. The MPs stared aghast. Such lèse majesté. Then they were all bundled out. The idea that they could have found their way to the door behind the Speaker’s Chair without being stopped by the police on their own is preposterous. Somebody inside the House accompanied them.

Ill-judged and reprehensible, maybe, but hardly the end of the world. Nobody was attacked inside the House, nobody was hurt. But the people actually addressed the politicians directly. And this, according to our rulers, must not happen again.

This is not a civil war. Revolutions and civil wars are extremely unpleasant events. Tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, even millions of people are killed in horrific fashion; countries are destroyed and spend decades recovering even when the bloodshed is over. It is not something one would wish on any country, especially not one’s own. But civil wars do not just happen for no reason at all. Almost inevitably they are the outcome of pernicious behaviour on the part of the governing elite.

What we are seeing increasingly is an ancien régime that is heedless of the effects of its behaviour, heedless of where its position and power come from. Bearing in mind that we, too, have to explain over and over again our very rational objections to an EU Constitution and an integrated European state we have to look carefully at the reaction to yesterday’s demonstration as well as the whole sorry saga of the hunting ban.

The vicious and irrational behaviour of the politicians and the inexplicably violent attitude of the police is steadily antagonizing large chunks of law-abiding, useful members of our society. The panic-stricken reaction of our legislators, who are demanding greater security for themselves, fills one with contempt and foreboding.

It is already true that Parliament is surrounded by various security barriers and patrolled by armed police. The only place in London you might see a great number of these guardians of the law is around the Palace of Westminster and in Whitehall. Elsewhere muggers and burglars operate at will, untroubled by the prospect of a wandering bobby. Nor are the denizens of the Palace or the ministries apparently troubled by the thought of what might happen to the rest of the population in the case of a terrorist attack.

All this is quite bad enough. But Peter Hain’s comments make no pretence that the security he wants is from terrorists. It is security for the elected representatives from the people who have elected them, and put them into a position of privilege, if not power, since most of that has been handed over to the European Union.

Tony Blair, who spent yesterday cowering in Downing Street, too afraid even to drive out in his closed, armour-plated automobile surrounded by police officers on motorcycles, to vote in the Commons, is, they say, worried about his historic reputation. (Though why, someone who knows no history and cares even less about it, should worry is hard to tell.) If the depressing developments we have witnessed so far continue, he may well find that his name does go down in history but not, perhaps, in the way he would wish it.

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