Useful idiots and the protest that was overlooked

Posted on: 28 March 2011 by Alexander Hay

Thuggery, naivety and toxic politics all undermined this weekend's protests.

Regardless of what really happened, this will be how it is remembered

What is remembered and what actually happened are not always one and the same. Such is the case for this weekend's mass protest in London against government cuts, which were a successful, peaceful popular protest, but which will be remembered for a bunch of louts throwing paint and trashing banks.

The media must take a large slice of the blame for this. Press coverage will always accentuate the freakish and the exceptional over the mundane and commonplace. Sadly, it can never admit this or it would lose its credibility, and so it carries on, distorting events all in the name of an iconic 5 seconds of footage.

Politicians, as ever, have hardly distinguished themselves wither and have a vested interest in bending the truth to meet their ends. Though in this case, it's less about the desperate, all-consuming need to get your news coverage noticed, and more the need to make the other side look as bad as possible.

For example, there was a Tory MP who, the morning after the protest, said that all Labour have to offer as an alternative to cuts is 'rioting', while Home Secretary Theresa May has made it clear that she's asking the police whether they need further powers to deal with violent protesters. (And in so doing, further restrict the right to protest.)

Curiously, there is also an attempt to link Ed Miliband's speech to the protesters at Hyde Park with the riots in an attempt to smear him by association. True, he didn't say 'hey, let's loot Hamleys!' at any point, but then facts aren't that important in this case. It's the spin that counts, and the spin says the few acts of violence invalidate the actions of the majority.

But just as a recap, let's remind ourselves of what happened here. Hundreds of thousands of people went out on a peaceful protest. They're being ignored. A few hundred 'spikies' go on the rampage, and they get all the attention, even as they discredit themselves in the process.

After all, if you're going to attempt to win an argument, throwing paint and light-bulbs full of ammonia at banks and riot police in front of the media is no way to do it. Self-defeating stupidity aside, it is a puzzle as to why these 'protesters' act in such a way.

The answer is this: There are elements in Anarchism and the hard left who despise any attempt to be reasonable, or for people to organise in a way that leaves them out of the loop. To see up to half a million people following the mainstream TUC while they are marginalised and ignored drives many radicals to distraction. They, like those on the right who are all in favour of the cuts, see the protesters as brainwashed and cursed with 'false consciousness'.

Therein lies the logic of violence - it may ruin any atteelements in Anarchismmpt to organise against the cuts, but the more damage done, the better. After all, who wants the sell-outs and class traitors to prevail? Better we all suffer so the proletariat may eventually see the errors of its ways. This 'dog in the manger' attitude will always lead to violence. They know the media will be watching, after all.

For out and out stupidity, however, it's hard to match the antics of UK Uncut, who helped the media turn its attention away from the protest and the Thatcherite state-slashing by occupying Fortnum & Mason. The whole point of the day was to represent those people who weren't radical and who had an appealing argument. Smashing your way into a high profile retail outlet in the middle of central London was no way to do this.

UK Uncut's 'direct action' did however gave the media a circus to film and report on. In terms what was achieved, however, the only gains were by those who wanted to discredit the protest as much as possible and the many, many cameras, all desperate to keep rolling.

The tragedy is that the protest itself was blameless - the damage was done by small splinters of malcontents. Had the event been left to speak for itself, then the many ordinary people who attended could have made their point clear. Instead, a combination of cowards in masks, perverse news values and ruthlessly cynical politicians have stolen the limelight. The real protesters may well be wondering at this point why they even tried.

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Alexander Hay

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