Thursday, 11 November 2010

On Watching Some Windows Getting Broken as a Family Group

Interesting times last night - not just at Millbank, but here at Chez McMenamin. Now, time was when Mrs. McM and I would have happily sat watching a few broken windows at Tory HQ on TV, chugged away at the Merlot and gleefully quoted Jim to each other ('If there's a lesson in life we should all learn is that students must never break windows unless they're members of the Bullingdon Club.').

We are both behind the students, both recall that sometimes - but only sometimes - riots do work and, lets be frank, we are both perfectly aware that there seemed to be almost as many camera operatives in Millbank as there were occupiers so the world was getting a rather skewed view of the demonstration. The violence was all a bit small scale to be truthful - not a Poll Tax Riot in miniature at all. We both have memories of being caught up in .....well, lets call them 'spots of disorder' in our youth and early adulthood: she still dines out on the Greenham fence she pulled down and we both have various memories of seeing bottles, bricks and fireworks being tossed around on various demos - and of running away, frightened, from police charges. So our reaction to the events was perhaps entirely predictable.

But what was different last night was the presence on the sofa of a young master McMenamin who is fourteen tomorrow. Now he is a well behaved boy with a lifetime's training in doing the decent thing and a default assumption that violence only really happens in video games, despite living in a not entirely salubrious part of South London. He knew the students were marching - and indeed rioting - for him. He was wide eyed with excitement as the glass window broke, cheering on the students as if they were his football team, just high on the apparent disorder.

His mother and I shifted in our seats uncomfortably, and started murmuring things like,

'...that lad with the wedge haircut has made a mistake not to have a scarf over his face, he'll be nicked before the end of the evening and probably chucked off his course as well...';
'...have we ever explained what kettling is?' ;
'..of course its important to have a spare battery for the mobile if you do get into a sticky situation, just so you can ring someone.."and
'...actually, it's really frightening when things kick off like that and you don't know how to get away from it..."

He calmed down and asked us what we really thought of the TV news pictures. I looked at his Mum and she looked at me. I cleared my throat to launch into some lengthy dull diatribe from half remembered EP Thompson on the long English tradition of 'negotiation by riot' when Mrs.McM quietly spoke up,

" I wouldn't want to smash windows, and I wouldn't want any of my family to do it...but I'm glad it has happened".

We went to our beds a family united on that thought.


  1. Brilliant, Charlie.
    I have to say Mrs Rab disapproved of the scenes at Millbank. I, on the other hand, was delighted to Tory HQ take a kicking. The first of many, I hope.

    I listen to the Question Time panel on Thursday night belly-aching about how the violence had detracted from the attention on the issues. This strikes me as rubbish. Everyone knows exactly what the issues are. Demonstration like the one last week are not about 'raising issues'. Surely they're about expressing anger?

  2. Thanks Rab.

    The thing is, it is really quite unusual for riots - if that is the right word to describe what happened - to be popular. Yet I detect a quite widespread quiet approval of what occurred - not necessarily direct support, more a kind of 'muttered under-the breathe' feeling of," Well, they had it coming didn't they?"

    But such popular feelings can be fickle and I'm not sure I'd want to be at the sharp end of any hint of trouble on the next NUS demo. I think the police will react extremely violently.

    Can I suggest you draw Mrs. Rab's attention to this story of destruction of property by a previous generation of out of control students? Young people and hi-jinks, eh- what-ho!

  3. I understand that earlier in the day the TV reporting of the actual demo was pretty low key. The news were apparently more interested in covering Cameron's speech to Chinese Students, which Chinese TV certainly wasn't going to cover!

    Far from preventing the issues of the demo being drowned out, the occupation of Millbank ensured that the demo could not be consigned to the back pages or at all. In fact, it would otherwise have been given about as much coverage by the British media as Cameron's Speech was given by the Chinese Media.

    I'm not suggesting that we need such actions on every demo, but this was geared to making a clear point - actually I would ahve favoured an organised occupation of Tory HQ, especially if it had opened the books and found some interesting information (after all we do not have the sophisticated phone tapping facilities that the State or the News of the World can use.)

    Actually, on the police call me a cynic, but over the last few months there have been many instances of the permanent state bureaucracy undermining Ministers, leaking information on the effects of the Cuts etc., and its only a few months ago that Police Chiefs were warning the Government that Cuts would mean that they could not guarantee to be able to adequately police large demonstrations or events such as the Poll Tax riots. You are not telling me that given all the money spent by the State on infiltrating the Labour Movment and student and anarchist organisations that they didn't anticipate this was going to happen.

  4. Boffy,
    Yeah, let's be honest: it was the violence against property which made this an effective protest. But I think it was precisely the fact it didn't seem to be organised violence which was the key thing: it did, genuinely, seem to be a large scale outpouring of anger. I'm not sure if this is repeatable in a way that might maintain wide public support though.

    As for the idea that the Police intended this to happen - well, I don't buy that. They may well have their own beefs against this govt but they have a deeply ingrained commitment to a (conservative vision of) public order which functions as their professional view of the world.

  5. As opposed to expressing their anger at the ballot box?

  6. Welcome Phil.I see we boast the same Xkcd cartoon on our blogs.

    It is difficult for me to believe that anyone thinks we voted for the breathtakingly radical course of destruction being pursued by the coalition govt. So little of it was specified in the manifestos. But even if you do believe that as a general principle, it is more than difficult, it is utterly impossible, for me to believe that a majority voted for £9K tuition fees given the Lib Dem pledge. This is a kind of robbery from a whole generation and I don't blame them for being angry.