Cameron’s Britain: “Kettling” Children for Protesting Against Savage Cuts to University Funding

29.11.10

For anyone unfamiliar with “kettling,” Wikipedia accurately describes it as “a police tactic for the management of large crowds during demonstrations or protests,” which “involves the formation of large cordons of police officers who then move to contain a crowd within a limited area,” so that protesters “are completely prevented from leaving” and “can be denied access to food, water and toilet facilities for a long period.”

While obviously illegal — and counter-productive, as many a wag has noted, explaining that kettles boil — the procedure has been used in the UK since the May Day protests in 2001, when passers-by, tourists and workers who nipped out for a sandwich were kettled for many hours in Oxford Street, and has survived legal challenges in the UK, and even a horrific new development during the G20 protests in April 2009, when, in addition to kettling the new wave of anti-capitalist, anti-globalization protestors who had not been put off by the collective punishment of May Day 2001 and the subsequent distraction of the “War on Terror,” the police killed a passer-by, Ian Tomlinson.

On Wednesday, kettling resurfaced during protests by students and schoolchildren about the government’s proposals to savagely cut university funding — including 100 percent cuts to all arts, humanities and social sciences courses — and to oblige universities to triple fees (from the current rate of £3,290 a year to £9,000 a year), which will be required if they are to have a chance of surviving at all.

Despite the fact that there was little violence on the day, which primarily involved young people (including numerous schoolchildren) walking, marching or running around London making their voices heard — and that most of what did occur was directed at a police van that had conveniently been abandoned in Whitehall — the police thought it appropriate to direct the students and schoolchildren down Whitehall and then to kettle them for up to eight hours in freezing temperatures. Presumably, they had a point to prove after being caught out two weeks before, when Tory HQ on Millbank was targetted by a tiny fraction of the 52,000 students and teachers who had attended the first national demonstration against the cuts, and the police were nowhere to be seen.

However, it sends out a bleak message about the intolerance of the coalition government, when its risible message of “fairness” fails, and the mask slips to reveal the true face of the modern neo-liberal Tory party (and its quisling LibDem supporters), especially when the significance of the planted police van was noted, and it was also revealed that Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson was either caught out lying about how mounted police had charged at the demonstrators, or was unaware of what his own forces were doing. He told a Metropolitan Police Authority meeting he had “no reference” to police officers on horseback charging at protesters, and was backed up by a spokesman for the Met, who said, “Police horses were involved in the operation, but that did not involve charging the crowd.”

As the Guardian explained, however:

Jenny Love, 22, who graduated from Bath University in July, said mounted officers “charged without warning.” “When the horses charged I was fairly near the front of the demo, where we were very tightly packed in, and found myself very quickly on the floor where I assumed the foetal position and covered my head while people simply ran over me,” she said. “Thankfully another protester picked me up before I could suffer any serious damage.” [...]

Naomi Bain, a member of support staff at Birkbeck University, was at Whitehall on Wednesday to protest against the government cuts. She said: “We were right at the front of the crowd. I’ve been in a lot of protests before, so we weren’t particularly scared of police shouting at us and telling us to move. We were standing our ground — until the horse charge.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite so frightening. I’ve seen police on horseback, but this was like a cavalry charge. There was a line of police on foot, and they just moved out of the way, then maybe a hundred yards down the street there was a line of police on horseback. We’d been standing firmly and just moving back slowly, but when the police on horseback charged, that was the moment when we absolutely ran.”

Bain said she was standing with school and college pupils, some as young as 15, when mounted police advanced. “There were people who fell down who would have been under the horses’ hooves if they hadn’t been grabbed –- and these were really young kids as well.”

On Facebook, one of the protestors subjected to kettling described it as follows:

Police planted an old police van in Whitehall in the middle of 4000 demonstrators. We asked the police to remove it; they refused. Police only 20 yards from the van refused to protect it. They wanted it to be attacked. The “attack” on the van was an excuse to kettle 4000 people for 8 hours, some 11 years old. We had no water or toilets for 5 hours.

In addition, this is from a letter to the Guardian:

I went with my grandson to the student protests. His older sister went with a group of friends. The sun shone and there were lots of children and young people there, ranging in age from about 13 to 18. They were noisy and excited and their anger about government proposals was palpable, but apart from the odd baby anarchist, it was peaceful enough. We gathered in Trafalgar Square then set off marching down Whitehall. All fine until just past the memorial, where there were suddenly hordes (and I mean hordes) of police — at first just ordinary police, but soon joined by riot police, and later mounted police. I started to get anxious when I realised they were kettling the children — blocking off exits to Westminster Bridge, Parliament Square and Liberal headquarters. Kettling children is hardly the mark of a civilised and tolerant society.

I have no doubt that, for the most part, the kettling, the staged opportunity for “anarchist violence” and the horse charge will not have had the desired effect. Students and schoolchildren have not, in general, been politicized since the Labour Party won its landslide majority in 1997, when, after years of incessant and creative agitation under Margaret Thatcher and John Major, Tony Blair wielded a psychic cosh on the population, and Gordon Brown realized that PFI and a deranged housing bubble would provide a suitable illusion for real economic growth.

The last time schoolchildren took to the streets was in February 2003, in the build-up to the invasion of Iraq, when, in the name of an illegal war, regime change and supposed geopolitical influence, the government put pressure on headteachers to threaten protesting schoolchildren with expulsion — and, it should be noted, Tony Blair secured the lifelong condemnation of millions of other British people who opposed the war and attended the largest protest in British history, which left people both embittered and resigned to the failure of protest when we were all swatted aside like an insignificant fly.

The same thing must not be allowed to happen again, in terms of schoolchildren and the wider public (some of whom — generally those over the age of 35 — clearly recall, with good reason, why the word “Tory” always used to be followed by the word “scum”), and I hope that teachers will resist any attempts to clamp down on their newly-politized pupils. To paraphrase the government, we are all in this together, but the “we” includes everyone except the government and the meagre proportion of the voting public who voted for them in May. Teachers — and headteachers — should realize that they are on the same side as their pupils, especially with the creepy figure of Michael Gove presiding over education like Dickens’ Gradgrind reborn — as, indeed, are the police, who should be thinking twice about terrorizing and humiliating children, when they too are workers facing savage cuts in place of the bankers whose greed got us into the global economic crisis in the first place.

Lest we forget, the government does not legitimately have a mandate for its mission to remake the UK along the lines of the most dysfunctional and dystopian aspects of Republican America. In May, despite airbrushed “Dave” Cameron’s best efforts to sweet-talk the public with his deluded fantasies about the “Big Society,” while his partner in crime, George Osborne, was busy sharpening his weapons, preparing for slaughter like a feudal lord putting down the peasants before they could even revolt, the Tories not only failed to secure a majority, but also failed to tell the people of Britain that, if they could persuade the LibDems to form a coalition (which must have been dubious, unless Nick Clegg was a double-agent all along), they would embark on the last thing that the UK needs right now.

That, as we glimpsed in the budget in June, and had confirmed in the comprehensive spending review last month, is an ideologically driven massacre of the State, under cover of the financial crisis, in which all blame is pinned on the previous government, and, apparently, the poor, the disabled and the young, and no one is apparently allowed to question why the City is being allowed to continue as before, psychopathically heading down the road to economic disaster for a second time, and subjected to virtually no obligation to help reduce the deficit. As was revealed last week, when George Osborne found out that his puny £2.5 bn a year levy on the City was due to yield £3.9 bn, he scaled it back, not wanting to ask the rich and the super-rich to do anything that might jeopardize his commitment to making life as miserable or as insecure as possible for the ordinary middle classes (not the Cameron, Osborne or, for that matter, Kate Middleton type of middle classes), the working classes, the unemployed and the disabled.

We the people only have each other right now. The Labour Party regarded its own achievements for the population as a whole as inferior to its sucking-up to big business and the banks, and, while recognizing that, in many parts of the country, the only alternative to permanent unemployment was the public sector, it also, for the most part, advanced the privatization begun by Thatcher and Major as the only game in town.

As the post-Brown Labour Party seems incapable of fighting back, and the LibDems have committed political suicide, the void will need to be filled by something new. I have no illusions that this appears to be anything other than an almost unthinkable task at present, but while Island Britain is, as usual, encouraged to think that the rest of the world — and, particularly, the rest of Europe — is irrelevant, the persistent tremors from the global financial crisis, which continue to wreak havoc across the EU, indicate that replacing all our existing political elites with new leaders or people’s collectives capable of synthesizing a workable combination of socialism, environmentalism and responsible capitalism is the only way forward, and that we must be prepared to fight — whether through peaceful protest or direct action — those who think otherwise, and who have already demonstrated that they are prepared to kettle children to achieve their aims.

Otherwise, we only have Cameron and Osborne and their cronies, turning the UK, for most of its inhabitants, into inner city America, or Victorian England without any of the social reformers and philanthropists who set in motion the principles of the common good, equality and care for all that led to universal health care, universal suffrage, universal education, and a society with a functional infrastructure — all the things that Thatcher started to tear down 31 years ago during her malignant project to reshape Britain as a country driven by greed, with “no such thing as society,” which Blair and Brown largely followed, and which Cameron and Osborne want to complete.

Note: There were, of course, many more protests across the country last Wednesday, and in total it is estimated that around 130,000 students and schoolchildren took part. In addition, at least 25 university buildings were occupied by students, and, according to the BBC, twelve of those occupations were ongoing on Sunday. Another day of action — involving walk-outs and protests around the country — has been organized for Tuesday November 30.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in July 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, currently on tour in the UK, and available on DVD here), and my definitive Guantánamo habeas list, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

11 Responses

  1. Tweets that mention Cameron’s Britain: “Kettling” Children for Protesting Against Savage Cuts to University Funding | Andy Worthington -- Topsy.com says...

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Andy Worthington, John Carmine. John Carmine said: Cameron's Britain: “Kettling” Children for Protesting Against …: … agitation under Margaret Thatcher and Joh… http://bit.ly/epnyl0 [...]

  2. Paul says...

    Some of the photos of the van on the BBC show that it has a ‘Police Aware’ sticker on it (whilst still surround by protesters, and so not stuck on afterwards). You can just make it out in the photo here:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-11861430

    There was another photo on the BBC taken more from the left and closer in where you could clearly read the label, but I haven’t been able to find it again.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Paul. “Police Aware” — I like that!

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Michael Bentley wrote:

    Andy, I have been enraged by the police brutality last week, and by the “massacre of the state” which you describe. This is the best of several very good articles I have read since then. Thank you!

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Becky Riley wrote:

    The laissez-faire form of capitalism will be the end of western civilization if we are not careful. News flash to the western world, Ayn Rand was wrong. John Maynard Keynes must be rolling over in his grave.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Alex Grace wrote:

    Will you be there tomorrow Andy?

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for the comments, Michael, Becky and Alex.
    Only in spirit tomorrow, Alex. I have a meeting, and then I’m on “The Agenda” with Yvonne Ridley, discussing the recent compensation claims for the Guantanamo prisoners with Bruce Anderson, the Independent’s very own torture enthusiast:
    http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/bruce-anderson/bruce-anderson-we-not-only-have-a-right-to-use-torture-we-have-a-duty-1899555.html

  8. The Year of Revolution: The War on Tyranny Replaces the War on Terror « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] Between November 1999 and July 2001, protestors from around the world took aim at a succession of international meetings, including protests at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2000, at an IMF and World Bank summit in Prague in September 2000, at the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City in April 2001, and in London on May Day 2001, when the British police first introduced “kettling.” [...]

  9. The Year of Revolution: The “War on Tyranny” Replaces the “War on Terror” « Eurasia Review says...

    [...] Between November 1999 and July 2001, protestors from around the world took aim at a succession of international meetings, including protests at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2000, at an IMF and World Bank summit in Prague in September 2000, at the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City in April 2001, and in London on May Day 2001, when the British police first introduced “kettling.” [...]

  10. UK: Warnings Of Future Crisis « « Eurasia Review Eurasia Review says...

    [...] the students and schoolchildren who brought palpable anger back to Britain’s streets before Christmas, and who actually threatened the malignant politicians risking the collapse of [...]

  11. On the Anti-Cuts Protest in London | Amauta says...

    [...] 100 Percent Funding Cuts to Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Courses at UK Universities and Cameron’s Britain: “Kettling” Children for Protesting Against Savage Cuts to University Fundin…; [...]

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