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What the government and police could lose at the G20

March 31st, 2009 · post by Peter Hogan · 1 Comment

On Wednesday April 1st some of the largest anti-capitalist demonstrations for a decade could happen in London the following article considers some of the repercussions of the protests. For full details of what is planned visit A guide to the G20 on Last Hours.

Nineteen years ago, the poll tax riot dealt a crippling blow to the Thatcher administration. Within months, Thatcher was gone and within a year John Major signalled the end of the poll tax, which lingered on till 1994. Could the G20 protests deal an even more significant blow to the Brown administration? Consider this scenario.

Gordon Brown has been one of the most unfortunate prime ministers. In many ways he is the author of his own misfortune – as Chancellor he played a major role in creating the very economic difficulties he faces today. His colleagues in government have proved to be liars, cheats and fools. Day after day we’re presented with new examples of their corruption, of their fraudulent expenses claims. From being a government of all the talents, his administration has proved to be a government of the talentless. The G20 summit represents the last best chance he has of wresting victory at the next election – if it can deliver a miraculous plan to save the country from an awful recession. It also represents an opportunity to hole his ailing government below the waterline. Remember – the Public Private Partnership debts are about to hit the balance sheet. Things are about to get far worse.

The police’s reputation

The police are apparently ‘up’ for violence on Wednesday.

Against this background the rather bold statements emanating from the Metropolitan Police do the government no favours in the field of law and order. The police are apparently ‘up’ for violence on Wednesday. We’re told 37,000 police are on standby for the City demonstrations. This is their Waterloo – but are they Napoleon or Wellington?

The stakes have never been higher. The police have effectively bet their reputation on their ability to foil the anarchists and anti-capitalists in the City. They have laid out all their cards, using their media contacts to slander and lie about the demonstrators. They have conveniently uncovered a plot they claim was aimed at the G20 summit. They have essentially threatened anarchists with immediate and terrible war if they come to the City on Wednesday. And what will the police do to top this if the predictable happens?

The police have essentially threatened anarchists with immediate and terrible war if they come to the City on Wednesday.

Think back for a moment to June 1999. June 18, to be precise. Thousands of demonstrators brought havoc to the City of London, just hours after Perry Nove, then Commissioner of the City of London Police proclaimed that his force could cope with anything thrown at them. This anarchist victory was the result of decentralization, of people taking the initiative, of free-forming groups which disbanded as rapidly – and of a complacent police force which believed it could prevail despite the considerable evidence to the contrary. Today (or, rather, on Wednesday) the Met and the City Police will apparently be prepared. But the same causes which led to the defeat of the City Police still remain.

Without going into too much detail, it is hard to see how the police can cope with numerous small events going on simultaneously. They rely on overwhelming force to deal with groups of protesters. This means that when faced with atomized groups they struggle to cope. They are not helped by the layout of the City, a warren of side streets and alleys. They face having to divide their forces into penny packets in what may well be a vain attempt to contain the diverse groups who will be roaming the City under the glare of the world’s media.

Winning by default

Like guerrillas, the demonstrators win by not losing, by simply being there and by running the police ragged.

Like guerrillas, the demonstrators win by not losing, by simply being there and by running the police ragged. Unless the police decide to arrest thousands simply for being in the City, the police lose. And the police’s tactics are already under increasing scrutiny. What all this adds up to is the potential for a massive loss of face for new Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson. No one from the Met is likely to see their career advanced from the events on Wednesday. It could be a blow to the prestige of the police of the scale of the Lawrence murder enquiry.

And this could not happen at a worse time for Gordon Brown. Assailed from all sides, his colleagues undermining his administration in their private and professional lives, Brown is watching his chances of victory in next year’s general election vanish. Embarrassment in front of his international counterparts would leave him as much a lame duck on the international stage as his handling of the economy is leaving him at home. And how much worse this will be if pictures of battered women and men injured by a police force out of control glow from TV screens around the world.

None of this is to say that a poorly handled public order response alone to demonstrations on Wednesday will see Brown out of Downing Street in time for May Day. The drip-drip of embarrassment from his ministers, the daily doses of bad news on the economy, the continuing failures in education and health – all these combine to make Brown’s government a house of cards waiting for a breath of wind to take it down. And the first rustling of leaves before the breeze blows down the cards could be the G20 protests. These are the first anti-capitalist demonstrations since the early years of this century to receive any real degree of public support. The media campaign vilifying those planning action indicates the uncertainty and fear of those in power about the impact of these protests.

These protests strike at the heart of Brown’s claim to authority, his insistence that he can get us out of this fine mess he’s got us into.

So what could – could – dash Brown from power is the response to the demonstrations. If they find a resonance among people across the country, if they spark further disturbances, if they wrongfoot the police – then they may shake Brown’s increasingly unstable government. These protests strike at the heart of Brown’s claim to authority, his insistence that he can get us out of this fine mess he’s got us into. Not everyone has forgotten his jaunts round the City in the early ‘90s to tell the big financial bosses how business friendly he was. Now his government owns half the high street banks, there’s no escape from his responsibility for what comes next. The banks are identified as major culprits for the current difficulties, along with the government. But if the banks are the government, what then? This question is unlikely to go away following the demonstrations.

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1 response so far

  • Allen posted:
    May 30, 2010 at 11:17 am. Comment #1

    ‘lose’ I think you mean lose, not ‘loose’.