Like many thousands of people yesterday I took part in protests to mark ‘Day X’. It wasn’t just students on the march yesterday; in Leeds at least and, I am sure elsewhere, also trade unionists were a clear presence alongside students. From all the reports coming in and my experience I think its fair to say ‘Day X’ passed off largely peacefully. However, the use of ‘kettling’ by the police in several instances (not just London, I saw tweets claiming it was used in Manchester too and there were claims that several occupations ended with the police resorting to violence) is a disturbing and wholly unnecessary development.
It will be claimed that ‘kettling’ is necessary for effective crowd control, however this is totally wrong. In Leeds, a kettle wasn’t attempted by the police and as the march came to its culmination at the Art Gallery the order was clearly heard for the police to ‘pull back’. The demonstrators were allowed to peacefully assemble; the police pulled well back and were of course present but not in an oppressive way. During the march the police kept the march marching and the worst that happened was a few, obviously petrified, police horses bucking and neighing. This is how things should be done and I don’t think it’s any accident that the protest in Leeds was peaceful. Order was preserved and the protest was allowed its democratic right to proceed. It totally destroys the myth that this ‘tactic’ is somehow necessary.
Demonstrations bring out a slight feeling of claustrophobia in me; not enough to make it a totally horrific experience but enough to make me feel uncomfortable, so I am keenly sensitive to the sheer terror that those who are ‘kettled’ must suffer. Indeed, I can totally understand a bad reaction to police hemming people in. This probably in part conditions a natural revulsion to kettling. Kettling of any kind is a denial of the protesters democratic rights and even on that level should be taboo but added to this it inflames potentially volatile situations. My distinct impression is that the Met were looking for revenge yesterday, and this simply wont do. People may say this is understandable after events at Millbank but the police, because they are the enforcers of the law, have an even higher duty to be professional and above reproach in their conduct.
My conclusion from yesterday is simple. Kettling must be permanently removed from the police arsenal and the only way to do that is purely and simply to outlaw it. This barbaric, inhumane and anti-democratic ‘tactic’ cannot be allowed to continue or be seen as a ‘legitimate’ course of action by the police. In 2009 the Liberal Democrats had this to say about kettling:
“Tactics like baton charges, the seizure of personal property and the kettling of protestors for hours on end are fundamentally wrong.”
In the space of little over a year it seems they have gone from the party of righteous ‘civil libertarian’ anger to the party of kettling school children in November 2010. My Twitter timeline was full of self-important defence of the Met’s actions from Lib Dems. So, once again we cannot rely on the Liberal Democrats to do anything other than make pious noises in defence of our liberties. Labour must end this barbaric practice once and for all and outlaw it.