Thursday, 9 December 2010

Pointless violence

Another day, another anti-fees riot in London. And another slew of politicians fatuously chiding that while peaceful protest is acceptable, violent protest is an outrage. Of course, I agree with them, violent protests against the actions of the government all but never have any impact on the relevant politicians or institutions. Instead, they damage public property, disrupt the lives of otherwise uninvolved people and generally discredit the rationale for the protest.

But at the same time I suspect that, behind their polished platitudes about the centrality of peaceful protest in democracies, politicians are smugly aware that peaceful protests accomplish precisely nothing. The 2003 protests in London against the incipient Iraq War managed to attract 2 million people, but that didn't even give politicians a moments pause in their rush to start a war under false pretences. And if that many people marching against such a fatuous misuse of government power can't change anything, what hope for a smaller number of students campaigning against tripling of university fees?

No, for all my distaste for violent protest, I can't quell the thought that the only time I remember a protest accomplishing something was during the decidedly non-peaceful Poll Tax Riots of 1990. I don't think the riots then did all the work, they were just the focus of a popular swell of opposition to the government, but they were definitely instrumental in the subsequent dismantling of the Poll Tax (or, at least, that's my recollection). No, I suspect that politicians, whether they say it or not, like peaceful protests because they like pointless protests that they can nod sagely about and then entirely ignore.

No comments: