Thursday, 11 November 2010

The big question after the Millbank riot

When the young man who dropped a fire extinguisher from the roof of the besieged Tory HQ in London’s Millbank yesterday is caught, he should be charged with attempted murder. It is a miracle that today’s headlines are not leading with the death of one of the police officers or protesters who were just feet away from where the extinguisher landed.
The police are embarrassed they weren’t prepared for either the numbers who marched to show their opposition to higher university tuition fees or the strong possibility that a section, determined on mischief, might attack Millbank Tower.
Demonstrations and marches are likely to be a regular event around the UK next year, as the Coalition’s measures to rein in the deficit erode jobs and shrink the welfare state. The big question is whether yesterday’s riot is the forerunner of more episodes of serious civil unrest.
When passions cool, students have a good case to make both against moves that will see them burdened by debt for decades to come – and the lies told them by the LibDems. It deserves to be heard. But however sympathetic the cause, the rule of law has to be maintained.
The protester pictured attacking a plate glass window with a hammer had attached himself to the student march intent on wanton destruction. He and his ilk have to be resisted in future.
The police’s response will be crucial. The events yesterday have strengthened their stand against the cuts they face in manpower. The ranks of ordinary bobbies need to be supported rather than quasi-military units. Strong arm tactics by riot police can exacerbate tense standoffs. Tear gas and water cannons should be the last resort when disorder threatens.
Newspaper vendor Ian Tomlinson who died when pushed over by an officer at the G20 protests in 2009 made an unlikely martyr.
The Labour Party must tread warily too. Leader Ed Miliband has to show he can provide realistic alternative policies to those of the current Coalition government. It is not enough to point score.
What, for example, would he do about student tuition fees given that Lord Browne’s report which favoured scrapping the cap was a Labour initiative when it was still in government?

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