To say I am pissed off this morning doesn’t go close to describing my feelings, having heard the news that the latest ‘Kill the Old Bill’ (I think that’s what it’s called after the violent attacks on the police a few weeks ago) march and rally will take place in Bristol today. Worse than that, it’s been brought forward from late this afternoon to lunchtime when we are going into town to do some shopping (record shop browsing in my case) followed by a few beers for the first time in what appears to be years. It is not that I am against protest marches and rallies – I’ve been to a good few in my time – but it’s always a good idea get people on your side and not piss them off. To date, ‘Kill The Old Bill’ and their brothers and sisters in arms, Extinction Rebellion (‘XR’), have taken the view it’s a good idea to alienate everyone.
It won’t just be me that’s who’s inconvenienced today. Scores, probably hundreds, of businesses and thousands of workers have struggled in the shadow of COVID-19 and as soon as they are allowed to reopen, here come protest rallies attended by those who, presumably, don’t work on a Saturday and, presumably, don’t care about those who do.
It’s not that I don’t have sympathy with those who oppose the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. I do, too. It will make it harder for people to protest about pretty well anything and it will give the police plenty of additional powers they don’t really need. It’s part of Boris Johnson’s continuing crackdown on our freedoms. It’s just that I am not convinced that endless, sometimes violent, protest events do anything other than to make the public think that maybe these powers are needed after all.
People will say, with some justification, that marching is all that’s left for people who have a grievance. After all, much of the written media is of a right wing persuasion and probably supports keeping what it sees as the lumpen proletariat in its place. And today, the BBC, with its increasing right of centre stance, tends to under report or even totally ignore stories that might offend the government. So, they will argue, it’s protest on the streets or nothing. I am not convinced.
There is still no better way of communicating a point of view by the power of argument. That is why, for example, the NHS was set up and why today it remains our most prized national asset. People are convinced by the argument that a health service free at the point of delivery is the most civilised way of delivering health care. And today, we have social media which we know has a huge influence on the way we think about things, far more, I suggest, than old fashioned newspapers. The EU referendum showed how social networks can dramatically affect how people see big issues. Is it not beyond the wit of ‘Kill the Old Bill’ demonstrators to do likewise? Surely, it would have a better impact than setting fire to a police van with police officers still in it?
I’m still going ahead with my trip into town today. Luckily, I don’t suffer from major anger issues but if some middle class gobshite hipster spoils my enjoyment of the day, I probably won’t hold back, at least on the verbal front. If I’m annoyed about my leisure time being adversely affected, I can only imagine how those who fear for their future in employment must be feeling when the great unwashed descend on Bristol today.