Saturday’s scenes of mayhem in central London should not detract from a peaceful rally where citizens expressed their views in a peaceful march.
Leave aside the suggestion that most of them – according to Economist political editor David Rennie – were public sector workers, they conducted themselves as law-abiding people.
Switch now to the scenes played out on rolling news of shops and hotels being attacked, hooded and balaclava–covered thugs apparently given free reign. Look also at policemen in ordinary uniforms seemingly unable to corral them and arrest those committing criminal damage in front of them.
The police seemed to be hopelessly outnumbered. Not only were they unable to protect ordinary members of the public caught up in places they had nor reason to expect would become war zones on a Saturday afternoon, they could not protect themselves.
The big questions to be asked are: what do the senior officers planning strategy doing and has political correctness gone too far? These are, of course, linked.
On the first it is hard to see what strategy has been employed. Whatever it was, it would seem that police intelligence was woeful. Social media sites have apparently been full of what was likely to happen for several days. Is it no good the police using Twitter to tell people in Fortnum and Mason that they will be arrested, they shouldn’t be allowed in there in the first place.
The political correctness point comes from the history of policing large-scale marches going back to the early disturbances around May day and meeting of G7, G8 and G-if –you-want-to-come-along-that-would-be-great. Kettling isn’t fun for protesters if they are peaceful. It isn’t fun for the police either. But it is a way of imposing some order when a minority want just the opposite.
This is not carte blanche for the police to go beyond their powers even when provoked. The death of a newspaper seller in the periphery a City of London protest was tragic.
For the senior police leaders, however, there needs to be a serious rethink of tactics. This is not just for the public but also the police. Inviting Liberty to observe police handling of the situation is no answer. Officers in the front line deserve better.
They should have better support, properly equipped support in the side streets who can go in and pull out the hard core early. They need better intelligence. Theresa May should be calling in the Met first thing on Monday to get some answer to hard questions.
And it would not go amiss if Liberty could rouse itself to condemn what happened in London on Saturday. As of 10.30 am Sunday, there is no statement on its website and its far from publicity shy director has not yet been heard.
Police have civil liberties that should be protected too.