Friday, November 26, 2010

Wednesday, 24th November 2010: Kettled in Whitehall

I will be extending this report of horrific police actions on Wedsnesday's fees and EMA demo to include commentary later on: I desperately needed to get the facts down as I remembered them straight away.

12.30: Left work at Tottenham Court Road. Phone L. She was leaving Trafalgar Square ‘with the march’ to walk down Whitehall. Had expected ‘carnival’ in Trafalgar Square to last longer so hurry down Charing Cross Road.

12.45: Can see end of march in Whitehall. Lots of police vans moving around and parked (esp. down New Scotland Yard) but mood seems fine. Caught up with marchers (around 8,000?) and meet L by Cenotaph. Police vans following us about 50 yards behind.

1.00: March comes to a standstill. Most of marchers young: sixth formers from local/ London boroughs. I am at this point near the back of the march, outside Red Lion Pub I see my other friends. (This is when the kettle actually begins: from this moment no one goes in or out. But I’m not really aware of this at this time.

1.10: Police vans come to stop behind us. Assume we are going to be held for about an hour and let into Parliament Square slowly, as had happened the week before due to the big numbers/ police protection of Parliament Square.

2.00 Realise we are being kettled. Had thought this was no longer allowed before 5pm. Vans now closed across road behind us just this side of Cenotaph and across the entrance to Parliament Square. Heavy police lines in front of vans including on side road with arches and near Parliament entrance, holding visored helmets and shields. At this point, Red Lion pub still open for business. Loads of journalists. Speak to BBC Radio London.

One van, of different size and type to any other police vehicle I saw that day (strange if not distinctly suspicious?), left in the middle of the road. Young people already climbing on it. Hanging around and feel cold.

2.30: Asked two police officers why we are being kettled. There’s around 6000 in the square, I would guess about 60 or 70% are under 18.
Me: Why are we being kettled?
PO: What’s kettling? We don’t know that term.
Other PO: Yeah, we don’t recognise that term.
Me: Well, can we get out?
PO: You can’t get out here. We’re not letting anyone out here. [Parl. Sq. Side].
Me: Can we get out at all? [have already checked on Traf.Sq. side of kettle]
PO: Over there, maybe. [Points to Traf. Sq. Side.]
Me: They said the same thing over there.
PO: I’m sure there’s ways out around the sides.
Me: This is a kettle!
PO: No, it’s not.
Me: A teapot?
PO: Well, since you two are obviously such nice girls [!] we’ll let you out.
At this point, we decide that talking to coppers is futile. Obviously we can’t leave our friends, and since they’re not going to let all of us out we return to our friends, disheartened.

3.00 Café next to Red Lion doing roaring trade. Friend gets coffee after queuing for about half an hour. Police van has now been graffitied and lights broken. Its incongruous presence in the road does not seem like an accident given the extreme care with which the police operation appears to have been planned. How did it get forgotten? Press, who are freely allowed in and out of the kettled zone all day, are going crazy taking pictures of a few masked youths standing on top of it. At least 10 professional looking camera-people.

4.00 It’s getting dark. Fires made of placards are lit: people are trying to keep warm. Many young people are trying to get out. For a while it seems that some of them are getting out one by one by the south side of the road, Traf. Sq. end, but so many people are crowded around the queues, sometimes chanting ‘Let us out’, that it’s impossible to see if they are really going or not. Certainly, crowd is not thinning noticeably.

Kids are playing games: Hokey Cokey and the Conga, to stay warm. Singing songs. We hear Abba and Lady Marmelade.Clearly, these are not professional revolutionaries.

4.30: Everyone now thinks we can get out on the south, Traf. Sq side. People rush towards it, crying ‘Let us out’. I and my friends are crushed towards the police lines, a couple of metres from the police in a crowd 8 metres deep that spans the whole width of the road. Police have done nothing to control this crowd or make it safe. We advise the young people around us to links arms or they risk being trampled. This is an extremely dangerous situation. A young girl is helped up by a friend and me. She is from Kent, has got the train in this morning with 50 others, whom she has lost. She is 16 and about 5’4”. People are pushing and falling.

Over people’s heads in the crowd, I can now see that it is impossible that we get out this end. On the other side of the Eastern police lines, I can see people and police running, 200m down Whitehall. Police on horses are following. Hope that they are at least older than this lot, who are increasingly scared.

5.00: Around this time, we can see that a second kettle is being set up. There must be around 1000 police just in my proximity, all in riot gear, and at least 30 police vans visible. I can see the horses patrolling the other kettle, coming up against the crowd, then falling back again repeatedly. I hear a deep boom several times, a very strange, loud sound, but I don’t know what it is. Goodness knows what this horrific day is costing the tax-payer. One or two people somehow get through from the second kettle. They tell us the police are being extremely violent down there.

6.00: Sitting on the floor, freezing cold. All I have had to eat or drink since 12.30 (in fact, since breakfast at 8am) is a coffee and a small amount of chocolate. We have 500ml of water between 9 people. My friend who has a long-term health condition is lying on the floor. The young girl from Kent who joined us is terrified and has not eaten or drunk anything all day.

On the Parliament Sq. side of the kettle, the police rush forward and surround their van. They push it out of the kettled area. It seems the press are done taking photos of it. The police line at some point pulls back from the area where the van had been to the borders of Parliament Sq. again.

7.00 We ask again if we can leave, politely, and are told ‘no’. One of my friends has asked at every police line, every hour, for the whole day. The responses have all been sarcastic and rude: ‘Try over there’ etc. Kids are begging the police ‘I just wanna go home’

7.30 A rumour comes around that under 16’s are being let out. We take the 16-year-old girl to the police and say she is unwell. They eventually take her over the fence, but when we ask if she will be released we are told that she will be treated by a medic. A police medic leads her away. Two portaloos are set up behind police lines. You have to queue to use them, and then ask a police officer, who accompanies you to the cabin. Many men have set up a less complex toilet system, using one corner of the road to urinate. There is urine streaming for metres around.

8.00: Thank goodness, there is a sound system now near us. We dance because we have to move to keep warm. We are not as badly off as the younger kids, many of whom are wearing miniskirts and thin tights, or hoodies but no coats. Things seem to have died down in the second kettle.

Some kids push a door near us and climb over railings, trying to get out. Instantly riot police run in, raising their batons to the kids that surround them.

8.30: We join the queue forming at the north side of the road, where some people appear to be being let out along the north side of the road towards Downing Street. Again, it’s a crush, not a queue. I try to stay with my friends but am quickly separated from most of them. People are pushing, screaming, crying.

9.30: Still in queue, 1.5 metres from front. Police at front tell us (500 people at least, if not 1000), that no one will be let out this way any more: we must leave by a different exit. Some try to push out, some try to move forward, some to stand still. It’s a very dangerous situation again. One other queue has formed in a different part of the kettle but there’s no evidence that it’s moving. Police lines have moved forward from the Parliament Sq side, a small amount of traffic is now moving through the Charles Street arches and into the square. I feel extremely angry.

The woman with the serious health condition is in front of me, crushed by the people. She begs an officer (#2383, 5’7”, short/shaven light brown hair, light blue eyes) to let her out as her condition makes it very likely she will collapse or faint in the crowd. She has already collapsed once during the day. He refuses her help. She asks for a medic. Again he refuses.

When I start calling his number and pleading with him to let just this one, sick woman out, he pretends to ignore me. Eventually he turns towards me. I say I will take his number and make a formal complaint. He says ‘How am I supposed to get just her out?’ (She is in about the fourth row by now). The crowd opens and helps her out, despite the crush. My friend is finally helped away. Ten minutes after her request. No one goes with her and I am very concerned that she fall as she leaves. As I make a note of the number, either this officer or his neighbour to my right says ‘Well, with two of our colleagues in hospital, we don’t feel very sympathetic to sick protesters.’

10.30: I am finally allowed through in a group of four. I am escorted 50m by some police, then made to queue up. I presume this is to be photographed, and is what has made everything so slow. As I walk down Whitehall, there are loads of police and police vans all the way to Trafalgar Sq. Police jeer at me as I walk: ‘You look nice and warm’ and ‘See you next time’. After 10 hours, I can go home.

All times are approximate and events may not have happened in exactly this order. This is a true version of the events as I experienced them. Others may have read the changing situations differently. But I doubt it.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Actually, in the wake of the Millbank demonstration, and in the current climate of extreme confusion, largely sparked by the Daily Mail, as to what constitutes middle-class-ness, and the uncatalogued mish-mash of alleged symptoms varying from sending your children to private school to never turning your fork over, even for the most slippery sweetcorn, to long Estuary vowels, to a weakness for neurosis, piano lessons and dirty sex, it has occurred to me that an update on Jarvis Cocker's legendary definition might finally be in order.
She told me that her Dad was loaded/
I said "In that case I'll have a rum and coca-cola,"/
She said "Fine."
I have therefore developed my own fool-proof three-part questionnaire in order to identify those elusive middle-classes. Piloted on students at Wednesday's demonstration, (where 99% of students polled answered Yes to two or fewer questions) it has never failed me yet. Just grab your guinea-pig by his white collar and ask him:

1. Do you call it a napkin?
2. Do you control the means of production?
3. Do you have a job?

To be definitely middle-class you must answer Yes to three out of three questions. If you only answer two correctly, you may be middle-class, but you are probably not. Even if instead of working in a coal-mine or a call-centre you are an over-educated part-time teacher with a blog and an olive tree in a pot that you bought at Columbia Road Market, you probably need to think very carefully about your status and your relation to the forces that run this country. And then snap your Macbook shut, tie up your Converse trainers and get marching.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Wednesday's demonstration: all in it together

I thought we would be late. I thought it would all be over. I was working till 12.30 on Wednesday and my brother and I raced down Oxford Street, hoping to catch the tail-end of the demonstration. As two confirmed old students (possibly for life) we knew we had to be there, but had no great hopes that it would be well-attended, especially after the first few anti-cuts demonstrations, which mostly consisted of left activists trying to give each other leaflets in a desultory manner.

In fact, the demonstration was fantastic. As we came into Trafalgar Square, people were still pouring off the coaches, running past Nelson's column to join what I can only describe as the throng. The sun shone down on thousands of innocent upturned faces, people of all ages (and, I would argue, social class... on which, more later) innocent upturned faces singing to the heavens:
Build a bonfire/ build a bonfire/
Put the Tories on the top/
Put the Lib-Dems on the middle/
And then burn the fucking lot.