Smashing things doesn’t prove you’re more angry, just more violent

by Jonathan Walker

I’ve been surprised at the number of left-leaning people who seem to celebrate the violence in London this week.

Personally, I agree with the NUS and the Labour party that “the vandalism and violence that we saw on Wednesday is completely unacceptable”, to quote Ed Balls.

But many people I’ve spoken to (including quite a few journalists) seem to believe that violent protestors were representative of the protestors as a whole and even, echoing Guido Fawkes and other right-wing bloggers, that the NUS is secretly pleased about the while thing.

Unlike Guido, however, they don’t mean it as an adverse criticism. They enjoyed watching Tory HQ (actually the reception of a building used by a number of organisations) get smashed up.

One argument used by apologists for the violence is that it got people’s attention.

But getting attention doesn’t always help you win the argument.

The demo prompted earnest debate about the failings of the metropolitan police, not the correct level to set university tuition fees or the merits of a graduate tax.

Instead of calling for better funding of higher education, NUS president, Aaron Porter, has spent his time trying to convince the media that the demo was “hijacked”, as he puts it.

One colleague told me that the violence showed how angry students were.

It really didn’t. Smashing things doesn’t prove you are more angry than someone who doesn’t, just more violent.

But the comment, I submit, illustrates the challenge the demonstration throws up for Labour.

What left-wing apologists are really saying is that they don’t believe democratic activity alone is capable of achieving the changes in government policy they want to see.

The Independent’s headline on the day after the demo was “The new politics”, accompanied by a dramatic photo – not, of course, of Ed Miliband but of some guy kicking in a window.

It’s what you’d expect, but it illustrates the problem nicely. A bunch of yobs (possibly from far-left organisations) are seen as the opposition to the Tories.

It’s not just the voice of the majority of students that was drowned out by the invasion of Millbank. Labour was sidelined too.

Of course, the fuss over the demo will soon die down if the violence is not repeated. But anyone harbouring a sneaking admiration for the rioters should consider that breaking windows doesn’t change governments.

The only thing that can achieve that is boring democratic activity, like voting. And the more you glamorise violence, the more irrelevant you make voting look.

Jonathan Walker is political editor of the Birmingham Post and Mail.

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3 Responses to “Smashing things doesn’t prove you’re more angry, just more violent”

  1. Gerard Killoran says:

    How ironic that nearly all the politicians who condemned the ‘violence’ supported the invasion of Iraq.

  2. Dafydd Young says:

    “One argument used by apologists for the violence is that it got people’s attention.”

    I was one of 50,000 people on the streets peacefully protesting. I think we’d have got media coverage without the Trot and anarchist idiots.

  3. james says:

    But is there not something to be said about media representations of these events having a distorting effect? I think there’s a danger that young people wanting to effect political change are offered perverse incentives by media focus on protests.

    For example, there’s an imbalance – with limited coverage of rallies or marches in which tens of thousands participate peacefully, and blanket coverage of acts of violence and vandalism by a few dozen people.

    This matters not only because it benefits the government at the expense of those peacefully protesting, but because it is damaging to representative democracy.

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