By MICHAEL BLACKBURN.
THE LAST TIME I attended a march that descended into anything approaching a riot was back in the 1970s in Leeds. It was a protest against the National Front holding an election meeting in a local school. There were a lot of us and not many fascists — then, as now, there weren’t enough Nazis to go around. As Walter Scott wrote in one of his now unread poems, “All the jolly chase was here” for the rest of us — Marxists, Maoists, various workers’ party activists, long-haired students, long-haired ex-students, social workers, council workers, union members, Labour party types in jackets with elbow patches, sundry feminists and possibly a few Gay Lib people, this being before the invention of gender grievance as a full-scale industry.
Nothing happened till the NF had finished their meeting (from whom all of the attendant non-NF were excluded of course) and were let out by the police: let out by a back door. Once we cottoned on to this the chase began, all the way down from somewhere in the northern bit of central Leeds, through the Merrion Centre and down to a street near the city train station. A sweating and porcine Martin Webster, one of the leaders of the NF, stood briefly trapped on a corner, surrounded by police. They eventually got him down to the station and away. The only report in the media about the events was a terse note in The Observer the next day, which claimed nothing of note had occurred apart from one police officer suffering minor scalding at a tea urn. We were very disappointed.
These days it’s more fun to watch riots on the internet. There’s none of that tedious hanging around on the street, wondering if you’ll ever get to wherever it is the speakers have gathered to rant on inaudibly about the latest injustice or oppression they’re against, and the multicolour-hatted righteous wave their banners and placards in solidarity. Then wondering if things are going to kick off, especially now the Black Bloc seem to have developed a professional approach to practising the old ultra-violent as a form of street theatre for the perpetually hysterical.
Maybe I’m being romantic and nostalgic but those were the days when a riot was a real riot and the police got stuck in good and proper, especially when they brought the cavalry along. The cops then didn’t have all this armoured paramilitary gear they have now. They usually just had their old-fashioned helmets and truncheons. That didn’t stop them from putting it about and getting bloodied in the process. Now they just seem to hang about a while, occasionally making a half-hearted waddling advance followed by a swift retreat.
I twigged what was happening during the “student” riots and the 2011 disturbances. They’re no longer interested in stopping people from rioting — wading in, breaking a few heads, dragging out the leaders, chucking them in the back of the wagon, etc. What they do now is contain the violence, observe what’s going on and then rely on CCTV and other media to identify the troublemakers for cuffing afterwards. In the meantime, unfortunately, people may get injured or killed, and property burned to the ground. I think I prefer the old-fashioned approach, but that’s probably in the inner fascist in me coming out. The property-owning fascist, that is, who has matured enough to think civil disorder is a bad thing for everyone and not to be encouraged.
So these days I get my riot news from the internet. It’s like watching a section of society having a communal breakdown. There used to be a group of students at the university in Leeds called Infantile Disorder. It’s derived from some vacuous piece of nonsense by Lenin. Infantile Disorder did nothing (that I can recall) memorable, although they clearly revelled in the infantilism and disorder being “political” permitted them. But that’s what the current crop of protestors are like, infantile and disordered, except with instant, premeditated violence. When they turn up at the Berkeley campus, for instance, to prevent a speaker like Milo Yiannopoulos from appearing, the aggro is the thing. They love a good scream, and smashing the windows of a bank or Starbucks, and setting fire to a shop, and trying to stop people driving past, or beating innocent people unconscious. The big difference between Leeds in the ’70s and this is that Yiannopoulos is a gay, libertarian conservative the real fascists we were protesting against would have beaten to a pulp. History, as someone must have said already, is irony in action.
Back at home those of us who constitute what used to be called the silent majority observe the squalid behaviour of these cretins, go out and vote against the radicals’ agendas, and wonder how long it will be before the patience of the adults runs out and the slap-down of the malevolent children really begins.
Currente Calamo columnist, poet, writer and lecturer Michael Blackburn lives in Lincolnshire . From 2005–2008 he was the Royal Literary Fund fellow at the University of Lincoln where he now teaches English Literature and Creative Writing. His poetry has appeared in numerous publications and anthologies over the years, including Being Alive (Bloodaxe) and Something Happens, Sometimes Here (Five Leaves Press). His most recent collection is Spyglass Over The Lagoon. A selection of his Fortnightly Currente Calamo columns, Sucks To Your Revolution: Annoying The Politically Correct (US), is available as a Kindle ebook.