A question for Daniel Finkelstein on the G20 protests

by Stephen Tall on April 2, 2009

Daniel Finkelstein has another of his regular pops at Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems today. (Danny’s an ex-SDPer, and, like a reformed smoker, is obsessively evangelical in his disdain for its successor party).

Today, as he did yesterday, Danny seeks to demonise four senior Lib Dem politicians – Baroness Williams, Simon Hughes, Chris Huhne and David Howarth – for acting as legal observers monitoring the policing of yesterday’s climate camp protest in London, timed to coincide with the G20 summit.

Today, as he did yesterday, Danny fails to mention the legitimate concerns which were raised – and of which LDV reminded him yesterday – following last August’s climate camp in August, when a government minister was forced to apologise in the House of Commons for accusing the entirely peaceful protestors of violence, when the only violent injuries sustained that day were by protestors at the hands of the police.

We know Danny reads LDV, so perhaps he might like to let readers know why he has chosen to ignore facts which don’t suit his argument?

Because the reasons he gives – for a Tory who sometimes likes to give the impression he believes in freedom – are unbelievably, depressingly authoritarian. And worth quoting in full:

What, then, of the protestors argument that the police were likely to be heavy handed, and so proved. Well, the demo on Saturday was legitimate and peaceful. Anybody who wanted to demonstrate was able to.

Everybody knew, everybody knew, that this was not the plan for yesterday. Yesterday there was scheduled to be a large violent element menacing people and property. The police were going to need to take tough action to prevent it.

Anybody who decided to join in would have been fully aware of this and would have chosen to go despite having had other chances to register their opinion.

They should have expected to have an uncomfortable time – penned in and so forth – since their presence was as much a support for violent uprising – whether they say that is what they intended or not – as a piece of protest on climate policy.

In other words, they were asking for it, and they deserved everything they got, no matter how disproportionate. The clear implication of Danny’s argument is that the (vast majority of) peaceful protesters should cede the streets to (the stupid minority of) violent protestors.

What a dismal view!

Should the two million Iraq war protestors who marched in 2003 have stayed at home in case violence broke out, as was feared at the time? Yes, says Danny – and if they didn’t, and ended up victims of ‘tough action’, then serves them right.

The right to peaceful protest should not be conditional, Danny, and police action should always be proportionate to the threat. That is what liberals believe, that’s what the Lib Dems are standing up for. Which part of it do you not believe?