The silence of Da Fink

by Stephen Tall on April 3, 2009

The Times’s Daniel Finkelstein suddenly seems uncharacteristically shy.

On successive days this week, he has denounced senior Lib Dems – Baroness Williams, Simon Hughes, Chris Huhne and David Howarth – for acting as legal observers to ensure the freedom to protest peacefully was respected at this week’s climate camp in London, organised to coincide with the G20 summit.

As I’ve previously mentioned – here and here – also on successive days Danny has neglected to mention last August’s Kingsnorth climate camp, after which serious concerns were raised about policing methods.

Nor has Danny acknowledged the concerns noted just 10 days ago by a Parliamentary select committee, as reported here by the BBC, that ‘Police are too heavy-handed in dealing with protests, harassing and intimidating people … It says peaceful protesters have had personal property seized and have been intimidated by police.’

Despite all this, Danny accused the Lib Dem quartet of “an extraordinary insult to the police”, and publicly called on Nick Clegg to make clear his position (via Danny’s blog) as to whether he approves of their actions.

Interestingly, though, Danny seems a bit reluctant to engage with his own readers. His first posting attracted 10 comments (pretty high for Comment Central), most of them challenging Danny’s version. Some even suggested Danny do some, y’know, journalistic research into the issue before cravenly striking a ‘police-always-right-protestors-always-bad’ pose. No response from Danny, though, just straight onto his second article, which this time netted 32 comments, again the vast majority of them critical of Danny’s illiberal attitude. Here’s a selection:

It was a peaceful protest, with plenty of British reserve and politeness going on. Being penned in was not part of the plan and we should expect the right to protest and the freedom of movement when doing so. It should not be assumed that attending the rally would mean becoming trapped with no food, toilet or water for hours at a time. The Transport Police were dreadful and violent lashing out against peaceful protesters. I was so ashamed by the behaviour of the police. If Nick Clegg was a witness, he would share my view that Police tactics need an urgent review.

the police are a public servant Daniel, they have a duty to protect public property and they also have a duty to defend my right to protest peacefully (at any time) by ensuring I am able to do so. Its called equality of rights. It is possible to protest without violence and many people did so, albeit disappointingly for the baying press core who had predicted an apocalyptic riot.

Despite being a lefty, I’ve always liked Danny, especially when it comes to freedom of speech – which is why I find this post appalling. The police is the only organ of the state granted the power to violently attack its citizens. Danny is criticising Clegg for seeking to ensure that this power is proportionately applied.

I was at the Climate Camp as a legal observer. I was at the edge of the protest, between the police and the protesters. The protesters were good natured, mostly sitting down talking and listening to music. There was catergorically no violence or disturbance when, at 18:50, the police decided to charge at the protesters for no apparent reason. Please let me know if you would like to see the video in which there are protesters standing around peacably, many with their hands in the air, and police baton charging said protesters. This is frankly poor journalism from a research/facts point of view and I would expect better of both you and The Times.

Yesterday I experienced rude and aggressive policing which was wholly disproportionate and unnecessary. The only agression I saw from protestors was frustrated shouting after being crushed into small areas by the police for no apparent reason. We have a right to demonstrate peacefully and yesterday this was denied, as the protests were dissipated.

Come off it Danny, there were several only slightly related protests yesterday and most passed off peacefully. The one the LibDems were ‘monitoring’ was the Climate Camp on Bishopsgate, which was a model of peaceful demonstration from what I saw.

There’s even a pointed comment from LDV’s own Mark Pack:

Any chance you’d respond to the comments posted on your original post on this topic?

I think the points made there – about the police’s highly questionable record at some past demos – are perfectly reasonable. As I also commented, the recent Parliamentary inquiry into policing of demonstrations was also very critical of some police behaviour.

What would you rather – that MPs said, “forget all that; who cares what the police have done in the past; who cares what the Parliamentary inquiry found; let’s just ignore the issue”?

Still no response yet from Danny, though, to any of these comments from his readers. Somehow I don’t think it’s Nick Clegg who needs to explain his views.