Sunday, 14 November 2010

Wednesday 10 November: Policing Demonstrations

The 50,000+ student/lecturer demonstration on Wednesday 10 November was marred publicity wise by the actions of a small group who decided to attack the Tory HQ on Millbank.

Policing demonstrations has always been difficult. There is a mixed history of when they disintegrate into violence. This can be due to police action. The 1887 Bloody Sunday battle was started by police charging demonstrators to stop them getting into Trafalgar Square. It was the actions of a police motor cyclist driving through the back of the crowd at the first anti-Vietnam War demonstration that triggered the fighting. Sometimes the violence is caused by a small group of demonstrators.

The duration of the resultant street fighting partly depends on how many of the wider group of demonstrators get caught up and the tactics used by the police.

On Wednesday the police clearly got their strategy and tactics wrong in not working out what the potential risks were and how to minimise and respond to them.

Originally the demonstration was to have ended with an event in Vauxhall Spring Gardens. NUS, the police and Lambeth Council had agreed. The Friends of Spring Gardens expressed concerns about whether the Gardens' capacity could cope with the under 10,000 then expected. Kennington Park was suggested as an alternative. Knowing the leading members I understood their concerns and advised them to get in touch with the Community/Police Consultative Group for Lambeth.

When I worked for it 1984-9 a previous NUS demonstration had erupted into problems. The Group analysed what happened and made a number of recommendations for the future policing of demonstrations, many of which were accepted. But as always with organisations Scotland Yard seems to have forgotten.
Wednesday's demonstration was in the hands of Scotland Yard not the Lambeth police. Finally the decision was taken not to end the demonstration at Spring Gardens. Why they chose instead to end it on Millbank opposite Tate Britain is a mystery which we might get to find out about in due course. But having chosen it the police should have assessed which buildings contained organisations and businesses that might have been seen as potential targets by some demonstrators.

Violence on demonstrations damages the causes through media coverage. It means people get unnecessarily hurt. It can lead to individual police officers behaving out of control which increases the likelihood of people being hurt. Many people caught up in the fighting will realise how frightening the experience actually is and be in two minds about supporting future demonstrations. And finally there are all those people who get arrested. If they are convicted they may be martyrs to some, but it costs money to pay fines, and those who get criminal records will have that held against them for years to come.

And even those arrested who were innocent can be wrongly convicted, like my friend a few years ago who was convicted of kneeing a policeman in the groin on a demonstration, when given their respective heights it was physically impossible. Not all magistrates are as enlightened as those who threw out the charge of refusing to obey police orders when another friend proved that he could not physically move given the number of police and other demonstrators around him.

Individual senior officers have enormous operational power and discretion. It can depend on their attitude whether they set the scene that could end in trouble. When I was negotiating the plan for an anti-cuts demonstration in Wandsworth in the early 1990s involving three feeder marches, the senior officer reaching agreement was not on duty on the night. His replacement tore up the agreement and kettled the 3,000 demonstrators into a side-street. It was touch and ago whether I could get him to change his mind before the first attempt to break out would begin. Fortunately he saw sense, but only just in time. The demonstration then continued without incident and the TV news coverage was very positive.

So when organisers are planning demonstrations in the future they need to take into consideration not only who might take part intent on violence, but how to ensure that the agreements reached are abided by.

Given my experience it seems that these are some of the things that need to be part of negotiated agreements.

Senior police officers who agree the route and other details must be on duty on the day - i.e. not be replaced by others who then to decide to tear up what has been agreed.

Copies of the agreement signed by the senior officers agreeing it should be given to organisers who can show them to other officers on the day in the event of problems arising.

All officers must wear their numbers and be properly briefed about their behaviour especially if taunted by some of the demonstrators.

The police must not kettle people as this only causes panic and tension.

Exit routes for the majority who want to get away from the fighting must be obvious and not blocked off.

Senior police officers and organisers must exchange mobile phone numbers so they can be in contact with each other.

In the event of trouble and arrests anywhere en route there must be agreed places of detention with organisers' volunteer observers present, and if it can be arranged members of the independent visitors scheme.

Photographers and TV camera crews must not be prevented from using their equipment.

Reporters must not be prevented from recording what they see.

Of course conspiracy theorists might argue that some senior police officers are just as angry with the ConDems over cuts as students and others. Did they want trouble to be able to say there will be more of this – you the Government cannot afford to cut us if there is going to be increasing disorder?

Why History Matters

Since my posting about Simon Schama's appointment to review the history curriculum article, he has published 'Why history still matters' in Guardian2 (9 November). It is an excellent polemic to kick start the process. He opens with a clear message to the ConDem Coalition that appointed him that while he has accepted the Review role, he does not agree with them:

'Whatever else gets cut in this time of nicks and scrapes, incisions and mutilations, the cord of our national memory had better not be among the casualties.'

At this stage what is important about the article is the polemic, not the choice of 6 key events child should know about. We can have a debate about whether the 6 should be different or should be added to. What is important is the thinking about the choices that emerge.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

British Black & Asian History in the National Curriculum

I am sure that there are many like me who, while not agreeing with the appointment of any one individual to review the NC, will welcome Simon Schama's appointment as opposed to some others. He has wide ranging historical interests, he is a lateral thinker, he is intelligent and provocative in a way that is not partisan or hectoring like Starkey.

Given the central role he gave to enslaved and freed African peoples in his book Rough Crossings, he clearly appreciates the significant contribution Black and Asian people have made to Britain’s history.

That history has been neglected in the history taught and represented in schools and Universities. It is hoped therefore that he will be sympathetic to the case that this history should be be incorporated integrally into the teaching of British history at all levels of the history curricula and teacher training.

I suggest that the following principles should be built into the curricula at all levels and into teacher training.

(a) To be inclusive, to contribute to challenging discrimination and stereotyping, and to promote pupil's self-esteem, requires the development of pupils' knowledge and understanding of different cultures and diversities, including the presence of Black peoples in Britain since Roman times.

(b) The study of the history of the development and practice of racism should be an integral part of the history curriculum.

(c) All children in all schools need to be taught about the lives and contributions of people of African and Asian origin, as well as other ethnic minorities, in Britain since the 15th century.

(d) The everyday life of people in the past, their ways of life, and past events in the history of Britain and the wider world must reflect the historical and contemporary ethnic and cultural diversities, and include the role of colonies/colonials and India/Indians in the two Word Wars.

(e) All local studies should include the historic presence of Black peoples.

(f) Those teaching the history of Britain in the early modern period should include the context of the 'wider world' - of Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas, and European colonial and commercial interests, including African enslavement.

(g) In the teaching of 19th century Britain, due attention should be given to Britain’s role and impact impact on Ireland, India, and Africa, including the rise of racism.

(h) Teaching Britain since 1930 must include the cultural/ethic diversity of the British Empire, the effect of the Second World War on British and Empire societies, and deal with racial discrimination, campaigns against imperialism, and Black contributions to British life and culture.

(i) Teaching Britain 1066-1500 should include the impact on England of being colonised by the Normans and of subsequent English colonisation of Wales, Scotland, and Ireland.

(j) Teaching Britain 1500-1750 should include the effect of British expansion on peoples of the wider world, the role of the East India Company, the slave trade, the establishment of slave worked plantations in North America and the Caribbean, and the presence of Black peoples in Britain.

(k) Teaching Britain 1750-1900 should include the building/acquisition/conquest of Empire, resistance in the Empire, African slave revolts, wars of conquest and pacification, including the American, Haitian and French Revolutions, the Opium Wars, the substitution of Crown for Company rule in India, the ‘scramble’ for Africa, the South African War and its effects, emigration and immigration, the struggles of the working class for the vote, industrialisation and the growth of cities, and make due reference to black political and cultural figures.

(l) If a more 'inclusive' curriculum is to be taught, the publishers of text books have to be convinced that the Government insists on this.

(m) The promotion of respect, understanding of cultural diversity and combating racism, should be integral to the whole curriculum.

(n) Issues raised in Citizenship and PSHE [spell out] should permeate all of the National Curriculum and subject areas.

(o) Great care must be taken not to make children ashamed of their backgrounds/histories.

I hope that Schama will be able to conduct a wide ranging consultation including open public meetings to hear views from all interested parties. It would be helpful if a short consultation document setting out the issues and asking key questions could be produced.

I think as many of us as possible should take part in the review. It is the only opportunity available.