Policing as protesting by other means?

In the discussions of the ‘evenements’ of November so far, many have rightly focused on the significance of the student protest for politics, on which there are excellent discussions here and here. But what are the police up to? And what might their participation in this spectacle tell us?

One thing is certain: they were talking about it everywhere. Here, here, and here. They are telling us of the impending discontent, they are battening down the hatches, they are getting out the boys in black with the shields and the helments. On the one hand, it looks like them covering their behinds after being ‘caught out’ on the 10th November on Millbank.

Strange, this, given that it was police instructions that let the procession pass down Millbank, past a curiously unguarded Conservative HQ, and police choices about the deployment of personnel that allowed the building to be occupied so quickly. Strange, also, that the pantomime proceeded so smoothly, with jubliant protesters surrounded by clicking cameras, with no attempt to disarm them of their chairs, sticks and spray paint. Of course, it would be said, that there were not enough police there. But this went on for hours, rather than in the short time in which it might have been shut down with the arrival of back-up.

This was followed up by a much more impressive display from the Met this week – vans and officers ‘kettling’ the protesters, with the occasional sacrifice to make plain the danger.

And after the smell of danger, and the rattling of the Tories’ inner cage in the Tower, now, of course, the master stroke in the game: the call for the reversal of cuts to police funding as we enter a new era of unrest. The police are in their own protest, their own strike, and their own struggle. This game will doubtless serve them, at least for a while, as they joyously turn the drama of discontent on the street into a grounds for their own resistance.

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