Picture of a judge's wigThe Judge RANTS!Picture of a judge's wig

Date: 17/09/04


I suppose it's what the Germans call Schadenfreude, that feeling of amusement at the misfortunes of others. Well, whatever word you care to use, I felt it the other day when I read of the hunting lobby's encounter with the Metropolitan Police's finest outside of The Houses Of Parliament.

I would say that, wouldn't I? Yes, I am against hunting with dogs (although prepared to make an exception for those who hunt with dogs, which would make for an interesting practical demonstration of the phrase 'ever-decreasing circles' if nothing else), but there were some intriguing thoughts which came to me as I scanned the reports of the événements.

I've seen reports of a few demos in my time. Indeed, way back in the when, I went to one or two myself. It was quite an eye-opener, my first one in Swansea nearly 23 years ago. It was a formative experience which left me with more than a little distrust of authority, especially if uniforms were involved.

Anyway, what entered my mind as I went through the news articles was the way in which The Media (capital letters obligatory, as that is how the members of that particular priesthood tend to see themselves) portrayed this protest compared with those on behalf of more 'right-on' causes.

All due emphasis was placed on the 'respectability' of those taking part. We were informed with breathless enthusiasm that there were members of the minor nobility present and, if some reports are to be believed, a few proxy representatives of the major nobility, too. As if a few hundred years of examples of just how appallingly badly the aristocracy and its squirarchical stooges are capable of behaving had been completely (if temporarily) forgotten.

And when Stevens' braves actually went in and broke a few heads (in response, it seems, to having a large acreage of tweed shaken in their faces), the newspaper and broadcast hacks went wading in themselves to gain the insights of those on the receiving end. Their underlying tone of enquiry was one almost of solicitude, as if these people had been the victims of a mugging or a particularly nasty hit-and-run incident.

This shouldn't be too surprising, however. When the self-styled Countyside Alliance (the political wing of the Country Landowners' Association plus a few sympathisers from such illuminated quarters as the BNP and UKIP) held a big rally in London a couple of years ago, the amount of media coverage (invariably sympathetic in tone) was immense compared to that granted to an anti-war march just a few weeks later which involved a far larger number of people. We live in a land where to own things is to have a power which democracy seems impotent to counter. The friends at Court, avoir le piston, these will always have their effect on the slant given to events.

You see, I couldn't help but think back a mere twenty years. Then the coal-miners of this mis-owned island were on strike to try to prevent the destruction of their livelihoods and of the communities which they supported. These weren't landowners, they owned little more than their pride; these weren't those who had inherited land, wealth or influence; and (fatally from the point of media interest in this animal-obsessed illusion some call culture) they didn't even have the sob story of waggy-tailed woofy-dogs under sentence of death to make the story really interesting. They were respectable in the real sense of the word: people who were worthy of respect. They worked hard, enjoyed themselves when and how they could, and did their best to make sure that their children kept to the right side.

But, despite all this (or because of it), they were labelled. And libelled. Every day in just about every newspaper. And where bias couldn't be overtly shown (such as in broadcasting), the slant was more oblique, down far more to tone of voice rather than the words used. And not just words, either. Pictures have power in our age. Just one shot of just one striker throwing just one brick at the police would send enough of a signal to the viewing millions that this, indeed, was the sort of lawless, vicious mob that the gallant forces of Order were having to deal with.

Sometimes the broadcasters, as always far more interested in their paths to the powerful than in anything which could be called objective truth, felt that they didn't need to be quite so subtle about it. And so we had the shameful instance of BBC News' coverage of the clash at Orgreave, where film footage was deliberately re-edited to make it seem as if the strikers attacked the Police first, rather than vice versa as eye-witness evidence suggested. The damage was done, and who amongst the powerful was remotely concerned if it was made by an outright lie to millions of people? The miners were demonised, and that led to the end; the end of hope, and the end of any real meaningful future for tens of thousands of people with no powerful chums and no inheritance of purloined property to fall back on.

At Westminster earlier this week, placards and other missiles were thrown at the Police, young men with shaven heads and no visible necks to support them snarled and screamed. The Met responded in the way they know best, at least showing that they have a keen grasp of the notion of equality of treatment. A number of Members of Parliament were threatened, and one (female) suffered a serious physical assault from someone who then, with a shocking disregard for the idea of noblesse oblige, scarpered off into the throng. No doubt the cretin is happily retailing the story in his local country pub even tonight.

The response of The Media? Well, it would be wrong to say that there has been no criticism at all; but what there has been has tended to be so genteely expressed as to scarcely have a right to exist. Far more apparent has been the sympathetic twitterings of the right-wing press, largely about how dreadfully the Police behaved; I mean, these were respectable people after all; many of them own things (like half of Derbyshire). One quote from a Bedfordshire solicitor has him remarking that he no longer had any respect for the Police. Well, well, welcome to the real world, sweetie. The Bill have been doing this to hippies, peaceniks, gays, Irish, Afro-Caribbeans and kids for thirty years or more. Welcome to the club (or baton to give it it's official title). You reap what you sow. What a dreadful surprise it must be for those who inhabit what one writer called 'Topside' to suddenly realise that the tactics they have urged the authorities to use against the rest of us have finally come round and bit them on the arse!