Life’s a riot: welcome to the Laurie Penny show
New Statesman blogger comes under fire for her reporting of the weekend’s events in London
In the aftermath of Saturday's disturbances in London, the left has embarked on a predictable bout of internecine warfare after the 250,000-strong march against cuts was overshadowed by violence on the streets of the capital.
Mainstream figures of the left bemoan the piggy-backing of the TUC's peaceful protests by UK Uncut and the Black Block anarchists. More radical voices have praised actions such as the occupation of Fortnum & Mason and pointed their finger at what they claim to be police violence against their number. And no voice has been raised as high as that of Laurie Penny.
Half Hanoi Jane, half Hunter S Thompson, Penny is an acquired taste.
The 24-year-old activist-journalist recorded her feelings during Saturday's protests through her Twitter feed, @PennyRed, providing her 16,000-plus followers with a breathless, quite-literally running commentary of sit-ins, scrapes with the police and stream-of-consciousness rambles.
There is no doubt her radical pose and willingness to patrol the frontline have endeared her to thousands of genuinely disaffected youth whose future educations have been mortgaged by the coalition. But to the mass of journalists from both sides of the political spectrum, she's an adventurist who doesn't put enough distance between herself and the stories she covers.
She followed up her Saturday tweets with a piece for the New Statesman, where she is a regular blogger, provocatively titled 'What really happened in Trafalgar Square'. It has elicited more than 300 comments, many of them accusing Penny of fabrication.
Penny's version of the events in the square is, in a nutshell, that the police over-reacted and turned what was a peaceful protest into a night of baton charges and metal fencing thrown. While her account has been hotly contested, it was her scornful dismissal of the peaceful protesters on the TUC march "munching humous in Hyde Park and listening to some speeches" that really put some backs up.
That and her blatant misuse, out of context, of the Martin Luther King quote, "A riot is the language of the unheard".
Anthony Painter, author and political commentator, took Penny to task on the LabourList website, revealing the selective quoting of MLK's words and observing that "it's a serious misjudgment of the New Statesman to allow copy that not only insults the intelligence of its readers but also insults their actions and conviction".
Times columnist David Aaronovitch tweeted that Penny was "utterly contemptuous, without even noticing it" towards the TUC marchers, while former Labour MP Tony McNulty accused her "and your silly little friends" of spoiling "an important day for the 500,000 in Hyde Park. Are you Tories in disguise?"
Even Penny's colleague on the New Statesman Mehdi Hasan got in on the act, noting that "Laurie Penny is allowed to be silly if she wants to. If she wants to hang from a set of traffic lights in Oxford Circus, then that's her prerogative. She's entitled to her views and her 'riot boots'" - a pointed reference to what Penny had said she'd be wearing to the demonstration in an earlier column.
Yesterday, Laurie Penny was defiant. "Im trying to report fairly and counter right-wing distortions," she said. "Civil disobedience is not morally wrong." ·
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