Will London police get water cannon at next riots?
The Mole: Tory MPs ready to urge Theresa May to sanction tougher tactics
After the anti-cuts protest in the capital turned nasty over the weekend, Tory MPs are privately ready to ask the Home Secretary Theresa May how long it will be before she approves the use of water cannon on the streets of London for the first time.
May said in December that Scotland Yard was looking at control measures "across the board" after the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall were caught up in the violent student protests against higher university fees.
So far, we have not heard the outcome, but the police are today in the dock for showing too much restraint in policing the mass rally on Saturday, and the Home Secretary can expect some pressing questions from her own side about what she is going to do to stop mob rule taking over the capital, if, as expected, the protests get worse.
In December, the Home Secretary rightly said: "I don't think anybody wants to see water cannon used on the streets of Britain." But May refused to rule out their use, which fuelled speculation that it may not be long before they are approved for use on the mainland of Britain for the first time.
The Metropolitan Police confirmed the next day they had been in touch with police in Northern Ireland about their use. There were even rumours in Ulster that the Met had asked for two of their water cannon to be sent over. "We are liaising with colleagues in Northern Ireland and seeking up-to-date advice and knowledge about water cannon," said a Met spokesman.
After protestors lit fires in Trafalgar Square, sprayed graffiti on Nelson's Column, trashed banks, laid siege to Fortnum and Mason, purveyors of picnic hampers to the aristocracy, and disrupted tea at the Ritz, the BBC reported they had received a surge of emails from members of the public who wanted the police to be armed with water cannon. Others said they should be filled with dye so they could identify the trouble-makers.
The 'softly softly' approach to policing the riots is seen as an overreaction to the criticism that the Met rightly faced after the crackdown on G20 protestors, and the death of newspaper seller Ian Tomlinson, a passer-by savagely dealt with by a police officer in riot gear.
The Met were so keen to avoid criticism in policing a largely peaceful anti-cuts march by 250,000 people that they allowed Liberty, the civil rights campaigners, into the police command centre at the weekend to monitor their actions at first hand.
There were 4,000 police on the streets and they claim they were caught out by the tactics of a small group of self-styled anarchists. But that seems hardly credible.
A class-war direct action group, UK Uncut, who took over the Fortnum and Mason store on Piccadilly on Saturday, told their followers in advance on their website to gather in Oxford Street at 2pm for "flash mobs, bail-ins and occupations" to shut down "dozens of banks and tax dodgers along the length of Europe's biggest shopping street".
Police in yellow jackets were ready for them and lined up outside the targets - Vodafone, Boots, and Topshop.
But the UK Uncut website added: "3.30pm Gather at Oxford Circus ready for a mass occupation of a top secret target." MPs will want to know why the police intelligence failed to discover that the "top secret" targets were Fortnums and the Ritz Hotel just along the road.
Paul Mason, the BBC Newsnight reporter, has been praised by the UK Uncut protestors for his personal blog report, saying a "black block" of about "500 anarchists with black and red flags" were responsible - not UK Uncut - for systematically throwing "paint-bombs, thunderflashes and flares, trashing a few shops and banks [and] causing mayhem around central London".
Mason, a union activist himself, who stood on the BBC picket lines to protest against cuts to his own public service, reckons that the lesson of the weekend is that unions once more are bigger than the Labour Party and now have a chance to mobilise public opinion - a view pushed last night on the BBC news by Brendan Barber, the TUC general secretary.
The rioters would like the burning fires of Trafalgar Square to light a revolution like that in Tahrir Square. That may be more likely than the report on Libyan television that the riots in London were in protest against the war on Gaddafi's regime.
This is not the start of a Spring revolution in Britain. But Theresa May is going to be under pressure to say what the police will do when things get worse, as undoubtedly they will, and with the royal wedding just around the corner.
Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England, has told MPs he is surprised more anger has not been shown against the cuts. But the cuts have yet to bite. UK Uncut warn: "March 26 is not the end of the battle against the cuts. It is the beginning."
Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, said last night that the protests will not bring about a change of policy on the cuts. He may be right. But they may bring about a change of policing. ·
Comments are now closed on this article