Here’s a tactic, Orde: talk to protesters on Twitter
Rather than threatening to use ‘extreme tactics’, the police must deal with protesters on their own terms
Anyone who thought scenes of mounted police charging down student protesters outside the Houses of Parliament last year were a little over the top better get ready for some really heavy-handed policing, according to Sir Hugh Orde, the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers.
In an interview with Prospect, Orde has defended the use of 'hyper-kettling' - herding protesters into a small area and then making the area smaller - even though he admits it impinges on the rights of citizens.
For a case study in hyper-kettling, look no further than the tuition fee protests in December, when protesters - many of them children - were herded from Parliament Square onto Westminster Bridge on one of the coldest nights of the year, where they were collectively punished by being imprisoned for close on two hours before being released.
But hyper-kettling isn't enough for Orde. He says that, if protesters refuse to "engage, communicate or share what they intend to do" with the police, then the boys in blue will have to use "slightly more extreme" tactics.
The scary thing is, Orde has a willing partner in Home Secretary Theresa May who, after the December tuition fees protests, told Sky News: "Whether or not [the police] choose to use water cannon is an operational issue. I think it is right that we look across the board at all the options that are available."
Protesters should be grateful Orde is a former chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland - so at least he knows that supposedly non-lethal rubber bullets are anything but.
But Orde's comments are particularly timely because on Saturday, students are planning protests against the abolition of the education maintenance allowance, a grant that encourages poor students to stay in school after the age of 16. Then on Sunday, a group called UK Uncut will attempt to close branches of Boots across the country in a protest against tax avoidance.
These protests - and many others - have been organised on the internet using Twitter and Facebook.
Orde is struggling to come to terms with a new generation of protesters who don't want to tell the police what they intend to do because they do not trust them. Distrust of authority extends to the protesters' own organisational structures: UK Uncut has no boss. And the leadership of the National Union of Students is in incredibly bad odour with its members.
What Orde is really upset about is that in the new reality, the police must now go out and do some preparation before big demonstrations and can no longer count on protesters to walk, lemming-like, into a pre-prepared kettle and be deprived of their liberty for the remainder of the day.
Before he tools up with water cannon and tear gas - or indeed, sends an over-amorous undercover cop to infiltrate groups of earnest students - perhaps Orde would like to start a Twitter account.
If he did so, he would be able to both "communicate" and "engage" with activists. For example, type #uncut into Twitter and, if you wade through all the 'Orde is a pompous idiot'-type comments, you will be able to see exactly what activists intend to do in Boots branches on Sunday.
Or perhaps he should attend Brighton Uncut's public meeting, scheduled for this evening and trailed in a tweet available to both supporters and opponents: "Brighton Uncut Public Meeting: Thurs 7 for 7:30pm, Community Base, Queens Rd, Brighton". ·
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