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Monday, 15 August 2011

How ready they are to march down the road to Totalitarianism: UNISONActive debate

'Contrast the reaction of David Cameron to rioting and looting with that of the Norwegian Prime Minister in the immediate aftermath of their recent bombing and massacre'. writes Andy Stankard: "I am currently reading ‘The Tories’ by Alan Clark, the former, (and deceased), Tory cabinet Minister under Thatcher and historian. The book covers the history of the Tories from the turn of the last century up until 1997 when Labour swept them from office.

Being a ‘Tory Grandee’, Clark gives a really interesting insight into the developments inside the party from the point of view of a serious and credited historian and a senior party figure in his own right.

The chapter on the 1926 General Strike is particularly interesting to me as a trade unionist and Clark conveys the sense of both fear and outrage within not just the Tory party but the ruling class in general at the time and describes the actions taken to safeguard their society from ‘the mob’ and the presumptuous trade unions. At the core of his description is the contrast he makes between the miners who were instrumental in triggering the dispute in their defence of pay levels and the fledgling TUC who were more amenable to compromise.

Towards the end of this chapter Clark makes a very poignant observation when commenting on the numerous actions taken by the Tory government to defeat the strike. The Tories empowered local groups to destabilise the strikers and their actions. The Police and Army were mobilised and given greater powers to intervene, break up and generally harass those involved. Civil liberties were quickly suspended and power handed to unelected and undemocratic groups who were tasked with bringing down the ability of workers to mobilise, organise and co-ordinate action. Individuals were singled out for arrest and detention, others were placed under constant surveillance and their families harassed, including sympathetic politicians.

Clark comments that the great British Empire, with its history and tradition of fair play, democracy and debate had, within a few short weeks moved a long way down the road to totalitarianism in response to the threat. This made him sad and his words were a warning issued to all reading that the veneer of civilisation and democracy can be just that.

Recent events on the streets of some of our cities have shown Clark to be correct in his observation on two fronts.

Firstly, the actions of many, not all, of the protestors/rioters has displayed for all to see not only the rage and hopelessness of many people in society who are trapped and feel abandoned by a society that has largely ignored them while feeding them a diet of spiralling consumerism as a measure of worth and success. Included in this are many who have also given up any association with society and have used the original protests to unleash open criminality and barbarism on those around them. There can be no serious excuse for this type of behaviour and it must be recognised as a threat to our communities as much as the cuts to services and jobs have proved to be.

Those who wantonly looted, attacked and even killed people and destroyed peoples livelihoods out of excitement, mob mentality or personal gain have no place in protests about cuts and their effects on our communities. Theirs is a psychology more akin to the bankers and hedge fund managers who wreaked far more havoc and damage to our local communities than the rioters could ever hope to.

Like in 1926, the response from the leader of the Tories has been to empower police to use water cannon and plastic bullets on the streets of mainland Britain; never seen before, and to consider mobilising the Army to crush disturbances and look at terminating access to facebook, websites and mobile phone messaging.

In listening to all this reaction I was heartened to also hear how reticent the police chiefs actually are to use such methods. They better understand the strains on the fabric of society than many of those elected to defend them and the ultimate potential of going down this road. It is often a one way street. Once entered it is extremely difficult to manoeuvre out of it.

The history of such action in Northern Ireland served only to divide communities still further and alienate all of them from the Police and the State and no doubt informed the thinking of senior police officers. It is one thing to have the capacity to react in this way. It is a different thing altogether to elect to do so. The consequences once this has happened can be far reaching socially and politically.

Clark would be interested that the reactions of the Tories in 1926, how they so quickly took up the tenants of totalitarianism in the face of disturbances, are being largely repeated 85 years later and I am sure he would issue the same warnings now and be just as sad that his party were advocating them so vigorously.

Contrast the reaction of David Cameron to rioting and looting with that of the Norwegian Prime Minister in the immediate aftermath of their recent bombing and massacre. The Norwegian Prime Minister won worldwide admiration by saying that “the response to the attacks would be more democracy”, not fear and reaction. I don’t know what Alan Clark would have said about that approach but it filled me with hope."

Andy Stankard
Chair Hull City Branch of UNISON

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