I am on a very quick trip to the UK, and wandering around Central London yesterday, I espied the gathering demonstration "against the cuts" by some students.
As demonstrations go it was not a particularly big one. There have been far bigger demonstrations which have not been reported at all in the national media. This relatively small demo has attracted media attention pretty much because a bunch of fringe nutters- Socialists, Anarchists etc.- decided that it would be fun to have a bit of a barney at the Milbank tower. Unfortunately the Police were not prepared, and there were not enough of them, so the nutters managed to hurt people and cause damage. The fact that the TV pictures were so good has meant that these criminal acts of petty violence are being reported as some kind of apocalypse.
Some of the Media have gone so far as to hint that the Coalition in some way "provoked the students". Leaving aside the fact that it was not students who led the riot, the fact is that the Anarchist and Socialist fringe have never been reconciled with the current social order: not capitalism, and not democracy either. They will always seek excuses to play their infantile and doomed games of violence because they are deluded that a revolution in Britain is not only necessary but popular.
I am willing to bet that the number of people who believe in Anarchism or Revolutionary Socialism as a practical political programme in the UK is a vanishingly small number. So why then has the media given any of the events of yesterday any political significance at all? I think the answer is that even the moderate left - which has a very strong swell of support amongst the chattering classes- does not believe in the sincerity of the politicians of the Coalition. Reporting of the past few months has been coloured by the idea that the Liberal Democrats are traitors to the progressive cause, and that the Conservatives are simply spittle flecked bastards. This media narrative as been so prevalent, most noticeably at the party conference season, that no one in the media- or at least the BBC- seems to understand that it is not true. The Coalition, is turning into an efficient and effective administration, particularly in contrast to the shambles of the last Labour government. That is not to say that they are not making mistakes, but the media narrative of incipient Liberal Democrat rebellion and/or collapse is simply a travesty of the truth. The party membership since the election has been growing - at times very rapidly. We are winning by-elections, and if the opinion polls are a bit weaker, then to be honest it was only to be expected. Party morale is high and while there are disagreements amongst the Parliamentary party, these are very far from being the coalition threatening challenges that, for example, Polly Toynbee thinks that they should be.
After the fiasco of the Brown government and the shallow cynicism of Tony Blair, I might have thought that the Labour Party would be a little less shameless about their opportunism- especially since they agree in private, and often in public too, that they would be following policies in government that would differ from those of the Coalition only in degree. However we must remember that some in Labour carry a visceral hatred as part of their Socialist legacy: political opponents are not merely wrong, they are morally corrupt, or even, a word used far too often: "evil". The idea that Clegg and Cameron are decent men trying to do their duty in very difficult circumstances is held up for the deepest contempt- too often, Labour are not the "loyal opposition" and this gives tacit encouragement to the radical left that violence is justified.
But such violence as we saw yesterday is never justified- it is simply criminal.
Therefore I hope that the media, caught up in the dramatic narrative that their own pictures provide should not give a bunch of Socialist and Anarchist narcissistic thugs any validity. Blowing up a Socialist "good day out, smashing the state" into a challenge to that state is grossly irresponsible. Whatever the personal sympathies of the journalists, they have a duty not just to reflect the immediate pictures but to place those pictures into a context, and the rolling news of the past 24 hours has failed to do this. These thugs do not represent any groundswell and it is outrageous to state that they do.
Of course, seeing red flags of the Socialists and the red and black flags of the Anarchists raises my hackles dramatically. For me, the only difference between the Soviet Socialists and the Nationalist Socialists is that Stalin killed more people, more brutally and for longer than Hitler. There is a complete moral equivalence between the two monsters of the Twentieth Century, and those who march in the name of this ideology should know that they attract loathing and contempt in equal measure. However the "Old Left" of fellow travellers, from which Ed Miliband springs, retain an affection for the revolutionary left, which is blind and morally cowardly.
It is time for Labour to stop excusing the revolutionary left- it is time for Labour to engage in grown up debate, accepting that their political opponents are worthy of respect. Alas I really don't think that they will. It is a pity, because without such an intellectual renewal I can see the British people- who do not support political violence- drawing their own conclusions. There are decent people in Labour but too often they have been marginalised in favour of the political grandstanding and cynical opportunism that a party shorn of a coherent ideology seems to encourage in its leaders. Blair was a dead end for Labour, but his poisonous legacy- and that of Peter Mandelson- remains. unchallenged.