Monday, January 22, 2007

John Harris Protest and confuse

Protest and confuse
Next month's rally against both Trident and the Iraq war will be an emotional spasm, not a coherent demo.
John Harris
January 22, 2007 01:16 PM

Given the usual uncertainties about how questions are phrased, what options are offered, and the thick fog that hangs over what may or may not be Public Opinion, one hesitates to get in too much of a lather about opinion polling. But still: from ICM's claim that 59% of Britons oppose the renewal of Trident (on the proviso that the cost will exceed £25bn), through the Sunday Herald's claim that 78% of Scots are against, and on to Populus's discovery that though 62% of British men are in favour, 52% of women remain opposed, something is definitely up. In parliament, unease about the government's plans spreads way beyond the usual leftist suspects; media chatter about the debate features such unlikely anti-replacement voices as Charles Clarke and Michael Portillo.

Meanwhile, CND claims a current membership of over 32,000 - lowly-sounding, perhaps, but massively up on levels before the Trident debate began - along with snowballing online and phone inquiries, and increased donations. The lean years that followed the end of the cold war may be over; even more remarkably, the closing of that historical chapter surely gives the unilateralists' arguments a clarity and punch that the supposed Russian threat always served to undermine. In other words: what with the large-scale irrelevance of any "independent" UK nuclear armoury to the modern world, these could be propitious times for CND; ones in which to push beyond the oppositionist margins of yore and actually make an impact.

Unfortunately - and as a confused CND member, I declare an interest here - they're not exactly making the most of the chance. Saturday February 24 sees a supposedly watershed national demonstration against Trident replacement - though CND have decided to team up with those reliably opportunistic types at the Stop The War Coalition and go for the fashionable two-demos-in-one option. Thus, the march is based on the snappy clarion call "No Trident - Troops Out Of Iraq", with a convoluted bundling-up of the issues based on the idea that - and I quote from the official literature - "The majority of the British people has rejected the government's warmongering policies towards Iraq [and] the majority also rejects nuclear weapons and a 'defence' policy based on the indiscriminate killing of millions." (Given that 82% of callers wanted Jade Goody evicted from the Big Brother house, you could conceivably extend the demands yet further, with the obligatory recasting in Trot-speak: "No to racism in Elstree! No to racism in Baghdad!" or some such).

On left and right, there is a lot of this about. In essence, it amounts to the reinvention of protest - from clear statements aimed at impacting on politics, to generalised emotional spasms organised chiefly for the benefit of the people taking part. At one end of the spectrum, the Countryside Alliance initially carved its name into the culture via a march under the platitudinous banner of "Liberty and Livelihood"; at the other, the serried forces of anti-globalisation still look forward to protests that glory in their incoherence - whether you turn up to shout about climate change, debt relief or the all-enveloping evils of capitalism, the important thing is simply to turn up. Just to their right, meanwhile, there lurk the leftwing people for whom one complaint is never quite enough. Even for 2003's watershed anti-war march, the STWC could not stop themselves: their keynote banners read "No war - freedom for Palestine". That they were combined with those infamous "not in my name" placards - surely the crystallisation of protest-as-solipsistic howl - said it all.

Though I'd rather not get nostalgic about the 1980s - our side lost, after all - the point needs making: compared to their current PR skills, CND's campaigning back then was the stuff of genius. That their symbol was so etched into popular culture, and their demonstrations so vast may have been largely down to the fears that were so built into millions of lives, though their own campaigning nous had something to do with it. Give or take the recurrent leftist fondness for thinking that "building alliances" is another term for selling out, they at least understood the key thing: there was one pre-eminent issue, and it was their duty to shout about it.

That said, 20-odd years on, you can sense the first stirrings of opposition to Trident renewal fusing with an even more urgent issue, and thus crystallising into a beautifully marketable demand: to cancel the new generation of nukes and spend the money on fighting climate change. I'll have that. It's timely, and marketable, and potentially broad-based, and everything CND's current shtick isn't.

Still, for those, who want to simultaneously protest about everything and nothing, February 24 beckons. Tony Benn, Jeremy Corbyn, Gorgeous George Galloway and a few leftwing comedians will doubtless be there. People will presumably be allowed - if not encouraged - to yell about Afghanistan, Iran, Bush, Palestine, Hugo Chávez, the evils of multinational finance and whatever else they fancy. Meanwhile, the people who make up those poll numbers - 59%, 78%, 62%, or whatever it is this week - will sit at home, unmoved and uninvolved. And hopelessly unconnected.


Blogger The Sentinel said...

Once again you play underhanded games. Obscuring the truth and propagating lies, everywhere you slither.

You are nothing more then an excuse for a man with no concept of right or wrong.

Your repugnant beliefs are responsible for this shit hole we call the UK today.

You despise this country and its inhabitants and are nothing more then a traitor who does not have enough courage to live in the countries whose peoples you wish to import here wholesale or whose systems you advocate for our own.

History is a self repetitive entity however, and your day will soon end.

And the traditional punishment for treason will come back again.

9 February 2007 at 21:14  

Post a Comment

<< Home