Thursday, May 20, 2004

Well, I suppose I'd better say something about Paintgate

Well, after yesterday's Commons protest by the Fathers' Rights activists who hurled purple dye over Tony Blair, one of the traditional rituals or standard operating procedures of British political life has clicked into action. This is the way in which, whenever an unusually spectacular demonstration occurs, politicians and the media take on a very special tone. Broadly, they suddenly discover a schoolmarmish and ultra-punctilious concern for the prevention of minor crimes, the maintenance of "security" and the like, whilst also having great difficulty in containing their mirth and satisfaction. It always happens this way, and all the ducks are now lined up for this one.

The Sun led with a screamer headline "They Could All Be Dead", notwithstanding the fact that they couldn't. This is a prime example of media reaction to dramatic protest. To go by the bulk of its output, few things would please the Sun more than the instantaneous elimination of the Cabinet. But the ritual requires that everyone, including the most embittered enemies, agree that it was all terribly outrageous. Radio commentary this morning gave prominence to the view that the protestors were guilty of awful crimes. A typical feature of these is, of course, the demand for draconian prosecutions for normally minimal offences. This often leads to a second phase of politicised court proceedings (anti-nuke protestors seem to have mastered these). Whilst piously declaring that this is no way to seek publicity, all media outlets promptly publicise the perpetrator with all the means at their disposal.

Soon, the responsible minister (usually the Home Secretary) is summoned to the House to make a statement. This also follows a pattern - they always announce a high-level investigation, and a review of security. Then everyone goes away and the matter is forgotten. It is routine for the investigation to peter out without discovering who was at fault. This time, Blunkett's hunt seems to have been a little more effective, having already identified the peer who let the protestors in. It should not be assumed that he will not take the opportunity to force through some further horrible assault on our civil liberties, but there you go. What this did show, though, was that the glass wall across the Commons was just as useless as I predicted it would be.
"If I had a pass, I could probably get close enough to the chamber to release it anyway - wall or no wall."
Indeed. The fact that members of the House of Lords can sign you in to the Commons is especially worrying given the state of some of them - all you'd need to do would be to ply them with sherry and guide their shaky old hands at the foot of the form. And the chaotic response to the "attack" - people who supposedly could have been contaminated with germs or poison being allowed to wander around the House and indeed the metropolis at large - only shows the sense of another of my proposals:
"I say we build the glass wall, and big enough to enclose the whole Palace of Westminster in a seamless box"
Apart from that, I'd just like to say that, as the protestors were a good 50 feet from Blair, it was a damn good shot.

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