The Left,  UK Politics

David Aaronovitch: an ex, but not a current, radical

Last year I lamented the fact that The Times were installing a pay wall in the form that they were doing. My concern was that large numbers of users of the Internet would not read articles for which they had to pay. Given that in the oasis of claptrap published on this medium, The Times has some excellent output, this is a particular shame.

In today’s Times Magazine (paid subscription required) David Aaronovitch has a superb article about his demonstrating life. I suspect that some readers of this blog, like myself, will enjoy it so much that this piece alone will justify the cost of the newspaper.  Aaronovitch comes from a left-wing family. The young David joined in with their activities and ultimately went on to become the President of the National Union of Students as a self declared Communist.

He certainly knows a thing or two about demonstrating, having, at one stage, been arrested for demonstrating outside Rhodesia House. Many families would be ashamed of their son being arrested for their activities on a demonstration, but not the Aaronovitch clan: the arrest made them  proud. I enclose some highlights of the article below, but please do access the article in full via the print edition or an online subscription:

The downtime of my first quarter century was spent – as others spent their leisure hours fishing, playing sports or a-dib-dib-dobbing with the Scouts – on the march. Most weekends there were pickets, rallies, sit-ins, sit-downs, lie-ins, die-ins, human chains, street theatre, street stalls, street-corner speeches, bands, floats, people on stilts, placards, banners, flags, slogans, chants, T-shirts and certainties….

Most people never marched. Marches didn’t alter the outcomes of elections, and elections tended to decide things. When, to our utter surprise, Margaret Thatcher was actually elected in 1979, her Government enacted unbelievable policies that Labour would never have done and it was a big shock. We’d taken the postwar settlement (mixed economy, nationalised utilities, beer and sandwiches at No 10 for the unions) as the right-most border of a politics that we aimed to picket and rally to the left. “The workers united will never be defeated!” was chanted, alongside that Eighties ubiquity, “Maggie out!”, initially in the half-belief that both were a prediction. The delirious Benn moment in Labour and the 1983 election landslide for the Tories rendered such a view untenable….

After becoming a paid journalist in the Eighties I laid down the banner poles, imagining that my new status required some objectivity – but in reality out of a relief that this family duty was over.

My new world was a complex adult one, resistant to slogans even where I might have agreed with the drift of the sloganeer. And increasingly I didn’t agree. I found myself not just out of sympathy with the fuel protesters, the Countryside Alliance and the “anti-war” movement, but opposed to them. The biggest demonstrations of my lifetime took place in Britain between 2001 and 2003, and I was against them!….

March 26, 2011, and my first large demonstration as a participant for a quarter of a century begins…. To a drumbeat they are yelling, “Tory scum, here we come!”, which is not really a promise of exemplary civil behaviour. In fact it’s about as aggressive a promise of ruckuses to come as you can imagine….

On the March 26 demonstration …. [there are a] number of placards and slogans comparing this protest with the Arab Spring. “We will fight, we will win, Tunis, Cairo…” Suggests one. “Be an Egyptian!” requests another….

It was a great day. But it’s the same as being an atheist at a carol concert. I love the tunes, I am among good people and I badly want to join in. But I just don’t believe the words.

Long term readers of my posts to this blog will be aware that I also attend numerous rallies and demonstrations. This is irrespective of whether or not I agree with the cause.  Like David, on the March 26 demonstration that we both attended,I did not believe the words coming out of the mouths of many of the demonstrators. I have previously explained why I oppose the Financial Transaction Tax (Robin Hood tax) promoted by many of the demonstrators and I also oppose, as many readers will know, the various Marxist-Leninist political parties and activists that infest these demonstrations like vermin.

But there is one thing about London demonstrations that I love and while David does not mention the point in his article, I would hope he concurs. It is this: in the UK we have the right to demonstrate. Anyone could have joined the demonstration organised by the TUC on March 26. Had they done so, they could have denounced the deputy prime minister as a liar without fear of arrest or worse.  It is for this reason that the comparison, by the SWP and others, of the London demonstration to the Arab demonstrations, is not only inappropriate, it is an insult to many of the Arabs who have risked their lives demonstrating against the oppression that they have suffered at the hands of their own governments. Those making such a comparison should be ashamed of themselves.

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