The NHS demo and the failure to report

Yesterday there was a demonstration in Central London against the NHS bill. You may not have heard about this, because the media completely failed to report it.

It started as several hundred people attending a rally outside the Department of Health. Statically they stood there, listening to speeches with an air of Waiting For Something To Happen. The rally had not been well-publicised, but those who attended were the ones who felt like something–anything–had to happen, that we could not let this bill pass without event.

Finally, something did happen. A man cycled into the middle of the road, with a colourful trailer attached to his bicycle. He shouted something into a megaphone. Maybe he called for the demonstrators to join him in the middle of Whitehall, or maybe he said something else. I don’t know. Nonetheless, they joined hands and formed a chain across Whitehall then sat down on the ground. We chanted vigorously against privatisation and of our love for the NHS.

Fittingly, we were sat in the shadow of the Cenotaph. Recall that the NHS was set up following the Second World War: it is itself a war memorial. Unlike the Cenotaph, it serves a function, helping us up when we are harmed, when we are sick, when we are dying. In blocking the road, we had moved from a static commemoration like the Cenotaph, to an active action like the NHS.

At this point, the media was there. I know this because I sat on the ground cross-legged with a news camera pointed up my skirt, painfully aware that in my rush to leave the house that morning I had forgotten to wear knickers. Photographers swarmed and flashbulbs clicked. I’d thought that perhaps this would mean we would get reported.

It started to rain, and the mood changed again. Someone on a megaphone proposed that we pay a visit to Virgin Healthcare, a private company who had been instrumental in drafting the bill with a clear conflict of interest. People sprung up and proceeded to march down the now-empty Whitehall. Suddenly, on the horizon, the powder-blue hats of an advancing TSG line became visible. Adrenaline kicked in, the urge to run at a particular shade of blue following so many bad experiences with that lot of thugs. I ran like crazy. So did many others. Behind us, the line closed in, kettling the rest of the demo. Those at the front waited, unsure of what to do next: to continue or wait for the rest.

It turned out that decision was unnecessary. The kettled crowd–most of them first-time protesters, young and old, all out for the NHS–surged through the line, having successfully broken the kettle. I was pleased; that first broken kettle is one of the most empowering things possible. Down Whitehall they ran, trying to outfox the police.

When the group reached Trafalgar Square, there was some initial confusion. I’d had no idea where we were going, and neither did most others. In the confusion, many milled around in the road or by the square.

It was then that police with machine guns tried to break us up. A red police car drove at the crowd, trying to clear the protesters from the road. A young woman sat down in front of the car, and the officers got out. With their guns. Armed police on the streets of London, all because a woman had sat down and some people were outraged by the corrupt government and businesses who were gutting our welfare state. Protesters scarpered, but did not disperse. Instead they ran down the Strand.

There, more TSG turned up and again tried to kettle. It seemed that nobody knew exactly where Virgin Healthcare was. We found out because the TSG swarmed in front of some gates, effectively shutting it down. Kettle broken, we marched on.

We ran through London, to cheers from the public. Everyone loves the NHS. We chanted, we made noise, we were visible.

I left the demonstration as they turned up Chancery Lane with yet more TSG dogging them. It looked like an unavoidable kettle and the numbers were too small. I understand they got kettled again, threatened with mass arrest and were only allowed to leave following a humiliating data-gathering exercise where they were coerced into giving names and being searched.

The day was pretty eventful, all things considered, and the media were there. So why was it completely unreported?

Several reasons spring to mind. Most cynically, there are a lot of groups with a vested interest in this bill passing without much resistance. It is entirely possible, given the labyrinthine complexity of corporations, that much of the media wins something from the creeping privatisation of the NHS.

This demo also failed to fit with current narratives of dissent. At the moment, everything is all about Occupy: large numbers of people statically camping and waiting for something to happen, asking as nicely as possible. Yesterday was the opposite: yesterday was a small number of people moving and disrupting. We also didn’t break anything. The demo was completely non-violent, and there was no property damage. There was no “MINDLESS THUGS” aspect to hang a story off. It didn’t fit at all with how the stories surrounding protest go.

It is a crying shame that this last stand will go unreported, and I tell this story as I feel it needs to be told. These actions will likely be futile, as there is so much at stake for the state and the corporations. We just refused to go out with a whimper.

 

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65 responses to “The NHS demo and the failure to report

  • williamwal

    “Armed police on the streets of London, all because a woman had sat down and some people were outraged by the corrupt government [...]”

    I fully sympathise with the right to protest but it’s highly disingenuous to suggest CO19 were deployed to the streets of London *because* of a protest. CO19 are on patrol 24 hours a day, throughout the year and were probably most likely to be nearest unit in the area when they encountered the woman.

    • stavvers

      Are you OK with “routine” patrols of armed police driving into protests, then getting out of their car with weapons drawn? Because that’s what happened, that’s what I reported happened, and it’s not all right in the slightest.

      • williamwal

        I’m OK with routine armed police patrols. Are you?

        Unless you can show me a proof of an armed police officer aiming their weapon at a woman sat on the road I’m not buying your spin on this story.

    • Karen Eliot

      It was even that they were the nearest unit – the protest crossed the roundabout they were driving around, and they left once they could get past.

  • Karen Eliot

    “At this point, the media was there.”

    Freelancers and photographer who file at demotix.com. Their presence doesn’t guarantee coverage, especially if they don’t consider anything newsworthy to have happened.

  • piercepenniless

    Just a note on the data-gathering. Police were ‘dispersing’ the kettle by escorting people out of it one-by-one. I believe a few of the people first leaving were told they ‘had’ to give details in order to leave. Those of us still inside had more-or-less the following conversation with the officers offering to escort us out:

    Us: ‘Are you telling us we have to give our details in order to leave? If so, under what section of what law are we compelled to do so?’
    TSG: ‘Er, I think there might be a section 12 in place.’
    Us: ‘OK, well we’d like to know that for sure before we leave. Again: do we have to give our details in order to leave?’
    TSG: ‘Look, you can either stay here, or be escorted out and asked for your details.’
    Us: ‘Are these the two options we have, then? Either staying here or leaving and giving our details? No other choice?’
    TSG: ‘Look, do you want to leave or not?’
    Us: ‘That’s not an answer to our question.’

    And rolling on and on etc, until I think they realised we were all pretty unlikely to give them any details, so most of us then left without giving any. But certainly police trying it on like this is a regular feature of demonstrations.

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  • Siamendes

    1. No guns were drawn.

    2. DPG, who have the red cars, are always armed; they are a diplomatic protection team and are refered to within the MET as SO6. They have nothing to do with CO19.

    3. It is also highly unlikely that the officers in Nato helmets were TSG. They would have simply been mutual aid trained officers drawn from the local borough.

    Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story thou!

    • stavvers

      I’m concerned by the level of acceptance of militarised police walking through London with guns. Whether drawn or not, the presence of the gun is intimidating.

      The TSG were wearing, as I said, their powder blue hats. They had NATO helmets hanging from belts.

      • supertet

        …But armed police being deployed *because* of a protest, as you report, is a completely different scenario to armed police happening to drive across a roundabout where protesters “milled around”.
        And now guns *weren’t* drawn? Make your mind up.

        An argument against the very existence of armed officers in the UK is quite a different argument altogether. Exaggeration of the facts to fit an agenda doesn’t help anyone.

        • stavvers

          Guns weren’t aimed. They were out and they were big.

          You’ll note, too, I never said that they were there because of the demo, merely that they were there and played a role in moving things along. Learn to read.

    • FrFintonStack

      I’m sure the eyewitnesses much appreciate someone who wasn’t there telling them what they did and didn’t see. Cheers!

    • gabbylm

      Sorry, were you there? I was stood within about a metre of the open door of the red van, where a police officer was cradling a big MP5, while his two mates walked alongside towards the lady blocking the van, MP5s equally visible. Are you playing on some petty distinction between guns being aimed and ready to fire, and guns just being out and implicitly threatening?

      • supertet

        I’m arguing that a decision by the police to deploy armed officers to deal with a protest is quite different to an armed unit coming across protesters at a roundabout before moving off.
        You agree there’s an important distinction there?
        Despite the authors earlier contradictory reply, the article does in fact state armed police were there “all because” of the protest.

        Don’t get me wrong, I totally AGREE with the protest, but have issues with inaccurate & sensationalist reporting of events.

        • stavvers

          They were ON THE STREET because someone sat in the road. Which is a bit FFS, really. Parping a horn will do the same. They had no reason to get out of that car.

      • gabbylm

        If they were just there coincidentally, going to some job in Whitehall, why on Earth did they get out?

        I agree there *would* be an important distinction, but this isn’t that situation.

        If, for example, it had been a foot patrol, it would have been more black-and-white. They got out of the van. They had the door open, with an armed policeman sat side-on in his chair facing the protest.

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  • Jenny

    I don’t know what Siamendes means by ‘no guns were drawn’ – I’ve seen video footage of a policeman holding a long gun in his hands, looking as though he could shoot it just by pulling his trigger finger, walking around the demo while there is a woman peacefully sitting on the floor. If walking round with a gun out in this manner isn’t drawing a gun then what is?

    Getting into semantics on the drawing of guns doesn’t help your case when there’s video evidence. This was an outrage and there are no excuses.

    • stavvers

      I haven’t seen the video! Can you link it?

    • Den

      If they were just clearing the road, why did they need to have their guns with them?
      Perhaps it was to intimidate, or perhaps they didn’t want a rerun of the student demos, which embarrassed the met highly!
      And anyway, this detracts from the main point of the piece, why wasn’t this reported ANYWHERE!?
      What has become of this country?
      There is no one with intergrity enough in the media to make some sort of stand.
      We’ve become sheep.

  • John C

    Any pictures? Like at all? Colour me sceptical.

  • toaster thief (@talkingtocactus)

    this is possibly the most pernickety comment ever, and almost unrelated to the actual subject of the article (especially as i fully support the demos) but…

    the cenotaph was set up after the FIRST world war. 1919, originally built of wood then upgraded. designed by edwin lutyens.

    ok, that’s my WWI-geekery out of the way. as you were.

  • Sue Jones

    The issue is not just about the State terrorism tactic employed to not only stifle the protest, it is also sending an overt message to those who diagree with this Government on the Health and Social care reform bill. Doctors were stifled from the very start. For me, the media black out is terrifying too. Who ordered that, and how was it imposed??

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  • Asuka

    Sorry, I’ve got a couple of questions about police having guns, not sure where else to ask them:
    1. since when have police had guns?
    2. is it only in London?
    3. this website http://www.eliteukforces.info/police/CO19/ describes two things with guns, either to be used to deal with people who they already know to have guns, or people they expect to. Is it common for these police to be hanging around in London? (as opposed to going straight to whatever they’re doing and going straight back)
    4. Who are SO6? This website http://www.eliteukforces.info/police/ says they deal with fraud.
    5. TSG. how do they differ from other police? Are they the same as riot police? Are they only in London?

    OK cheers.
    Asuka.

    • stavvers

      1. Some police have always had guns: the vast majority do not.
      2. Armed police also patrol airports, and, presumably, big important things outside London.
      3. CO19 are usually only brought out for the occasions you described, rather than hanging around.
      4. The diplomatic ones are CO6, who hang around embassies usually. As I understand it, they’ll show up anywhere if they’re the nearest car around, though. They showed up at a UK Uncut action once, and were also seen buzzing around near a student demo.
      5. The TSG–Territorial Support Group–are a special unit who are tasked with policing “disorder”. They’re paramilitary. This page explains more about them. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Territorial_Support_Group

      • Ben

        If I remember correctly (and I’m sure I’ll be put straight if not), CO19 always have a (small) number of cars continuously on patrol in London and I think other major cities too. These are, in fact, often ‘hanging around’ so that if they are required for deployment across London rapidly (almost exclusively, I believe, to address crimes where firearms are suspected of being involved) they can head straight to the scene rather than go through the quite drawn-out security processes of signing out firearms and ammunition as and when a call comes in.

        This does make, to me at least, a degree of operational sense and doesn’t bother me as much as policing almost everywhere else in the world where coppers are all armed as a matter of course. If you want to know what really scary armed coppers are like, I would invite you to go on a protest in Spain and have a go at winding up the Guardia Civil. Or even just get pulled over for speeding.

        I can also personally testify that while having coppers with guns milling around is indeed unnerving, it is nowhere even vaguely in the same league as the pant-shitting terror of having a gun actively aimed at you.

        As for failure to report issue – there are protests of some kind or another on almost a daily basis in London. It isn’t much more than background noise these days; and everyone knows that everyone hates the Health Bill. So what is there worth reporting?

  • gail ward (@blueannoyed)

    stavvers are you interested in talking or sharing this blog on radio show?

    • stavvers

      I’d be interested, but I’d need further information first.

      • Excalibur

        The thing about the ‘knickers’ story is that it’s so obviously a complete lie (pants before trousers/skirts is such a fundamental rule; it’s a bit like shitting yourself because you ‘forgot’ to go to the toilet) it casts doubt over the subsequent, slightly less implausible claims you make in the article. Like if someone began an article by saying they believed
        leprechauns built the M5, you’d be
        disinclined to believe their later points.

  • The General Public

    ‘In my rush to leave the house this morning, I had forgotten to wear knickers’. What? When you’re rushing out the door you sometimes forget to *wear pants*? Doesn’t even seem remotely plausible. And of course the rest is juvenile nonsense, but quite amusing, so thanks.

    • stavvers

      Looking for pants can take a while, and sometimes one simply cannot be bothered with such shit.

      Oh, and this http://stavvers.wordpress.com/2011/08/04/maturity-and-making-peace-with-the-establishment/

      • The General Public

        ‘Sometimes one cannot be bothered with such shit’. The mind boggles. What other norms of human behaviour do you sometimes ‘not bother with’, then? Urinating when you feel the need? Eating when hungry? Fascinating.

      • The General Public

        Oh, and regarding the link, like you I used to mindlessly challenge ‘establishment’ thinking simply for the sake of it. If the government/majority think it, it *must* be wrong, right? Thankfully, I grew out of that angry faux-Marxist stage before I got to University, and challenged the preconceived, far left dogmas I had grown up with. Please stop thinking that mindlessly challenging authority figures is a sign of maturity; it’s quite the opposite. Of
        course, if you employ reason consistently, you’ll inevitably do it sometimes.

      • The General Public

        [comment deleted due to crushing, tedious irrelevance by point 5 of the comment policy]

      • The General Public

        [comment deleted due to crushing, tedious irrelevance by point 5 of the comment policy]

      • The General Public

        I suppose pointing out your utter juvenility was inevitably not going to be tolerated. Although please, Zoe-do try to challenge your own preconceived opinions-you’ll probably find it immensely rewarding.

      • Grotius

        Two quick points, Zoe.
        1. When trying to make a point, don’t cite yourself, particularly on political/philosophical issues. Your writings are hardly credible.
        2. Take some advice, please, and learn to challenge preconceived opinions. You’ll find it immensely rewarding!

        • stavvers

          1. I write so I don’t have to have the same tedious arguments with the same tedious fuckstains, and can merrily just drop in a link.
          2. I challenge preconceived opinions. You’ll notice how many people are sulking because I mentioned their precious police probably shouldn’t be running round with guns.
          3. Don’t sockpuppet. Or plagiarise The General Public. Whichever one you did (I’d guess sockpuppetry).

  • Lex

    What kind of bloody weirdos are comparing wearing knickers (or not wearing them) to pissing and crapping? What odd creatures you are.

    It seriously sounds like something my 80 odd year old Granny would say. Some people NEVER wear underwear,in mind-blowing news I can now reveal that wearing clothes UNDER your clothes in not strictly necessary.

  • Donald Purves

    Linking this because news blackout of the pro NHS demo yesterday

  • Amelia Jane (@thathippyamelia)

    Funny how people are happier to focus on the part where the Police didn’t have guns out just for your silly NHS protest! They have bigger, and better reasons to have guns, dontchaknow! Why are we complaining?!
    And not the part where absolutely no media outlet so much as mentioned this demo, at all, not even in part. Surely citizens demonstrating against something which affects citizens is newsworthy? Even a little bit? And if it’s doctors and nurses demonstrating against a change to the NHS? That isn’t worth a mention? Especially when the final push for the bill is this week? HMM. No, you’re right, nothing to see here, let’s just move along and worry about something else, like being too fat.

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