How the forces of hype closed down the capital

Comment: David Aaronovitch
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The Independent Online

James entered the tube at Euston, wearing a red beret, a goatee and a "screw you" expression. An unlit roll-up in his mouth, he marched down the train looking defiant, then sat opposite me, scowling. At Leicester Square his friend with the ponytail and the "Fuck Censorship" T-shirt called out, "Come on James," and they headed for the Piccadilly Line. His father, I thought, was probably a vicar. No, worse, his mother was probably a vicar.

James entered the Tube at Euston, wearing a red beret, a goatee and a "screw you" expression. An unlit roll-up in his mouth, he marched down the train looking defiant, then sat opposite me, scowling, with his boots ostentatiously on the seat. At Leicester Square his friend with the ponytail and the "Fuck Censorship" T-shirt called out, "Come on James," and they headed for the Piccadilly Line. His father, I thought, was probably a vicar. No, worse, his mother was probably a vicar.

In Trafalgar Square at midday there was supposed to be a defiant mass-feeding of banned pigeons, but the pigeons were alone. From stage left, a group of six heavy-duty anarchists in black hoods made towards the Mall, exuding a sense of mysterious and superior purpose, like monks of a particularly militant order.

In Piccadilly, some stores were boarded and others hadn't bothered. Minibus-loads of policemen in Kenning car-hire vans hunkered down in side roads. The occasional lost revolutionary (including one in a shirt saying "Fuck you, I don't do what you tell me") wandered around, using a map thoughtfully provided by the London Evening Standard.

The Socialist Worker's Party was gathering outside the entrance to the Upper Circle of Her Majesty's Theatre. The SWP is a famous coloniser of other people's struggles, and their latest front organisation, Global Resistance, was having a picket outside the World Bank. But the SWP still has a puritanical, decorous Leninist streak. So its placards read, "Fk Capitalism!"

The rain began and cyclists arrived, followed by anarchists. Some carried pink flags with elephants on, a device not used by Marxist-Leninists. Two hours early, everyone sort of decided to move on up Regent Street towards Oxford Circus, and the police agreed.

So about 2,000 people found themselves in Oxford Circus without the slightest idea of what to do. Then the trap closed. The kindly police in yellow surcoats were replaced by grimmer police in darker coats and, behind them, riot police. From all four directions they squeezed up. An hour passed. Police in the south said you could get out to the north. Police in the north said you couldn't. Folk got cross. Half the width of Regent Street away, an empty plastic water bottle was thrown, along with half a stick and a rain-sodden copy of The Guardian. A forest of cameras shot up to catch the teeny-weeny bit of violence that their owners had come to snap. I decided to get out.

I left 50 wannabe rioters and a thousand pissed-off allsorts behind, walking to a faraway Tube station through a quarantine area populated by riot police. When I got home an assistant commissioner of the Met was telling a radio interviewer about the "4,000 to 5,000 people who'd thrown bottles and missiles at my officers".

Balls. All part of modern shutdown culture. A rail cracks? Stop all trains. Foot-and-mouth? Kill all animals. Fifty anarchists make silly boasts? Close London. And the media that has invested so much in case of a riot goes along with it. Overkill and hype. And frankly a riot would have been cheaper.

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