Around 9pm on Wednesday, a police helicopter hovered a few hundred feet over my home (next to sheltered housing for the elderly) in central London. The noise was deafening, the feeling of utter helplessness unnerving. Why were the residents of Islington, Holborn, Finsbury and Clerkenwell being subjected to unpleasant harassment in the name of maintaining law and order? It was clearly pointless calling the police, so I just seethed.
This noise pollution had lasted for hours – helicopters circling the skies over the City from early afternoon, monitoring the march organised by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts. What were they doing now? Filming us eating our supper with their heat-seeking cameras? Everyone had departed hours earlier and the streets were completely empty. Castigated for not deploying enough officers to prevent the violence and destruction of the student fees demo a year ago, and then roundly criticised over the summer riots, the police have decided the best way to control future demonstrations is by using scare tactics and bullyboy behaviour.
In advance of last week's protests, the Met leaked a widely reported story that, if provoked, they would be using rubber bullets to contain any serious trouble. Although the Home Secretary, Theresa May, later said that there were no plans to do so, the damage had been done – it seemed that everyone involved had decided this demonstration would almost certainly end in disorder. Not surprisingly, many people were scared and decided not to exercise their right to come to protest in London. Mothers would have asked their children not to attend in case they were injured, and anyone with young children would have stayed away.
The police also claimed they'd been monitoring anarchist websites which were promising to hijack the event and turn it into a "sea of rage". This ludicrous threat was used as the justification for 4,000 police officers (including 500 drafted in from outside London at considerable expense) surrounding a peaceful march of just 2,500 people. St Paul's Cathedral was surrounded by officers in riot gear keeping the anti-capitalism campers well away from the protesters.
When a small group of marchers tried to set up a camp in Trafalgar Square, 25 tents were removed within an hour. Only 20 people were arrested throughout the afternoon, and there was no damage to property so I suppose the police could claim that their tactics were justified. Nevertheless, the whole episode raises serious questions about media manipulation. Protesting is a basic right in a democracy. Policing any public march requires tact, diplomacy and a firm hand, not rumours and innuendo. Last week, a large area of the city was closed quite unnecessarily, causing major disruption. It was clear by 3pm that few people were participating and the helicopters were not necessary, and yet they still created an impression that we were living in a combat zone. The riot shields and talk of rubber bullets reinforced this concept of an impending war.
An increasingly large section of the population is disenchanted with the gap between rich and poor, who see bankers and businessmen over-rewarding themselves while college fees are raised and social services are radically pruned. It's been noticeable over the past couple of weeks how many ordinary workers sympathise with the St Paul's campers. This rising resentment means there will probably be more protests in the coming months, not fewer. It seems that the Metropolitan Police, under their new tough-talking Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe, have now decided to treat public gatherings as potentially dangerous, hence the use of scare tactics.
Creating fear as a means of control is becoming a central part of government policy. It started with Labour's health initiatives, such as guidelines for "safe" levels of drinking. We were told how much to exercise, what to weigh, how many fruit and veg to eat every day. Constant messages about obesity, alcoholism and heart disease emanate from the heath service – not that they seem to change our behaviour. Then the Prime Minister said that people who are unemployed for more than two years should be forced to do compulsory community work or lose benefits. In other words, they'll be scared back to work. The need to save money is the perfect excuse for threats which are doomed to fail.
These new bullyboys don't impress me.
Three loud cheers for the pick-me-up you can wear
My all-time favourite footwear is a pair of knee-high black Versace biker boots bought 10 years ago. They've never dated – and, worn constantly from December to March, surely represent value for money. Ditto a silk jersey zebra-striped shirt-dress which I've worn on telly numerous times over the past nine years.
Versace is the home of brazen bling – sexy tailoring, acid colours, glittering embellishment, power dressing – the look that The Only Way Is Essex women aspire to but rarely achieve. But Gianni Versace and his sister also produced modern classics that empower the wearer. For her upcoming collaboration with the budget clothing retailer H&M, Donatella Versace has cleverly exploited their fantastic archive to reinterpret past hits for the high street. It goes on sale online on Thursday.
What better way to dress for Christmas in a recession?
Pheasant and chips, no vinegar
There's a glut of pheasants patrolling the fields around my vegetable garden in Yorkshire. But, although most face certain death through the increasing number of shooting parties, where will they actually end up?
The meat may be delicious, fat-free and free-range, but few locals are interested in eating it and prices plummet at the local butcher during this time of surplus. Often, dead birds get chucked away in bin bags because no one can even be bothered to pluck them. In London, pheasant is on sale at Waitrose, but maybe it needs a bit of rebranding.
A fishmonger at Wells-next-the-Sea in Norfolk might have the answer – he's flash-frying "goujons" of pheasant breast for two minutes and serving them with chips for a fiver. It all sounds good to me.
Darling, we need to talk...
Vicky Pryce is starting to annoy me. Initially I sympathised with the former Mrs Chris Huhne, publicly dumped by her charmless husband for his press secretary, Carina Trimingham.
But Ms Pryce seems to have no intention of moving on with her life, despite her high- powered finance job. She's been bleating on World at One about the moment the Energy Secretary asked her for a divorce – which was on 19 June 2010, while they were watching the television coverage of the World Cup. Apparently he asked for the divorce at half time, and then went off to the gym. "And that was that."
Brutal, yes. But, then, is there ever a good time to ask for a divorce? Not really.Reuse content