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Mark Steel

Mark Steel: Protest scenes that left Benghazi in the shade

From the way the news has been since Saturday, I expect this week's episode of Gardeners' Question Time to go: "Before answering the question about Mister Dibley's crocus, do the panel condemn the violence we saw in Oxford Street? Well come on, do you? DO YOU?"

By tomorrow the Shipping Forecast will go: "Rockall, gales, South-Westerly, Oxford Street, paint, hurled at windows, force nine, shocking, sickening, I condemn, utterly".

This would make more sense than the interview on Newsnight with a woman from UK Uncut, who was asked if she condemned the violence. She said she couldn't speak for UK Uncut as a whole, as she was an artist who liked to create spaces of thoughts opposing the cuts, so she was asked the same question five more times and then they had a look at the next day's papers.

Or there was the reporter on the day of the march who gasped about shocking scenes, including, "people running down the street". And to confirm this, we did indeed see wobbly film of about six people running down a street. I hope he doesn't watch coverage of the London marathon or he'll hide under the bed convinced it's an armed uprising. Then he told us there was evidence "just over here" of the devastation caused, so the camera followed him and found an upturned bin. There didn't seem to be any litter around it, because even violent anarchist nihilist balaclava'd maniacs wouldn't go so far as to upturn a bin with rubbish in it, but even so, I bet anyone watching from Benghazi must have thought: "This certainly puts our trifles in the shade".

Hundreds of columns have been written condemning the violence, such as the one that declared that the march made children cry, because "the vicious expressions on the faces of the demonstrators" were full of "palpable snarling hatred". Surely we need legislation to prevent this happening again such as a "Palpable Expression Bill", in which the police are given powers to detain demonstrators who snarl – though to protect human rights it will still be permissible to grimace.

I saw quite a bit of the march, and it seemed to be full of singing and cheering and drumming, but obviously I was lucky and missed the bit where people gave out leaflets saying, "The only way forward for this movement is to make children cry".

Then there was the barbarity of occupying Fortnum & Mason. Luckily there was a BBC reporter in the middle of it, who could bravely relay the events. Asked how the occupation was affecting shoppers, she said: "Customers are taking pictures and looking a bit bemused". So thank the Lord the protesters were arrested, or how many more might have ended up with Post-Trauma-Camera-Confusion-Syndrome? "Has there been any damage to property?" she was asked. She replied: "There is a banner that's been placed in front of a wedding cake, saying 'Closed by UK Uncut'". You can't help but feel there might be an element of snobbery in the outrage, as there probably wouldn't be as much fuss if protesters occupied a pound shop in Rotherham, with 138 arrests and a shopkeeper quoted as saying: "My main fear was for the dishcloths".

For the hundreds of thousands who were there, all this will probably have little bearing on how they saw the day. Because this was very much a trade union demonstration, made up of people who will return to work, lifted by the sense they are not on their own in opposing the cuts, but part of a huge crowd. But who knows what the Government makes of it all, because Andrew Gimson, biographer of Boris Johnson, reported about the Bullingdon Club of which Johnson and David Cameron were members: "I don't think an evening would have ended without a restaurant being trashed." Look carefully under those balaclavas and they're probably there, going: "Just like old times, eh".