The senseless rioting in Bristol is a gift to Priti Patel

All the protesters have done is outrage the public and in the end, you need votes in ballot boxes to repeal a bad law, not just indignation

Bristol riot: Police clash with protesters at ‘Kill the Bill’ rally

I have always considered Gary Lineker to be one of the great social commentators of our times, a sort of public intellectual offering sage opinions on the big issues of the day, the master of the digital apercu.

I doubt Burke, Voltaire or Chesterton could have bettered Lineker’s tweet about the disturbances in Bristol: “Not sure the best way to go about protesting for the right to protest peacefully is to protest non peacefully.”

Of course, Burke, Voltaire and Chesterton wouldn’t have been nearly as good at analysing the effect of Brendan Rogers’s front three on Leicester’s surprisingly decisive win over Manchester United in the FA Cup quarter-final, which just goes to show what a polymathic national treasure the old silver fox is.

Just for a change, the usual description of “mostly peaceful” didn’t apply to the politicised, misguided yobs setting fire to police vans and daubing the infantile ACAB (All Coppers Are Bastards) slogan on public buildings.

As Professor Lineker rightly points out, all they have done is outrage the very public, what you might call the silent majority, that secretly has little time for protest of any kind, and not much more for democracy: we are, after all, living in semi-fascistic times, and a semi-fascistic government seems to have caught, as well as created, the national mood. “Populism” is the polite term for it.

The problem is the abuse of the right to protest, and specifically what Extinction Rebellion got up to a couple of years ago. The climate emergency is real and I’ve no wish to trivialise it; the passion of those who seek to defend our collective future is admirable. However, I’m not at all sure that the bloke who glued himself to a tube train did much to stop the degradation of the Indonesian rainforest. He just annoyed people trying to get to work.

I can recall very well being stuck in a massive traffic jam in the back of a taxi with a Tory MP at the time, and, already ill-disposed, he was less than philosophical about the situation. It might give Extinction Rebellion activists some satisfaction that this splenetic member was late for his drinks reception, but that is the sum total of the achievement.

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Of course protest, even violent protest and revolution, has changed much in the world, and the world is the better for it. No law can stop protesters protesting, and no doubt more statues will bite the dust, whatever the potential jail sentences – I can’t say I’m looking forward to the first “statue martyrs” to be sent to prison, no doubt to go on hunger strike.

The new law on trying to make protest quiet and ineffective is a very silly one, born out of that public anger and frustration at the damage XR did to otherwise sympathetic people’s lives back in 2019. Yet in the end, in a democracy, you have to win the argument. Indignation is never enough; you need votes in ballot boxes to repeal a bad law.

The television pictures of rioting in Bristol are a gift to Priti Patel, and that’s really not good enough. In fact, it’s a bit of an own goal.

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