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Protest city central: a public order countdown to the big day

It's been another busy period for the Met's public order branch as the force's planners prepare for the Coronation of King Charles this Saturday.

UPDATED EVENTS: The scene outside Buckingham Palace after a man was arrested for throwing shotgun cartridges over the fence and a controlled explosion on a package was carried out

UPDATED EVENTS: The scene outside Buckingham Palace after a man was arrested for throwing shotgun cartridges over the fence and a controlled explosion on a package was carried out

Date - 3rd May 2023
By - Chris Hobbs
1 Comment 1 Comment}

The announcement that Extinction Rebellion (XR) would stage four days of protest over an April weekend would initially have caused concern amongst the Met’s beleaguered hierarchy. In fact, the decision by XR to abandon the more disruptive tactics would have resulted in sighs of relief but the inclusion of other groups such as Just Stop Oil (JSO) and various animal rights groups would have tempered such relief,

It would seem that discussions between XR and the Met were amicable and productive; the Met appear to have permitted XR to ‘set up camp’ between Parliament Square and Millbank which became a colourful village with a jovial party atmosphere complete with tented stalls, free food and musical entertainment. Those who travel frequently in and around Parliament will know that traffic diversions and closures are a fact of life with consequent gridlock a rare event.

‘It’s not our war.’

There was a XR short march on the Friday, around the adjacent area and day one was complete without major incident. The Saturday, however, could have proved more problematic. Apart from the main XR event, there was a ‘it’s not our war’ protest which was moved from Trafalgar Square due to Sikh Vaisakhi celebrations. This was not, however, a protest of a section of the left who will use the slogan, ‘stop the war,’ but of the right. Anti-vaxx social media has long been interspersed with items which are anti-Ukrainian and pro-Putin. Some believe that Putin is the champion of those who believe that the major western powers are engaged in some form of globalisation conspiracy.

About a hundred individuals gathered opposite Downing Street and listened to a variety of speakers, but matters became heated when a handful of pro-Ukrainian supporters arrived with one individual making a counter speech. Exchanges became heated and were close to descending into fisticuffs. Police were deployed to keep the peace and the event ended with a couple of musical groups. If those attending from the left had any doubt about the affiliations of most of those present, they would have been dispelled as the musicians performed the now familiar anti-vaxx and anti-lockdown ‘anthems.’

A sizeable Saturday XR march

Meanwhile, XR and their supporters were gathering for their inevitable march. The numbers were, understandably, far greater than the previous day. Interestingly a number of church buildings can be found near Westminster Abbey and, due to various events, XR were asked to be ‘respectful’ as they passed. XR complied and there were no drums or shouting as they passed the buildings in question. However, as the Home Office came into sight, the massed ranks of drummers opened up again to, it must be said, the enjoyment of all.

The short circular route was completed without incident and, as an aside and nothing to do with the march, officers could be seen assisting an elderly lady complete with a Zimmer-frame type shopping trolley.

Trafalgar Square and the child who lost Mum

In Trafalgar Square, squeezed into one corner by the National Gallery due to the Sikh celebrations, was a small protest against the Iranian regime watched over by a handful of officers. Several were clearly dealing with an angry, distressed female who seemed to be resentful towards a lady sporting ID who may have been an outreach worker for the homeless. Police were infinitely patient in their dealings with her.

Then, into the mix, came a small, sobbing child who tearfully explained to the officers that Mum had somehow been lost. The fact that child knew to approach police, despite their demonisation in the media, was perhaps the most encouraging feature of the day.

The London Marathon; a potential banana skin

Sunday saw the day which perhaps concerned the Met’s public order tacticians more than any other. Whilst activist groups, including JSO had promised not to disrupt the London Marathon, it was obvious that any disruption would grab world-wide headlines. As usual, this was an event watched across London by the country’s silent majority of good people who can be seen on the streets during these occasions with many doubtless re-appearing at the forthcoming coronation.

The XR ‘village’ was still in operation although movement to and from it was handicapped by the race route. XR were still in evidence and their flags could be seen along the route which went through Westminster. As well as handing out leaflets, their activists could also be seen encouraging and applauding the runners.

One event that the Met didn’t have to worry about was the Mayor’s St. George’s Day celebration in Trafalgar Square. The inclement weather saw a sparsely populated event despite the enthusiasm of the DJ. A short time later in the Charing Cross Road there was, the amusement of all, a collective examination of phones as the emergency signal was sounded across the land.

Strangely, on the train home, phones of individuals could be heard sounding the emergency even though the time was well after 3pm. At least these errant signals had everybody smiling and chatting.

Monday the 24th saw both the last day of XR’s protest and the re-commencement of JSO’s slow marches, the proposed illegality of which, was thrown out by the House of Lords. This fact didn’t stop criticism being heaped upon the heads of the Met by politicians, news editors and the usual police critics on social media.

All’s well on the 29th.

Whilst JSO remained active for the rest of the week, the imprisonment of two of their activists resulted in a demonstration being called on Saturday the 29th. The same morning saw a re-run of the situation at Honor Oak where the Drag Queen Storytime event saw a gathering of 60 from the far right opposing the event and some 300 leftist anti-racists counter-protesting. They were separated by significant numbers of police officers who managed to ensure that there were no major clashes.

This may have impacted on an anti-racist/pro-migrant protest at the Home Office where about 60 turned up. JSO. With a similar number, marched a short distance from Parliament Square for their own meeting. The two groups, by arrangement, later met up and made their way to Whitehall.

They had to be content with a meeting at the far end of Whitehall as an anti-Iranian regime protest which had gathered by the London -Eye had reached Downing Street first with their well organised 2,000 strong March. A stage and a good sound system together with impassioned speakers saw a successful meeting and total cooperation with the serials of police who were present.

Conflict averted in Hyde Park

Sunday was to prove more problematic with the focus switching to Hyde Park. The situation at issue was one which I and doubtless many others are not wholly across but had caused considerable friction over the past few months. On one side are the trans community and their allies while they have been vigorously opposed by women’s groups who hold contrary views, one of which concerns ‘safe spaces for women.’ The ‘Let Women Speak’ (LWS) campaign includes, so I’m informed, leftist Lesbian organisations. However, several faces from the far right, which included those seen protesting against the Drag Queen story-time events, were reportedly amongst the ranks of LWS.

The Trans allies include anti-fascist groups who claim that because of their hostility towards aspects of the Trans community, the LWS movement and their leader ‘Posie’ consist of Fascists. If those reading this are confused then they would be in the company of those, like me, who were observing events on Sunday.

The LWS meeting began to gather under the Reformer’s Tree and, in all honesty, the rather resembled that of a gentle Women’s Institute meeting.

A walk across the park saw the gathering of the anti-Fascist opposition. They had been instructed to bring masks and dress in nondescript clothing. Amongst several flags could be seen were those sporting LGBT colours. They numbered about 150 and suddenly set off chanting, ‘No terfs on our turf.’ (A terf is defined as a ‘trans-exclusionary radical feminist).

The masked, chanting group looked menacing as the gap between them and those under the Reformer’s Tree closed. The escorting police officers however, neatly manoeuvred the group in a direction which diverted them away from the LWS gathering whose numbers had considerably increased. Officers formed a cordon in front of the trans group who continued to chant adding ‘Who protects the fascists? The police protect the fascists,’ to their repertoire.

There were two minor scuffles during the course of the morning and, park-by laws meant that neither side was able to use a megaphone or any other amplified equipment. The LWS groups, who by now outnumbered the pro-trans, anti-fascists, were remarkably sanguine about the presence of the rivals. Their ‘leader,’ the reviled ‘Posie Parker’ aka Kellie-Jay Keen who is the head of the Standing for Women’ organisation, gathered everyone together for a series of speeches. 

The pro-Trans group tried twice to outflank the police in order to somehow get to their rivals but were easily thwarted on each occasion. At one stage, LWS stewards formed a line behind the police cordon, presumably in case their masked protagonists broke through the police line but were quickly persuaded that this wasn’t necessary.

A number of pro-trans activists then caused some amusement by unfurling umbrellas and holding them in front of their already masked faces to frustrate identification by police and press.

The LWS meeting finished with cheering and applause and Posie left escorted by bodyguards, stewards and a number of her supporters. Others remained, chatting in small unconcerned groups before drifting away but not before a brief chant of ‘there’s more of us than you,’ was directed against their rivals. Whilst, as stated, the gathering had all the demeanour of a Women’s Institute event, the literature handed out to passer’s by was uncompromising in its tone.

The large police presence, complete with six mounted officers and several TSG carriers was however necessary given the animosity seen on social media which included a death threat and the fact that Posie Parker had tomato soup thrown over her at a previous event; the photos taken at the time suggested that she had been the victim of a bloody attack; a useful propaganda tool.

Thus, a challenging ten days for the Met was over. Those who claim that the police were out to stifle protest would probably prefer to ignore the fact that all the events resulted in an arrest total which would not occupy the fingers of one hand.

The big test however is to come. Unlike the funeral of Her Majesty which, even the most extreme groups did not consider disrupting, the Coronation of King Charles is a different proposition with again, world-wide publicity guaranteed for any organisation which can cause some form of disruption in front of the cameras.

Another huge challenge for the Met and its officers, which, even if accomplished, will earn them few plaudits from their legions of critics.  

Chris Hobbs is a former Met Special Branch officer who regularly covers protests for Police Oracle 

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Ordered by:
Jensen2021 - Wed, 03 May 2023

‘Protecting the fascists.’ Really? Please explain why police arrest and charge right wing terrorists? Please explain how the police also often protect extreme left activists from getting a beating from the EDL? I remember seeing an article how the ultra Clapton supporters got protected by their ‘enemy’, the Met police, when a group of EDL hooligans tried to batter them outside the stadium. Interestingly, the Clapton ultras couldn’t bring themselves to thank the Met for saving them from being hospitalised by the right wing thugs….