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I, as I'm sure many others must have been, was slightly surprised the way things tuned out on May 1st.
I have been on many demos over the years including other ones that have ended with trouble and certain patterns become obvious; demos usually start peacefully and serious confrontation with the police only develops either at a flashpoint (eg when a Stephen Lawrence march was prevented from reaching the BNP's HQ or after there has been damage to property, usually shops. Atmosphere is everything when you are in a large crowd and trouble is contagious. Once it starts it usually runs it's course until either people get tired or the police reassert control.
In Parliament Square in the first few hours of the Mayday event the atmosphere was not charged with violence. Sure, some folk wanted trouble to kick off, hoping for a repeat of J18. But true riots are usually fairly spontaneous affairs and never repeat themselves. They certainly don't announce themselves months in advance. A bank holiday in front of Parliament is not the City on a week day. Generally, there was a wait and see attitude in the crowd. There was no way any large group would approach the police lines around the Parliament Square looking for a fight. I was amazed then, when the police allowed the gathering to begin advancing up Parliament Street and into Whitehall.
A simple line of Police would have almost certainly prevented this. I was not half as surprised as when I saw that, out of the handful of shops we passed, there was an empty (I arrived there before any damage had occurred and there were no staff or "frightened children" (the Sun, 4/5/00) visible inside) branch of McDonald's. I looked about and, for the first time all day there was not a cop in sight! The inevitable happened and for a full quarter of an hour those who wished to had a free hand to attack the restaurant. It was only when surrounding shops were started on that the police reappeared and swiftly and easily corralled everyone in that section of Whitehall into the secured pen of Trafalgar Square.
I was immediately suspicious about this. Who stood the most to benefit from the day ending up with a small, totally contained and 99.9% ineffectual disturbance? Certainly not the often young, inexperienced and sometimes naive demonstrators facing prison sentences for throwing evian bottles at the riot police. Not Reclaim the Streets and similar groups already threatened with new legislation. The police, though suffering some criticism over the monuments being graffitied, had the justification they needed for spending over one million pounds of public money and each receiving decent overtime payments and having the chance to baton charge their enemies armed only with plastic bottles. The rightwing politicians of all the main three parties had a chance to rail against those advocating direct action in general and Ken Livingston in particular. The the media have the chance to get several days good copy with plenty of mugshots for the readers to identify, while ridiculing the issues that the day was supposed to be about. The companies that we're against stand only to benefit from the weakening of their critics, at minimal risk to themselves or their property.
This may all sound a little like the ramblings of an aging conspiracy theorist grown tired with books about JFK and Jack the Ripper, but today I decided to visit the McDonald's that was smashed up on Monday (it reopened for business within 24 hours!). I told the duty manager I was writing an article about the trouble which had occurred on Monday and asked if he'd mind my asking him a few questions. He laughed nervously and told me that he'd been forbidden by his bosses from speaking with anyone about what had happened. I smiled back and told him that I was aware that it was his job and just asked when exactly he'd been ordered not to talk to anyone, before or after the demonstration. He again replied that he couldn't talk to me. I asked once more if it was before the trouble had actually occurred and he smiled and replied as if in the affirmative; "I think you can guess from what I've already said" I left him to his job. Not exactly evidence for a court of law, but I am convinced that the police allowed the demo to go up Whitehall and cynically decided, almost certainly with McDonald's connivance, to sacrifice a branch of their chain in order to achieve some or all the objectives outlined above. It probably doesn't feel so good to chuck pieces of plastic when you're under constant surveillance and the powers that be want you to do it.
Does anyone have any other information/ideas? Was the McDonald's actually open for business that day?
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