At Mayor’s Question this morning, there was much discussion on the student riots. Boris Johnson thanked the Met. for doing such a difficult job. He emphasised we are a liberal city, and the right to protest is a wonderful thing, but it must be done peacefully and the demonstrators must stick to the agreed route. In Germany, they would already be using the water cannons.
Labour London Assembly member Len Duvall asked whether there would be investigations of the incident involving the Royals and also the injured students. Boris reassured him that these would be investigated as a matter of urgency. Mr. Duvall then asked what issues apart from the Royals should be reviewed and Boris replied “Clearly, police tactics.” There is debate whether the police handling of the riots was too soft, should they use kettling and should water cannon become part of the police strategy.
Boris does not want to ratchet up crowd control, because this is a free city. In answer to the question, was the use of water cannon a technical, operational or political decision, Boris replied it was a political decision, and he was not prepared to use such a method for the moment and hoped it would never be necessary.
Later on, Brian Coleman said dangerous attacks on the police were wrong and completely uncalled for. Surely nobody needed to wear a mask? Some police were the same age as the students, and a lot less advantaged, he pointed out. The Mayor said again, there was a balance to be struck. It was wrong for demonstrators to ignore clear directions and refuse to stick to the route of the march, but he wished to protect the right to protest. Water cannon, tear gas, rubber bullets, stun grenades, guns, would not be part of the police strategy. “We are not going to hand violent protestors a propaganda victory of seeing more violence against young people” said Boris. But it costs £50,000 to clear up Parliament Square, and anyone committing an act of violence would face the full force of the law.
Jenny Green (Green Party) asked Boris whether he would admit the possibility of violence from the police against young people. Boris said since there had been one complaint, that clearly was a possibility. But he wants the non-violent kids to identify the violent protesters and grass them up. “The onus is on peaceful kids to dob the violent people” he said.
There is no denying that the police had a torrid time and were under considerable pressure the whole time, showing much restraint. Gareth Bacon pointed out that there was clear evidence that police were spat at, had snooker balls thrown in their faces, as well as paint, were pulled from their horses and were hit with iron bars. Under the circumstances, they had handled a tricky situation extremely well. The Mayor believes it would be right for the majority, who are peaceful demonstrators to strongly condemn the violence and report any violent demonstrators whenever they could.
Water cannon (picture above) are used on a large scale in Germany, as recently as this year. In October, riots in France were quelled with pump-action shotguns, sidearms and stun grenades. In Greece today, the Times reported, the police used tear gas and stun grenades against rioters. If you live in the US and poke a stick into the President’s car, you get your ass shot off, no questions asked. Our police take everything the thugs dish out with just their shields and batons. It makes you grateful we live in the UK and have peace loving, libertarian Boris as our Mayor, Eh!