If you’re not Jewish or want to skip straight to the bit about the riot police, click here!
Pesach sameach from Gabrielquotes! I’ll be taking a bit of a holiday over the next week or two so enjoy it while you can…
Why not get comfortable and dunk an egg in salt-water while I pass over to the Biblical Broadcasting Corporation for a whole plateful of this year’s Pesach News:
Welcome aboard Sussex Airlines
There’s a scene in the wonderful sitcom Party in which a group of students are trying to decide where their new party should sit on the political spectrum. Eventually they decide, “We won’t be left-wing or right-wing. We’ll be inside the ’plane.” I’ve spent much of this week inside the aeroplane that is Sussex, straddling the wings, and it still amazes me that I didn’t have more fellow passengers.
Sussex hit the national headlines on Monday due to a ‘national demonstration’ against outsourcing for which protestors were bussed in from other universities around the country. The high point of this demonstration actually came a couple of days before, when the Lord High Registrar, John Duffy, complained about not being consulted by the students bringing “outsiders” onto campus.
I’m genuinely at a bit of a loss to know how to satirise that. I would probably have done something like…
…but unfortunately that wouldn’t be satire, it would be real life, because that’s exactly what he said. I’ve always felt that anyone without a sense of irony should be barred from holding public office, but I guess that would leave Sussex without any leadership. (Well, even more without any leadership than at the moment, that is.)
Act 1: It Kicks Off
So, the March 25th protest went ahead with its own hashtag and everything. It started peacefully, with the University shutting down half of campus [update April 2013: page now deleted by University – wonder why – but a copy is here] of their own accord to frustrate the demonstrators, which made things easier for the demonstrators, who aimed, erm, to shut down campus.
Around 1,000 miscellaneous people – very miscellaneous in some cases – turned up to Library Square at 1o’clock to hear some rousing speeches, including one by a supportive Labour MP who got heckled because Labour introduced tuition fees so they’re obviously all the enemy.
Observing this gathering of hundreds and hundreds of committed students, the President of the Sussex Conservative Society took the opportunity to claim that “the demo is having little impact” on the basis that – and I quote – “all the broadcasters there are using second-rate tripods.” Yes. That is a well-known scientific way of measuring the impact of a protest, and I’m sure that the BBC send out their very best tripods to cover TorySoc events such as the upcoming and sadly unironic Port & Policy.
But at this point the tables began to turn.
Act 2: Bringing the House Down
Sussex House is the management building where Michael Farthing and John Duffy work (in a broad sense of the word). On #Mar25, though, they gallantly buggered off home early and left the remainder of their staff literally locked inside. Many of these are quite junior staff, remember, the trade union members that the anti-outsourcing groups apparently seek to protect.
I guess it was pretty inevitable though, that a group of masked protestors would gather round Sussex House, smash their way past the assembled hordes of riot police and private security, start burning documents from Michael Farthing’s office (Wot no climate change? -Ed.) and leave the building a gaping husk of broken glass.
This divided opinion. The #Mar25 Twitter stream became a battle between those who insisted that “a few broken doors” is a minor sacrifice in the revolution (this camp produced comments such as, “Oooh, it’s so tragic, some poor paper got hurt!” and, “They were Barclays Bank documents therefore fair game for tinder,”) and those who felt that the anti-outsourcing campaign had just lost a huge amount of support by turning needlessly violent.
A couple of broken windows is a minor inconvenience compared to the loss of up to 235 jobs through privatisation, yes, obviously. But that still doesn’t explain how breaking them helped the cause in any way. Last week I criticised John Duffy for using unfair tactics to silence their opposition. Now I sadly have to say the same about the demonstrators.
And I still can’t quite believe the so-called person who said, “All arguments being levelled against #Mar25 protestors are the same as those levelled at the American civil rights movement,” – I mean, as far as I know, Rosa Parks only smashed her way into buildings and burnt documents when it was absolutely necessary.
Some of the more abashed demonstrators retreated to their Occupation to plot further strategy. There was a suggestion that they block off the A27 motorway that runs past campus. One person asked, “How would that prevent privatisation?” (how short-sighted they are!) and someone else replied, “Yolo!” That was another high point of the day actually.
Act 3: An Ode to the Conservative Party, in J-Major
Now it’s not for me to tell the Conservative Society its job, but if I were them I’d have capitalised on this moment of vulnerability and seized the chance to represent, for once, the silent majority on campus.
However, they nobly declined to take advantage of others’ weakness, and instead lurched way to the right and began calling, basically, for the death penalty to be extended to anyone not on their membership list.
Apparently the leaders of the Sussex anti-outsourcing movement should be “punished” immediately, without the hassle of gathering evidence against them, because the Sussex organisers “without a doubt had deliberate criminal intent.” (Remind me why we’re letting this party introduce secret courts?)
One TorySoc member, a former Vice-President, also proposed the establishment of a vigilante “Student Safety Society, that protects innocent law abiding students from the criminal activity occurring on our campus by standing around buildings preventing them from being vandalised.” Yes, those were the exact words used. Christ, this is Falmer village, not Gotham City! (See picture on far right.)
The whole day was utterly appalling, and until then I had no idea that university students could actually be so dim, and that the aspiring politicians on both sides have such an outrageously poor grasp of how to behave in a civilised society.
The left took a good idea that united student opinion – not privatising the University – and they dragged it too far, going round and burning stuff.
And then the right failed to seize possibly the only moment in the history of Sussex when they could have had the backing of a majority of students – by criticising criminal damage – and instead took it too far the other way, wanting to lynch people and setting up some sort of wannabe stormtrooper force with a highly unfortunate acronym.
Meanwhile, the University has taken stern action against rising tide of students exercising their human rights, and obtained a sweepingly-drafted injunction which outlaws – and I quote – “any occupational or other protest,” ie. any protest, until the end of September. I bet Kim Jong-un wishes he could introduce a similar ban. (The University has repeatedly denied, almost to the point of imbecility, that the injunction bans peaceful protest, but I leave readers to their own interpretation. If you agree with mine then perhaps you could sign the petition here.)
So anyway, here I am, on-board the aeroplane, staring out at the wings slightly disbelievingly. Come join me…
Wednesday morning update: the full witness statement (“Dear sirs”) and Exhibits of the injunction have been released and can be found here. My blog gets a cameo appearance on p34 of Exhibit 1, and it’s also been observed that the University’s solicitor ticked the ‘no’ box in response to, “Does your claim [to restrict the right to protest] include any issues under the Human Rights Act?” Such fun!
The plague of wild beasts
One of my all-time favourite broadsheet headlines this week:
It seems that a surveyor found the discarded skin of a tarantula in a 19th-century house in the Welsh capital, and police are concerned that the animal – which could now be twice as large as the shed skin – may be covered in the same cancer-inducing asbestos that was found throughout the rest of the building.
And the tarantula’s still out there! I thought they’d stopped making Torchwood but apparently I was wrong. And I kind of had to make this…
You’ll like this bit, Lord Ahmed.
I hope if you’ve read this far you won’t accuse me of leading a dull life. But at the moment it’s especially undull because I’ve found myself appointed a UK delegate to the 14th Assembly of the World Jewish Congress, which will take place in Budapest in May.
I will be joined by other elected delegates from around the world, including some representing the Zimbabwe Jewish Board of Deputies. Hopefully they haven’t taken lessons on democracy either from Zimbabwe or from the Board of Deputies…
This is very exciting news, so I’ve booked myself a hotel room (“equipped with the new bedding,” which sounds absolutely lovely) and now all that’s left is for me to take up cigar smoking – see photo.
Expect an update in May!