Thursday, September 07, 2006
Blair Protest: report. posted by Richard SeymourSo, did we make the news? Since I assume we didn't - despite the fact that the reporters present took lots of footage and interviewed many of the people there - I'll have to explain. Blair made his announcement about resigning 'within the next twelve months' at the Quintin Kynaston School in North London. It is one of his Specialist Schools, and it happens to get very flattering inspection reviews from Ofsted. He had been before in 2003, and presumably thought it would be a doss. It's one of those schools he hopes to hand over to the private sector and remove from local democratic control. Plus, Suggs went there, and it must appeal to his rock-star fantasies.
However, some of us got wind of this, and the protesters were right down there waiting for him. Now, the school headteachers had decided that since it was Blair's big day they would send most of the pupils home and keep only the exceptionally well-behaved ones behind. So, as we were setting up for our protest, the children were filing out in huge numbers. Guess what? Blair is extremely unpopular in this neck of the woods, and some of them wanted to take part in the protest. To be more precise, there was already a School Students Against the War movement in the school and I expect they had been ready for Blair's visit. This is not unusual - tonnes of young kids have been to the huge antiwar demonstrations in London. Some of the kids' parents were there too. Many of these children were Muslim. One kid explained that he was Lebanese; a lot of others simply hated Blair, as you'll discover from the footage.
Next thing - I shit you not - the head teacher and every deputy head teacher in the school is running out, trying to push all the kids off the pavements and order them home. One of them, who I was told was the head teacher, actually went through the crowd picking on particular people saying "YOU! Home now, or you'll definitely be in trouble!" Several of them, knowing that many of the kids aren't very assertive, were ripping posters and signs out of their hands, saying "thank you, I'll have that, thank you, off you go, away you go..." Blatantly trying to shore the situation up for Blair. So I asked a couple of them by what right they insisted on doing this, and I got the typical blather in response: I personally was accused of manipulating children, which would hurt my feelings if this wasn't coming from headteachers anxious to assist a trouble-free visit for a warmonger and casually shoving the kids around to that end. The older kids were having none of it. I spoke to a few of the girls there who were being berated by a teacher, and they were telling her "but miss, you told us to stand up for what we believe in" and she was all like "er yeah, but it's debatable whether you're helping the school, er..." One staff member did casually try to mangle my limbs beside a vehicle, which was incredibly stupid given the presence of the media and police, and he gave up. I'm pretty sure it was an attempt at provocation, but I'm too cowardly and physically unfit to be tempted into that nonsense. The police themselves were very helpful. One man who claimed to be a police officer picked out a demonstrator and started to intimidate him, claiming he could cite Public Order offenses and get everyone removed. I don't know if he was a copper or not, because he seemed to have one of the school identity tags around his neck. They otherwise confined themselves to slowly and awkwardly pushing us behind a distant barricade. A lot of the kids said the school had been promised more money for ensuring an expeditious and media-friendly visit from Blair.
There was an effort to use sixth formers to stir things up and bully the kids, but some of the older, more mature students simply waited a minute then took them aside and said "what are you letting them push you around for?" Sorted. To be absolutely clear about this - not all the teachers took part in that nasty charade, and I spotted prefects among those who hung around for the demo even after all the kids had been told what trouble they would be in. One or two of the teachers were behind the temporary barricades with us.
Since I mention the media, I spotted the Guardian's sketch-writer Simon Hoggart, someone from the Times and the glabrous-cheeked sketch-writer for the Daily Mail, Quentin Letts. Nick Robinson was there for the BBC, as was Simon Harris from London Tonight who casually patronised the children. A lot of them were interviewing the children, and I had to laugh as a reporter who I think was from The Guardian stood there looking bemused as he scribbled down observations from a couple of girls who were saying "Blair has killed thousands of people in Iraq and Afghanistan and Lebanon, and I don't think he should be the Prime Minister. And he's a dickhead and I hate him." "Er, okay. So, what are your names...?"
Anyway, after much festivity and delay, Blair arrived to a loud chorus of boos. Cameramen rushed to the chanting crowd to get some footage, then ran away again. And that was it. The Guardian's report of Blair's announcement, by the way, says:
Shunning a public press conference with reporters outside the school, Mr Blair, looking relaxed, recorded a filmed statement with the Press Association.
I wonder why he would do that? I'm sure any mention the protest gets will be diminutive or condescending.
Having got Blair safely into the school, the deputy headteachers were out once more trying to persuade the children, a little more delicately this time, to go home. Some of them looked pathetically sheepish. Funny thing is, I am told Quintin Kynaston has had a reputation for being one of the most left-wing schools in London, and was one of the first to implement anti-racist policies. It's a shame that the new folks in charge were so anxious to cover for Blair. Anyway, I got some pictures and footage for you to look at.
Here are some young militants:
And here are some media hacks:
And this shows a teacher ripping materials from children's hands before being challenged:
And here the kids are protesting regardless:
Now, you can watch Blair arriving to a chorus of boos here; you can see a reporter try to fix up an interview with one of the kids here, which was interesting because the media appear to have been initially convinced that Blair had suffered a PR debacle; and you can see one protesting student explain why Blair shouldn't have been allowed near the school here (regrettably I stopped filming before the whalloping response from her school mates).