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Tin soldiers and Cameron coming…

By now you will have seen, heard or read about the presence of machine gun toting policemen at yesterday’s NHS demo in Whitehall. What, you haven’t? You mean the mainstream media aren’t reporting it? Such a display of state force would garner column inches and screen time were it happening in a ‘non democratic’ country, surely it merits at some comment in our shining beacon of democracy? Ah well…

I’m not entirely unused to seeing heavily armed police, none of us who use airports these days will be. And I remember when I would visit a friend who worked in the Central Criminal Court I could always tell when some heavy (alleged) villains were in the building as bobbies would be patrolling with their Heckler & Kochs shouldered. My last trip to Paris coincided with unrest in the banlieues and as a friend and I traipsed la rues Parisienne we saw rozzers fitted out with the biggest machine guns you’ll see outside of a Rambo flick – but that’s the French, never doing things by half, I also saw a great protest at the Gare du Nord by striking Eurostar workers.

Just this week we’ve seen calls for plastic bullets and water cannon to deal with riots, but machine guns at a peaceful demo aimed at saving one of this country’s greatest institutions from the fetid claws of capitalism? Police forces in the UK are inviting bids from private firms for their ‘ancillary’ services, but it strikes me that our constabulary is already acting as a security force for shareholders and their precious dividends.

When talking about protests and anti-government actions our politicians will happily spraff about ‘minorities’ of ‘extremists’ – according to the Tories it was a ‘tiny bunch of left wing radicals’ who brought workfare into such disrepute. But who are the real extremists? The people who choose to make a non violent stand against policies that threaten the well being and indeed lives of millions, or the politicians putting those policies in place?

Since this coalition came to unelected power they have been hammering away at those who are not like them. Millions have been tarred with the brush of scrounger and cheat, those who claim any sort of social benefit are officially a burden to those ‘who are doing the right thing’. Education should not be about being educated but about responding to market forces. Public services aimed at helping and improving the lives of communities are wasteful. The health service isn’t competitive enough, and we have all experienced how competition in the utilities and railways has benefited society, if by ‘society’ you mean ‘shareholders’ and the neoliberal project that’s steamrollered us over the last three decades.

Aside from the current NHS ‘reforms’ debacle, this week we learned that the government wants to tax the rich less while reducing the salaries of public sector workers in accordance with where they happen to live. A wages lottery, in other words. This is all about reflecting the cost of living, says George “I’m not an economist” Osborne. Perhaps this is why he’s being so generous to those who earn £150k and more (much more) a year and reducing their tax ‘burden’ – after all, their cost of living must be so much more than people in lower tax brackets as they have so much more to spend.

Meanwhile, once again the ills of neoliberal capitalism are being pushed onto the public sector. Regional variations in pay already exist – a housing officer in the provinces will already be paid less than someone doing the job in London as differences in area demographics and the needs of local communities are taken into account. Ah, but reducing the pay of public sector workers will enable the private sector to be more competitive we are told. There’s that word again, ‘competitive’, except here it’s being applied in a race to the bottom. Rather than address the often shoddy pay and conditions in the private sector, we must strive to match them in the public services. In this ‘competition’, it’s once again those at the top who will win, and they’ll cut your legs off to ensure that they do.

People have already died due to the policies being enacted by this government, and many more lives have been blighted. This is not mainstream politics, it’s politics in extremis, and extreme actions, such as machine guns at peaceful demos, could lead to extreme reactions. There is a tipping point in all of us and in every situation: how long before we are all extremists and radicals?

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