At the time of writing, the Tories are having their annual conference in Birmingham. Given how polarised and tense things are getting at the moment, it didn’t come as any surprise that there was a protest called by The People’s Assembly Against Austerity. It also didn’t come as a surprise that elements of the protest were very vocal and didn’t hold back in letting delegates know exactly what they thought of them when they got the opportunity. All very predictable and also, very performative – from both sides.
Reading through coverage of the protests outside the Tory conference, our eye was caught by this news item from Bristol Live: Jacob Rees-Mogg booed as Tory Conference kicks off 2.10.22. As we’ve re-located from Thurrock to Keynsham, Rees-Mogg is now our local MP so obviously, we take a bit of interest in what he gets up to. Among the many accusations that get hurled in his direction, the one that sticks is that he’s a wind up merchant who loves getting attention by provoking people.
Rees-Mogg chose to walk past loads of protesters when he walked across Victoria Square on his way to the conference. There were a number of other safe routes in and out of the conference venue that ensured that delegates were not exposed to anger from protesters. Anyone organising a party political conference has a duty to ensure there are safe routes in and out of the venue. Rees-Mogg on this occasion deliberately chose to ignore those safe routes and instead, opted to walk through the protesters, knowing full well that it would generate a reaction. One that would be milked by him, many other Tories and pretty much anyone else who dislikes the Left.
The crowd in Victoria Square fell for this ruse from Rees-Mogg, hook, line and sinker. Their shouting abuse gave him exactly what he was looking for. They fell for a blatant wind up from someone who has a reputation for provoking people. All it should have taken was a few seconds to realise what he was after when he started to walk across Victoria Square and then react accordingly by not giving him what he was seeking. Namely, turning their backs on him and standing in complete and utter silence until he had passed. Walking through the square with everyone turning their back to him in complete silence would have made more of an impact, because it would have shown a level of discipline and determination. One that would rattle the authorities a fair bit more than the usual shouting and hurling insults.
It has been said by some on the Right that the cops should have gone in harder on those protesters who were hassling Rees-Mogg. Had there been any serious threat to Rees-Mogg, there’s absolutely no doubt that the cops would have reacted very swiftly and decisively. What happened was that those on high saw the protest as a safety valve to let off a bit of steam in the hope that it would forestall more militant action in the future, so the cops were instructed to police it accordingly.
As mentioned earlier, the whole spectacle was performative. Rees-Mogg with his intentional provocation got the reaction he was seeking. The crowd of protesters probably felt they’d achieved their objective in letting Rees-Mogg know exactly what they think of him. A degree of tone deafness from an element of the protesters means they have yet to realise they fell for a blatant wind up. Nothing much was achieved.
What will make an impact is what’s happening away from the set piece confrontations such as the one outside the Tory party conference. That’s all of the efforts to resist paying higher energy bills ranging from Don’t Pay UK through to the more autonomous, grassroots initiatives that may well be adopting more militant, hard hitting tactics. That will also take in community led actions to resist attempts to forcefully disconnect neighbours who simply cannot afford to pay their energy bills. Actions in which the mobilisation and planning has to be kept under wraps so they can fly under the radar of the authorities. We’re also talking about community led resistance against rapacious landlords turfing their tenants out onto the streets.
This is where the real resistance is going to happen. Not outside of a party conference but in thousands of neighbourhoods across the country. It will happen with actions that will frustrate the authorities, make us more ungovernable and ultimately, start to bring power down to the level of the neighbourhood. They can’t control resistance in thousands of neighbourhoods across the country.
The only thing that will frustrate this will be the tactics of divide and rule that the government, aided and abetted by their mates in the media, are and will continue to implement. So when a group of people are being vilified in the media, we have to take a few steps back, look at the situation dispassionately and ask if this is yet another attempt to divide us and have us at each others throats instead of fighting back against the system.
To conclude, given what we’re facing, we can’t afford to react to the scripts written by those seeking to screw us over. Rees-Mogg choosing to provoke demonstrators who duly and unthinkingly obliged him is the script written by the authorities. We can be better than that. We are better than that. Let’s show the bastards that we’re not going to fall for their tricks or follow their script because we’re too busy writing our own – one that will challenge a system that’s dysfunctional and increasingly dystopian.