As the political consensus collapses, now all dissenters face suppression

Paul Mobbs mobbsey at
Mon May 18 23:23:05 BST 2009

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The report mentioned in the article is at:


As the political consensus collapses, now all dissenters face suppression

Peaceful protest - or 'domestic extremism' - is being put down with increasing 
violence by our police forces

George Monbiot, The Guardian, Tuesday 19th May 2009

The principal cause of man's unhappiness is that he has learnt to stay quietly 
in his own room. If our needs are not met, if justice is not done, it is 
because we are not prepared to leave our homes and agitate for change. Blaise 
Pascal ("the sole cause of man's unhappiness is that he does not know how to 
stay quietly in his own room") couldn't have been more wrong.

We do not starve, we are not arbitrarily imprisoned, we may vote, travel and 
read and write what we wish only because of the political activism of previous 
generations. Almost all MPs will acknowledge this. Were it not for public 
protest they wouldn't be MPs.

Yet, though the people of this country remain as mild and as peaceful as they 
have ever been, our MPs have introduced a wider range of repressive measures 
than at any time since the second world war. A long list of laws – the 1997 
Protection from Harassment Act, Terrorism Act 2000, Regulation of 
Investigatory Powers Act 2000, the 2005 Serious Crime and Police Act and many 
others – treat peaceful protesters as if they are stalkers, vandals, thugs and 
terrorists. Thousands of harmless, public-spirited people now possess criminal 
records. This legislation has been enforced by policing which becomes more 
aggressive and intrusive by the month. The police attacks on the G20 protests 
(which are about to be challenged by a judicial review launched by Climate 
Camp) are just the latest expression of this rising state violence. Why is it 

Before I try to answer this, let me give you an idea of just how weird 
policing in Britain has become. A few weeks ago, like everyone in mid-Wales, I 
received a local policing summary from the Dyfed-Powys force. It contained a ­
section headed Terrorism and Domestic Extremism. "Work undertaken is not 
solely focused on the threat from ­international terrorists. Attention has 
also been paid to the potential threat that domestic extremists and 
campaigners can pose." I lodged a freedom of information request to try to 
discover what this meant. What threat do ­campaigners pose?

I've just been told by the police that they don't intend to reply within the 
statutory period, or to tell me when they will. I'll complain of course, and 
(in 2019 or so) I'll let you know the result. But Paul Mobbs of the Free Range 
Network has found what appears to be an explanation. Under the heading 
"Protect[ing] the country from both terrorism and domestic extremism", the 
Dyfed-Powys Police website repeats the line about domestic extremists and 
campaigners. "In this context, the Force was praised for its management of the 
slaughter of what was felt to be a sacred animal from the Skanda Vale 
religious community in Carmarthenshire." You might remember it: this Hindu 
community tried to prevent Shambo the bull from being culled by the government 
after he tested positive for TB. His defenders sought a judicial review and 
launched a petition. When that failed, they sang and prayed. That's all.

Mobbs has also found a bulletin circulated among Welsh forces at the end of 
last year, identifying the "new challenges and changes" the police now face. 
Under "Environmental" just two are listed: congestion charging and "eco-
terrorism". Eco-terrorism is a charge repeatedly levelled against the 
environment movement, mostly by fossil fuel lobbyists. But, as far as I can 
discover, there has not been a single recorded instance of a planned attempt 
to harm people in the cause of environmental protection in the UK over the 
past 30 years or more. So what do the police mean by eco-terrorism? It appears 
to refer to any environmental action more radical than writing letters to your 

The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) now runs three units whose 
purpose is to tackle another phenomenon it has never defined: domestic 
extremism. These are the National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit 
(Netcu), the Welsh Extremism and Counter-Terrorism Unit and the National 
Public Order Intelligence Unit. Because Acpo is not a public body but a 
private limited company, the three bodies are exempt from freedom of 
information laws and other kinds of public accountability, even though they 
are funded by the Home Office and deploy police officers from regional forces. So 
it's hard to work out exactly what they do, apart from libelling peaceful 
protesters. I wrote a column in December about the smears published by Netcu, 
which described villagers in Oxfordshire peacefully seeking to prevent a power 
company from filling their local lake with fly ash as a "domestic extremist 
campaign". It also sought to smear peace campaigners, Greenpeace and Climate 
Camp with the same charge. Netcu's site went down on the day my column was 
published and hasn't been restored since. But we have only patchy evidence of 
what else these three unaccountable bodies have been up to.

They appear to have adopted the role once filled by Special Branch's counter-
subversion campaign, which spied on Labour activists, including Jack Straw and 
Peter Mandelson (sadly the spooks failed to bump them off while there was still 
time). But as Paul Mobbs points out in his new report on Britain's secretive 
police forces, today the police appear to be motivated not by party political 
bias but by hostility towards all views which do not reflect the official 

Mobbs proposes that mainstream politics in Britain cannot respond to realities 
such as global and national inequality, economic collapse, resource depletion 
and climate change. Any politics that does not endorse the liberal economic 
consensus, which challenges the concentration of wealth or power, or which 
doesn't accept that growth and consumerism can be sustained indefinitely, is 
off-limits. Just as the suffragettes were repressed because their ideas – not 
their actions – presented a threat to the state, the government and the police 
must suppress a new set of dangerous truths. By treating protesters as 
domestic extremists, the state marginalises their concerns: if people are 
extremists, their views must be extreme. Repression, in a nominal democracy, 
cannot operate accountably, so the state uses police units which are exempt 
from public scrutiny.

I am sure Mobbs is right. There is no place for dissenting views in mainstream 
politics. I was told recently by a Labour backbencher – a respected MP 
untainted by the expenses scandal – that "if the door was open just an inch to 
new ideas, I would stay on. But it has been slammed shut, so I'm resigning at 
the next election." Our grossly unfair electoral system, which responds to the 
concerns of just a few thousand floating voters and shuts out the minor 
parties; the vicious crackdown on dissent within parliament by whips and spin 
doctors; the neoliberalism forced upon governments by corporate power and the 
Washington consensus; the terror of the tabloid press – all combine to create 
a political culture which cannot respond to altered realities without 
collapsing. What cannot be accommodated must be suppressed.

The police respond as all police forces do; protecting the incasts from the 
outcasts, keeping the barbarians from the gate. The philosophy of policing has 
not changed; they just become more violent as the citadel collapses.

- -- 

"We are not for names, nor men, nor titles of Government,
nor are we for this party nor against the other but we are
for justice and mercy and truth and peace and true freedom,
that these may be exalted in our nation, and that goodness,
righteousness, meekness, temperance, peace and unity with
God, and with one another, that these things may abound."
(Edward Burroughs, 1659 - from 'Quaker Faith and Practice')

Paul's book, "Energy Beyond Oil", is out now!
For details see

Paul Mobbs, Mobbs' Environmental Investigations
3 Grosvenor Road, Banbury OX16 5HN, England
tel./fax (+44/0)1295 261864
email - mobbsey at
website -

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