October 2011 Archives

Back in August I wrote about the scandal which brought an end to the presidential hopes of David Norris.

Nearly three months on much changed as Ireland determined who its next head of State would be. Not only did Norris re-enter the race but he went up against a former IRA commander and a former Eurovision winner. In the end none of the three came close to winning but one did determine who did.

The Irish presidential election had seven candidates in the end and in the month-long campaign of debates, canvassing and photo-ops it boiled down to three: Michael D Higgins - a poet, a much-loved human rights campaigner and long time parliamentarian; McGuinness - a former IRA commander turned Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland; and Seán Gallagher - an entrepreneur and star of Ireland's version of Dragons' Den.

Risk assessing protest

By Matthew Taylor on Oct 28, 11 01:05 PM in Opinion

Writing on the New Statesman, Laurie Penny, aka Penny Red, questions a guide for protesters that includes

...a ten-point plan for avoiding rape, and includes the following advice: "try to appear undesirable and unattractive", "never go out alone" and "do not wear skirts".

It's hardly reconstructed advice - pretty much copied from the cod "rape prevention" advice - but in the context of mass protests it raises uncomfortable questions about what the purpose and value of protest is.

One key problem with that part of the guide is the attempt to offer advice to women on avoiding sexual violence, but issuing general (non-gender/sex specific) must surely be acceptable.

The obvious analogy is advice on how to reduce the chances of being attacked on political demonstrations - it's similarly victim blaming to say "If X hadn't gone out and protested, they wouldn't have been attacked", but I don't think there'd be criticism in principle of offering advice on minimising that risk.

Setting that specific advice to one side (it's odd, at best), there is no dichotomy between saying "This situation is unacceptable", and saying "This is the situation, so take steps to mitigate the risk".

We're talking here about a risk posed by other people, and for which those other people are responsible: if we know they pose that risk, but will do nothing to reduce the risk they pose, should we take steps to mitigate the risk?

This question is distinct and discrete from any question as to whether them posing that risk is acceptable, or whether, in a hypothetical alternative set of circumstances, that risk would exist.

The truly difficult question this leads to is raised towards the end of Laurie Penny's article:

Shortly after the revolution in Egypt, hundreds of women were assaulted in Tahrir Square by the same men they had stood beside only weeks earlier to overthrow a corrupt regime. Their only "provocation" was to dare to assemble in celebration of International Women's Day. It was the first inkling we got that there might be more to creating a free Egypt than ousting Hosni Mubarak. These things don't "just happen" in disorderly situations. These things happen because some men believe that they have the right to police and punish the bodies of women.

Until they stop doing so, any revolution will be incomplete, because women are not just afterthoughts in the global fight against tyranny and austerity. Any "revolution in favour of the people", of the sort that Anonymous anticipates in its guide, will not be worth having if it does not agitate for social, political and sexual liberation for every single one of its members. To paraphrase Emma Goldman: if I can't wear a short skirt, I don't want to be part of your revolution.

If you know that other people pose a specific risk, but you feel you must protest, can you take steps to mitigate that risk?

If you can take those steps, should you?

An argument against taking steps to protect yourself - because it somehow legitimises the existence of that risk - is a counsel of perfection. Protest may have a value, but is it worth the risk that people would have to run to undertake it? Conversely, as seems to suggested, is there less or no value in protesting if you consciously act to mitigate risks?

These aren't hypothetical questions. Large scale public protests are back in fashion, and the "Occupy" model extends their duration from hours to weeks. Any risk involved in participating in them is one to which thousands of people are being exposed. How they choose to address that risk is the most basic interface between political ideology and reality - what should be, versus what is.

The ConDem government's plan to introduce mandatory sentences for a raft of crimes has rightly attracted a slating from magistrates.

Their Worships have laid into plans to automatically send youths of 16 and 17 to detention and training centres (the cosy, modern name for a borstal) for four months if they're found carrying a knife.


They are right to have concerns. All the evidence suggests that once you start somebody on the custody route, it's a revolving door and a lifetime of misery and criminality follows.

brendan_barber.jpgThe Chancellor's plan for our economy isn't working. We can't go on like this. We need an alternative. And we need it now.
The TUC has today published a five-point plan to get our economy on track and help get Britain back to work.
First, we need a more sensible timetable for deficit reduction. Not a kamikaze four-year plan, but a more realistic and achievable 10-year plan.

JStrain.jpgJohn Spriggs, Mark Dowd, David Spriggs, Bart Schmeink, Merseyrail managing director, and Steve Rotherham, Liverpool Walton MP.

A Merseyrail train has been named in memory of one of Liverpool's political legends.

Jack Spriggs, a former Liverpool Lord Mayor was Merseytravel vice-chairman from 2005 until his death in December 2009.

In 1972 Jack Spriggs hit the national headlines when, as a shop steward, he led the famous Fisher Bendix workers sit-in which lasted nine weeks and resulted in saving the plant from closure.

Over the past 30+ years, successive governments have progressively emasculated the powers and reduced the autonomy of local authorities and their ability to tailor policies to local circumstances almost to vanishing point.

It is plain that central government now views local authorities solely as its robotic creatures, whose primary function is to deliver centrally prescribed policies, especially the less popular ones.

Perhaps this is related to the concomitant process whereby central government has ceded some of its own powers to Brussels during roughly the same time frame and has subsequently compensated. (Ironic that, given that Britain is a signatory to the Maastricht Treaty, containing a supposedly firm commitment to subsidiarity.)

Liverpool council would not be Liverpool council without leaked email arguments.

Readers will remember former council leader Warren Bradley often fired off emails, that were later leaked.

I was on holiday last week and came back to work today to find two such email 'discussions'.

woman with loudhailer.jpg
KEEP your ears peeled on Wednesday, November 30th.

For at precisely 1pm on that day, union members all over the North West will be telling the Coalition Government exactly what they think of their planned pension changes.

Speaking about the death of Colonel Gaddafi this morning, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said he would have preferred to see the despot in a courtroom.

I disagree.


The risk of having someone like that in custody is too great. Hundreds of terrorists would be created demanding Mad Dog's freedom.

You wouldn't write an uncomplimentary message about one of your colleagues and leave it on your desk for them to find would you? Similarly, if unhappy
at work most people wouldn't broadcast their lack of motivation openly in the
office. Why then do so many people leave their brains behind when they log on
to social media sites?

The recent case involving teachers who reportedly ridiculed some of the
children that attended their school, calling them 'inbreds' is a casing point.
Just why would they think publicly posting messages of this nature on their
profile would not come back to haunt them? Faced with the horror of the damage these kind of stories can bring to organisations it is easy to see why they
respond by withdrawing access for staff. However, as this case shows, the
damage was done outside of work making it impossible to police. So what is the

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David Bartlett

David Bartlett

City editor of the Post and Echo covering politics, regeneration, and urban affairs.
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