The protests at Dale Farm and the “Occupy” protests elsewhere have more in common than you might imagine. Both are evidence of a growing phenomenon: genuine grievances being hijacked by a new breed of attention-seeking and, in some cases, psychologically damaged demonstrators. These disaster porn addicts waste no time in swooping down on others’ misfortunes, using their woes as a pretext to draw attention to themselves and their asinine, sixth form politics.
But tragedy tourism isn’t for everyone: only spoilt, middle-class kids need apply. Take New Statesman blogger Laurie Penny, for example, who was tweeting from the New York demonstrations with all the embarrassing naïveté of an Essex bride on her honeymoon. Notice how she casually drops in boasts about her metropolitan lifestyle, complaining, to give one recent example, of her flat-mate coming home drunk from a Booker Prize party. Because there’s nothing these agitators like better than to flit, effortlessly and publicly, between the two worlds of showbiz and grinding poverty.
A virtuoso exploiter of other people’s misery is Johann Hari, who is currently, thanks to his own stupidity, hors de combat. Nothing pushes Hari’s buttons – besides fried chicken and racist gay incest porn – like an anguished cry for help that can be used to satisfy his prejudices and monstrous ego. I mean, is there any trendy Lefty cause he hasn’t ferociously championed? Similarly, when you read news reports of protests going wrong, you see the same names appearing again and again, often connected to wildly different movements. The people behind them are invariably Oxbridge educated, like misfit Natalie Szarek, who has popped up as her alter ego Natalie Fox at Dale Farm, a power station in Nottingham and a pro-Gaza demonstration in Cambridge.
Such ideological promiscuousness inevitably leads to contradictions. During the Oz trials in the late sixties, Colin Welch, the then deputy editor of the Daily Telegraph, observed that a surprising number of the protesters wore glasses for their court appearances. In other words, they were perfectly happy to embrace modern technology when it suited them. Nowadays, of course, it’s more than just glasses. It’s iPhones, despite Steve Jobs’s epic social conservatism and snobbery about blogs and social media, and it’s Twitter, the tool of choice for anti-tax avoidance campaigners UK Uncut, despite the corporation locating its European offices in Ireland to avoid paying UK corporation tax. Loaded with inconsistencies and hypocrisies, is it any wonder the bourgeois ringleaders of social unrest are so hilariously ineffective?
In fact, Penny, Hari, May-Bowles and Szarek may even be doing damage to their adopted causes. I reckon protest fatigue will set in very soon, both here and in the States, as the general public get fed up with endless, purposeless grandstanding by wretches who can’t hold down a proper job and the irresponsible journalists who encourage them. Because what truly outrages the public isn’t perceived injustice, as the protesters might imagine: it’s the sight of idiotic spoilt brats swinging from war memorials. There are hints this is happening already: UK Uncut threw their toys out the pram earlier this month when their blockade of Westminster Bridge didn’t get wall-to-wall media coverage.
See, the public doesn’t much care for petulant parasites. Remember loony-tune “comedian” and activist Johnny Marbles (real name Jonathan May-Bowles – I wonder why he changed it) and his self-defeating attempt to pie Rupert Murdoch? In just a few seconds, May-Bowles managed to move the entire country to sympathy for Rupert Murdoch. (He also turned Murdoch’s wife, Wendi Deng, into a YouTube sensation.) Every time one of these goons tries to “make a statement”, their endless quest for validation may be briefly satisfied by the morons on Twitter, but their ostensible cause is heavily damaged.
So I think the public will soon cease to react when the police shut protests down swiftly and brutally. And from there, it’s just a short leap to the curtailment of the right to protest and the cleansing of Parliament Square. Somehow, I don’t think that’s what Tom Paine had in mind.