Magazine article The Spectator

A Protester's Notebook

Magazine article The Spectator

A Protester's Notebook

Article excerpt

If the weather had been this foul have found myself in the middle of the River Thames, or served a six-month prison sentence in HMP Wormwood Scrubs. My plan, then, was to make a protest against inequalities in British society, government cuts, reductions in civil liberties and a culture of elitism.

Not all of it, I admit, I had time to articulate in the water. At first, I was charged under the Public Order Act, which meant that the maximum penalty would have been a fine, but after various exhortations - including from a Tory MP, Michael Ellis - I was convicted under the Public Nuisance law and had a spell inside. I emerged a changed man, though not because I'd changed my views. I found out I was going to be a father.

Many convicts will know how odd it is to hear life-changing news from 'the outside' over a telephone. My wife rang to tell me she was pregnant - and after three minutes the prison telephone system automatically cut her off. But at least I had something upbeat to speak with my fellow prisoners about. There is warmth, solidarity and support between prisoners. Perhaps my convict heritage - my Australian 'criminal genes' - prepared me well for incarceration, but I survived. Most prisoners have a keen sense of humour. Hardly a day went by without a few brilliant swimming jokes at my expense.

As one con to another, I would advise Chris Huhne that he has made a profound mistake requesting to be isolated on a special wing in HMP Wandsworth and asking his fellow millionaire Nick Clegg to get him on agreeable gardening leave in HMP Leyhill, Gloucester. Most prisoners aren't even evaluated for which category prison they will be relocated to, let alone get moved within the same timeframe.

I've never met Chris Huhne but it seems to me that his lack of joie de vivre and sense of humour, while perfect for coalition government, will be a real handicap in prison. There, both are essential. I suspect Mr Huhne believes he isn't like the other prisoners. The law, at least, disagrees. And so would the other prisoners, who can smell elitism a mile away.

When I was arrested, Rod Liddle pointed his finger to the course I studied at the LSE - contemporary urbanism - and suggested that my fellow students ought to be arrested 'as a sensible preventative measure'. A little harsh, in my opinion, but he is right to criticise what I call the 'urban industry', including places like the LSE. …

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