Magazine article The Spectator

Anarchy Ruined the Riot

Magazine article The Spectator

Anarchy Ruined the Riot

Article excerpt

I AM writing this under a table, trembling with fear. Outside, hordes of armed revolutionaries are running amok, smashing windows, wrecking cars, beating up policemen, lynching journalists and slaughtering tourists with sharpened machetes. The skies are dark with hurled paving stones. West End theatres are on fire. The National Gallery is being looted. Anarchist commandos have ransacked St James's Palace and declared it an independent state. And now, from the ground floor, I can hear the doors of this club being breached. The untamed mob is loose in the lobby. They are out of control. They are baying for blood. There is nothing to stop them. They are coming for me.

Well, that's what I was hoping to write, anyway. The anarchists - damn them failed to deliver. In fact, at 2 p.m. on May Day, I was lounging in the RAC Club restaurant enjoying a traditional fat-cat's feast of champagne and roast baby while, a few yards up the road, the World Bank was being picketed by a ragbag of anoraked malcontents armed with a megaphone and a couple of banners. `You make misery,' they chanted at the plate-glass windows, `we make history!' The rhyme summed up the day. Nearly there but not quite.

It had started so well. At noon I arrived in Trafalgar Square looking forward to a splendid afternoon of riot and mayhem. The annual day of chaos is now so firmly embedded in the spring calendar that the Daily Telegraph even prints a timetable of likely hotspots so that curious observers can take it in at their leisure. Beneath Nelson's column the protesters mustered, waving placards, blowing whistles and lolling about on the lions' bottoms drinking lager and smoking maggots of rolled hash. Everyone was glancing anxiously at the heavy clouds, and a chill wind rustled the costumes of those in fancy dress.

Women in Mary Poppins outfits scattered organic birdseed among the pigeons and posed helpfully for the photographers. Two teenage girls were handing out printed flyers: `No Nukes' and `Feed the Weed'. I asked one of them, Sarah, what she stood for exactly and she said, `Equalism. Free will. And opportunities around the globe.' It was the most coherent manifesto I would hear all day.

Hundreds of cyclists reached the square in carnival mood. Some wore death masks and biological warfare suits. Others came as clowns or fairies. One wore a natty black cape with plastic horns glued to his forehead. `I'm the Pope of Discord,' he told me. I asked him what he was demonstrating against. `I'm just a drop in the ocean of resistance.' When I asked him to be specific, he embarked on a checklist of grievances: famine, pollution, bus lanes, global warming, BSE, Kyoto, police brutality, child slavery, the Tube strike ... and so on. It felt to me like that dreaded moment in a restaurant when the waitress says, `Would you like to hear today's specials?' I tried to listen but I was already half-asleep.

In the spirit of protest, I was dishing out pro-capitalist leaflets: `Low tax! Big Macs!'; `Take pity on the City'; `Three cheers for de Beers'. I offered them round politely and the sworn enemies of profit smiled and said, `Thank you.' They even accepted my leaflet purporting to be from the Anti-- Leaflet Alliance. `Leaflets waste wood. DON'T TAKE THIS LEAFLET,' it urged. And underneath, `To find out more about the Anti-Leaflet and Notepaper Alliance, please write, enclosing a large SAE, to the War on Wastepaper, 4 Horstkje Ave. …

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