Saturday 4 December 2010

Where Wikileaks Meets Student Demos

In Europe and the US we’re constantly being reminded by our governments that we live in democratic societies where free speech is allowed. In the last few years, however, that seems to have become mere lip service, more honoured in the breach than the observance.

Take the perfectly legitimate student protests in Britain, for example. They can protest, but the police will kettle them and keep them in one place because they might cause trouble if allowed to move. I know the police have employed psychics before, but have they now found one who can accurately predict how an afternoon will turn out? And if so, why are they letting him/her work for the Met Office?

America, for all the hope that entered with Obama, is nothing more than business as usual. The Wikileaks revelations have brought real transparency to government and no one in power is pleased. Sarkozy has reportedly issued orders that the services can’t be hosted in France, the US has banned Federal employees from looking at Wikileaks as the papers are still classified (the words bolt, horse, and stable door spring to mind). The death knell was sounded when Bush announced that anyone who wasn’t for America was against it in this war on terror, even as his people were arresting people on no pretext.

Governments don’t want democracy or transparency. Osborne didn’t want the HMRC deal with Vodafone made public, for instance, in part because that £6 billion could have saved plenty of cuts. The police have had plain clothes people at demos in spite of saying they don’t. They leave a police van, an expensive piece of equipment, around students they’ve kettled as bait, then, when it’s damaged, it’s a crime scene so they can keep students there for hours. An interesting tactic.

Maybe, just maybe, governments are beginning to run a little bit scared. The student protests, along with the flash mobs closing down shops, are real democracy in action. It’s a groundswell with no obvious leaders, the power of the people. And the Americans can’t contain what’s out there on Wikileaks. Overall, maybe, the grasp on power is beginning to weaken a little. What that will bring in return, of course, remains to be seen…

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