Poynted remarks

IssueApril - May 2024
Comment by Claire Poyner

There are a few popular phrases which really set my teeth on edge. I covered ‘the nanny state’ last time. And ‘hard-working families’ results in my doing a Marge Simpson growl. 

Here’s another: ‘mob rule’. Ah yes, mob rule. Let’s unpack that a bit. Let’s start with ‘rule’. 

Who rules? The king? The prime minister? The government? A school headteacher or the boss? You could argue all of these rule to some extent in some circumstances. But they all have some authority, wouldn’t you say?

Mob. What exactly is a mob? To many of us, the word implies a somewhat lawless group of people with the potential for violence, but won’t any group of people have at least a smidgeon of that potential? 

In Australia, particularly amongst indigenous Australians, a mob is any group of people and there’s not necessarily any negative implication; ‘that mob next door’ or even ‘nah, mate, my mob are off to the church picnic on Sunday’.

You read of a film or pop star being ‘mobbed by fans’, which presumably doesn’t threaten much in the way of violence. 

To the police, it would appear any group of people could constitute a mob. To the government, a mob is a group of people disagreeing with the government on some (all?) issues and trying to exercise their right to protest. For as long as we still have that right. 

I read a recent ‘Long Read’ in the Guardian about policing at protests. In it, Kat Hobbs of Netpol said: ‘The police are not supposed to treat the crowd as one entity. But the police were responding to everyone as if they were violent and threatening’. Indeed. That’s what they do. More than that, it’s also what the media do. 

A few years back, I was in the vicinity of Euston, going to Friends House probably, crossing that grassy square in front of the station which is no longer there because of HS2. 

There’d been a demo and there were a group of probably five or six people crossing the square towards the station, banners tucked under their arms or in bags. Going home. Followed shortly by a group of police officers running after them. One police officer stopped me and asked ‘which way did they go?’ I ‘innocently’ answered ‘who?’ to which I got the response ‘the rioters’. I responded with: ‘I didn’t see any rioters’. They were not rioting. They were not even running. They were heading home, presumably. But no doubt that incident would be written up as ‘the rioters escaped via Euston station’. 

Then there were the ‘May Day riots’ which, according to some, happened every year. Even when they didn’t, and I was there, so was my young daughter who I would not have brought along if I thought there was likely to be a riot. 

Mob rule implies that everyone in a ‘mob’ (or crowd of protesters) is violent. Needs clamping down on, aggressively. Not a small minority (if that) but everyone

The rhetoric from the government implies (no, some have actually said this) that the country is descending into lawlessness. Because some people are ‘lawless’, it means the whole country is? Really? 

I suppose this is part of the plan, assuming this government is capable of anything resembling a plan, the jury’s out on that. Persuade the population, or at least those likely to vote Tory, that anyone, absolutely anyone, attending a protest or demo, is part of a mob (trying to rule?). Easier then to clamp down on any opposition. 

I suspect this might be popular amongst some voters. I have quite often heard complaints from passers-by while on demos: ‘get a job’, ‘go home’, and so on. One has to wonder if farmers on their tractors complaining en masse about badgers or something would get a similar response from onlookers. 

Hence the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act which, according to Netpol, ‘… introduced new powers for policing demonstrations, enabling police to clamp down even more on protests they deem “disruptive”.’

But, anyway, do mobs rule? Does anyone seriously suggest that any of these mobs have any potential to ‘rule’? If so, could they please rule that global heating stops, nuclear weapons are abandoned, the patriarchy is overthrown, and capitalism ends right now?

Unless I suppose, we call the government a ‘mob’. 

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