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Can the left even protest properly nowadays?

JRM with Chairman Benedict Smith

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg and Chairman Benedict Smith (Credit: Anna Gawedzka)

Now, don’t get me wrong: I am all in favour of the right to peaceful protest. There is a noble and glorious tradition in British history of subjects assembling amongst themselves, defying figures of authority, resisting the advances of the state and, in the process, often achieving very substantial results. From the Peasants’ Revolt to the Chartists, this country has a noted and laudable – if understated – revolutionary spirit which has facilitated the birth of some of the great protest movements of world history.

This noble idea is, however, a far cry from the pathetic attempt of the Cambridge left to protest the attendance of Jacob Rees-Mogg at CUCA last week. Or, in the words of our university’s finest pseudo-journalistic, eternally impartial, student rag The Tab, ‘literal homophobic, sexist trash’. Ignoring the blatantly slanderous premise on which the protest was founded – apparently religious freedom no longer exists in this country, and simply following the teachings of the Catholic Church is enough to have you dismissed as a ‘homophobic piece of s**t’ – it was all simply a bit of damp squib on their own terms. As I watched on from my vantage point of safety, up the top of the stairs outside the Cockcroft, my overriding emotion was that of bemusement.

There was first the sheer bizarreness and pointlessness of the actual protest, which consisted of a handful of the student left setting up shop with speakers (which soon ran out of power), playing a rather eclectic array of pop songs. Some of these involved ‘clever’ subliminal messages (‘gimme, gimme, gimme a man after midnight’ – how long did it take for them to think of that one?) but most somehow carried even less significance. To be fair, direct abuse to attendees was lacking, though happily I was spotted by our old friend Miss Swain – taking some time off protesting against Remembrance Day commemorations and banning military organisation from Freshers’ Fair to be there – who offered a friendly heckle as I entered the building. But what struck me more than anything else was the sheer pointlessness of what they were doing. Why did they think any of us – and least of all Mr Rees-Mogg – actually cared as they pranced about outside? What was the message of, and who was going to be persuaded by, this demonstration of weirdness? Were we supposed to be intimidated, enamoured, outraged, moved? It wasn’t at all clear. As I looked out over this panoply of blue hair and questionable vests, I must admit that I was none the wiser as to what they were actually trying to achieve – and I’m not sure they were, either.

Perusing the barely literate leaflet which the protestors had handed out (the leftovers were simply dumped on the floor to be picked up by some lesser being) only made me more confused still. Of the ten points on the leaflet, only two actually addressed Mr Rees-Mogg’s alleged homophobia directly. And the second was a redundancy of the first, repeating the fact that he voted against same-sex marriage. By the third point, they had moved on to comments made by the Prime Minister, before documenting a weird array of Rees-Mogg’s views on completely unrelated issues, from the Syrian Civil War to climate change. To top it off, there was a peculiar jibe at his investment management firm Somerset Capital – sadly, I didn’t get a chance to tell Miss Swain or the others about the wonderful week’s work experience I had there. The fact that they couldn’t even come up with more than one weak point to support their supposedly damning arguments against this apparent antichrist tells you all you need to know.

And perhaps deep down they, too, knew how weak their points were – because they left before he even arrived. Yes, such was the immensity of their anger and outrage that they couldn’t even be bothered to wait around until Mr Rees-Mogg actually got to the venue, opting instead to head to Spoons for what I’m sure was a delicious vegan supper and soft drink. Varsity ‘journalist’ Louis Mian actually conveniently ignored this fact when he selectively quoted our Chairman’s response to the protests, cutting him off mid-sentence at ‘I believe it is important that students are exposed to different views and offered the opportunity to challenge them should they disagree’, when in fact he went on to state ‘…which is why it was a particular shame that the protestors outside headed to the pub before Mr Rees-Mogg had even arrived’. One can always rely on Varsity to uphold proper journalistic standards! The Tab, too, so uninterested in actual facts as it is, wrongly stated that ‘JRM himself was nowhere to be seen and it is likely he came into the building through an alternative entrance’. This is not so: a rather bemused Mr Rees-Mogg, late to the event given the events of reshuffle day, was able to walk straight into the event via the main entrance completely uninhibited and unchallenged. Indeed, the only work the security guard who accompanied us felt the need to engage in was to take a photo alongside the great man. And so, after all that, this demonic figure was able to walk freely into Cambridge to spread his bile and hate – whilst those who would save us sat in the Spoons around the corner. These aren’t exactly the Tolpuddle Martyrs, folks.

The question we all must be wondering, then, is can the left even protest well anymore? When it has got to the stage that all the student left can muster is a few weirdos dancing to pop songs, without even sufficiently high energy levels to wait for their target to arrive, you really have to consider whether their movement has any viable future at all. Fantastic news for us, of course, but a sad reflection on how far the great tradition of British radicalism has fallen.

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