London’s Protest Stickers: Anti-Police 2

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The Metropolitan Police have an uneasy relationship with Londoners, going right back to its foundation in 1829 (Photo: Hannah Awcock, South Bank, 09/10/16).

The relationship between a city and its police force is not often an easy one. London’s Metropolitan Police is the oldest civilian force in the world, and people have been opposed to it since before its foundation in 1829. The Metropolitan Police has been involved in a number of controversies in recent decades, particularly in relation to their treatment of ethnic minorities. In 1999, the Macpherson Report found that the Met was institutionally racist following incidents such as the poor handling of the murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993. More recently, they have been under scrutiny for the manipulative and unethical behaviour of undercover officers investigating protest movements, some of whom started relationships and even had children with the women they were investigating.

I have written about anti-police protest stickers before, but London’s landscape of protest stickers continues to evolve, and new stickers continue to appear.

As ever, you can see where I found all these stickers on the Turbulent London Map.

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ACAB is a anti-police acronym that is used all over the world. It stands for All Cops Are Bastards. It is possible that this is just an innocent sticker with a picture of a taxi, but I highly doubt it (Photo: Hannah Awcock, King’s Cross Station, 27/02/16).

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This sticker also uses the ACAB acronym. The #CopsoffCampus hashtag refers to the tendency of universities to call in the police to deal with student protests on campus and in university buildings. Some student activists argue that universities should be police-free spaces. I found this sticker on Malet street, which is lined with buildings belonging to the University of London. There is a high concentration of students in the area, so this reference to student politics here is unsurprising (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Malet Street, 11/12/18).

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I took this photo outside Southwark Police Station on Borough High Street. Spaces of authority such as police stations often become spaces of resistance because of their association with power. These protest stickers are a small example of that process (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Borough High Street, 15/07/16).

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This sticker has faded, but most of the text is still visible. The faint image in the bottom right corner is a stereotypical police helmet in a red circle with a diagonal line through it (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Malet Street, 03/05/16).

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This sticker, and the one below, was produced by Netpol, the Network for Police Monitoring. Netpol monitors public order, protest, and street policing and challenges policing that is excessive of discriminatory. Police Liason Officers (PLOs) have become a common sight at protests over the last 5-10 years. They are approachable and chatty, and ostensibly concerned with the welfare of protesters. Another goal of theirs is intelligence gathering, and their friendly manner is meant to encourage protesters to tell them things that they wouldn’t tell ordinary police officers. This sticker is informing people about this covert goal, and encouraging them not to engage with PLOs (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Tottenham Court Road, 10/01/17).

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This sticker is also designed to inform people, this time about their rights when stopped and searched or kettled in a protest. You do not have to give any personal information in these circumstances, but most people don’t know this (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Malet Street, 24/01/17).

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Netpol is also involved in the Together Against Prevent campaign, which calls for the end of the Prevent programme. Launched in 2006, Prevent is designed to stop people becoming terrorists, but its critics have accused it of being ineffective at best, and stigmatising and divisive at worst (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Guildford Street, 10/01/17).

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A few years ago, a series of protest stickers and advertising posters for bus stops were produced that mimicked the Metropolitan Police’s own style of publicity materials. At first glace, they looked like adverts for the Met, but if you take a second look, their critical stance becomes clear. This sticker is criticising the amount of money spent by the Metropolitan Police on advertising in 2013. Not only that, but it is arguing that the police force is spending that money covering up some of its most systematic problems (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Elephant and Castle, 13/04/15).

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Operation Tiberius was an internal investigation into police corruption commissioned by the Metropolitan Police in 2001. Its results were leaked to The Independent in 2014. 42 then serving officers and 19 former officers were investigated for alleged corruption, but the small number of convictions has led some to say that the issue has not been properly dealt with (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Euston Road, 09/02/15).

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I didn’t manage to find a complete version of this sticker, but it is referring to the fact that black people are much more likely to be stopped and searched by the police. In 2017/8, black people were 9.5 times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people, an increase from 4 times more likely in 2014/15 (Photos: Hannah Awcock, Elephant and Castle, 15/07/16).

Book Review: Radical London in the 1950s

Radical London in the 1950s

Radical London in the 1950s by David Mathieson.

David Mathieson. Radical London in the 1950s. The Stroud, Gloucestershire: Amberley, 2016. RRP £14.99 paperback.

I have been studying the history of protest in London for more than five years now, so it’s relatively unusual for me to come across a book on this subject that I haven’t seen before. So when I found Radical London in the 1950s, I was pretty excited. The book tells the story of a decade of radicalism in St. Pancras and Holborn, now within the London borough of Camden.

The subject of Radical London in the 1950s is a little more specific than the title lets on. It actually deals with a decade of radicalism in Holborn and St. Pancras to the north-west of central London that culminated with the St. Pancras rent strikes and riots in 1960. In 1956 the St. Pancras Council swung dramatically to the left when John Lawrence, socialist and former member of the Communist Party, was elected as council leader. He ushered in an era of radicalism which saw the launch of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) in February 1958, the red flag flying over St. Pancras Town Hall to celebrate May Day in 1958, and civil defence and social housing policies that defied the Conservative national government.

The key issue addressed in the book is housing. After World War Two, there was a desperate shortage of affordable, decent housing in London. For a time, the post-war Labour government invested heavily in building affordable homes. However, in 1951 the Conservatives took power and house-building was left to the market. As the value of land in London rose, many developers chose to build office blocks rather than the homes Londoners so desperately needed. Rents for those who had homes also increased. St. Pancras council resisted these trends for several years, attempting both to build affordable housing and keep the rents of council tenants low. This was an unsustainable position without the support of national government, however, and the council was eventually forced to back down. This led to a rent strike that lasted almost a year, and two days of rioting when two striking tenants were evicted from their council homes in September 1960.

The most striking thing about Radical London in the 1950s is the obvious similarities that can be drawn with modern London, and the current state of the Labour Party. The housing crisis that is ongoing across the UK is felt most acutely in London, where rents are astronomical, and luxury housing is being as an investment rather than to provide much-needed homes. The other issue which Mathieson discusses that feels remarkably familiar is divisions and conflicts within the Labour Party. The St. Pancras Labour council was rebellious, and often diverged from the policies of the main party. There were also divisions within the local Labour Party, leading to further conflict. It is hard not to be reminded of the current divisions between pro- and anti-Corbyn factions. In both cases, significant energy has been wasted fighting each other, when it would have been better spent fighting the opposition. I find it incredibly frustrating that obvious lessons from this episode were not learnt, or were quickly forgotten.

Radical London in the 1950s is easy to read, and well-paced. It includes a timeline of key events, and a list of the key individuals with brief biographies, which is very helpful. It also sheds light on the interaction between local and national government, which is an interesting topic that I haven’t read much about before. I do have some criticisms however, although they are quite minor. I would have appreciated a map of the area in question. St. Pancras and Holborn are now within the modern-day London Borough of Camden, so I would have appreciated some help identifying the precise area that the book relates too. Also, there are multiple typos, much more than you would normally expect to find in a published book. If David Mathieson were a student, I would advise him to proofread his work out loud, as this is a helpful way of identifying typos that have previously been overlooked.

I always welcome a book about protest history in London that I haven’t read before, and Radical London in the 1950s is an interesting read. I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in London, politics, or housing.