Friday, June 4, 2010

Blowing a Raspberry

It was disappointing news to many, including myself, that the police decided to 'cancel' this weekend's planned Strawberry Fair. Yes, it isn't everyone's idea of fun, but for many people in Cambridge and elsewhere it is, and the police could (and should) have concentrated on those causing trouble, and leave the vast majority who like the festival and the music to enjoy their day in sun.

Instead, they decided to 'cancel' the event by withdrawing their support. The City Council didn't help either by changing the licensing arrangements this year. The outcome was that the strawberry fair organising committee concluded they couldn't continue with this year's event as planned.

Not surprisingly in today's world of social networking sites and the like, an alternative event is now planned for the common. The reaction of the authorities to this says a lot about how the police and government view their role at the moment. Their view seems to be that if a group of people want to do something, it is up to the authorities to graciously grant us their permission, and if people aren't prepared to concede to every bit of regulatory control on the grounds of health and safety or whatever else the government thinks is good for us - which in itself is a constantly moving target - the authorities will just say no and think that is reasonable. The City Council have been in emergency planning mode - I couldn't tell you much about what precautions they have taken (for some reason I wasn't invited to the Councillor's briefing - UPDATE - it appears I was invited but only using my Council email address, which it turns out randomly stopped forwarding emails to me, so I didn't know about the invitation - apologies to those concerned for suggesting this was intentional - I give up completely on the Council's email system - I am now telling everyone to only use my personal address!). The police on the other hand were reported in the CEN as saying: 'Riot police will be on standby at an illegal gathering to replace Strawberry Fair' (my emphasis).

A letter in today's Cambridge Evening News makes the point I was thinking reading the CEN report: 'Since when was picknicking on common land illegal? What precise law are we breaking?'

The authorities clearly have a duty to protect public safety, and plan ahead where there are potential threats, but this whole episode illustrates the extent to which the police mindset is still very much in authoritarian New Labour mode - we don't like something, we'll stop it no matter what. My personal view is that as long a people behave responsibly and in accordance with the law, the police and authorities should be there to actively support them and protect them from those who don't behave in accordance with the law or with due responsibility for those around them. They can't be bothered to enforce the law in really very simple situations like cyclists riding at night without lights, or cars parked in mandatory cycle lanes - you would at least thought that they could police events like Strawberry Fair by concentrating on the small minority of law-breakers, rather than stopping everyone's fun.

Personally I don't plan to enjoy the sunshine on Midsummer Common tomorrow with friends, but I hope if lots of people do make that choice, they have a good time, but also think about the neighbouring residents and be responsible. If people do cause trouble, the police should focus on the troublemakers, and remember that they are partly responsible for the situation by regulating out of existence the formal organisation for the Fair - leaving behind an event over which they have much less control.

1 comment:

Martin said...

Utterly brilliant article, Chris. I could not agree more.