Paulsgrove Protests

The beginning of August witnessed an upsurge in working class activity that sent ripples, if not waves, throughout Britain. However, unlike distant Seattle and the excited anticipation of the Prague G8 summit, this particular combination of class-consciousness, and direct action, failed to spark the type of opportunism normally associated with the British left. No demands of support, banners or paper sellers. At best the response was one of mute disapproval, tinged with the type of throwaway remark, more at home in right wing broadsheets. The Left as a whole were ‘agin it’.

Though it was hard to find out what they were ‘for’. Typical was Socialist Worker, who advertised the “Answers to Paulsgrove on pages 3, 4, 5, 9”, yet never advanced any alternative - apart from quiescence. ‘Let the police and professionals deal with it’ was the uniform message. “Is this” as one sceptical pundit put it “the inherently racist police force that ‘bungled’ the Stephen Lawrence case or is it another lot?”

In many ways the confusion that besets the liberal left, when the ‘delicate’ issues pertaining to reality in working communities ever arises is almost comical. There is the, ‘oh what now?’, sense of irritation. But overriding all liberal ‘instincts’ is the undeniable fear and sometimes loathing that instantly manifests itself on such occasions against what are perceived as entirely ‘lumpen’ elements. A sense of outrage at the insolence of these people, who repeatedly mess up the liberal lefts’ wholly misconceived ideas of how the working class ought to behave. what issues truly affect them, who their enemies really are, and what are considered harmonious solutions. Furthermore, as events like Paulsgrove make clear, the distinction between the stance of the liberal elite and the revolutionary vanguards - if it exists at all - is marginal.

So if the working class aren’t ragged trousered philanthropists standing around picket line braziers, or the unsullied and plucky working class folk that spontaneously attend every SWP demonstration, then what are they? Well, according to ex-communist David Aaronovitch, writing disdainfully in The Independent, the Portsmouth protesters were contemptible if only for their “peroxided hair” and “pale faces... brought on by a diet of hamburgers. cigarettes and pesticides’

Adrian Chiles, on Radio Five Live, felt that the community reaction to the campaign to oust paedophiles was tantamount to a ‘feelgood factor’ -where burglars, muggers and assorted ‘scum’ (read working class opponents’) could vent themselves against a lower social denomination, i.e. paedophiles.

Other observers from further left harboured a similarly malevolent tone. The SWP’s Socialist Worker talked of ‘lynch mobs’ and ‘murderous vigilante attacks’ and on August 1 2, desperately struggling to maintain its distance from the real issue, cited a Daily Express allegation that News Of The World editor Rebekah Wade had even “approached the nazi National Democrats group” in order to collate further information on child sex offenders

Mary Godwin, writing in the Weekly Worker (27.7.00) went even further, cursing about “scapegoating”, “hysteria” and “an orgy of vilification” against paedophiles. She aloofly questioned the nature of the prison hierarchy, whereby prisoners “feel it is their duty” to attack sex offenders, especially child sex offenders. Communists “are not in favour of scapegoating anyone, including paedophiles (if that is what is meant by those who abuse rather than love children)”. “Our goal” she went on “is a just, and truly humane society, in which people have the best chance to develop fully as human beings, liberated from the distorting influences of capitalism and the commodification of everything, including social relations”. Are we to assume then, that we can comfortably avoid contending with all social and political wrongs on the grounds they are merely a product of  “capitalism and commodification”? Trade unionism, anti-fascism, national liberation, can all be accurately so labelled.

Typically, rather than address itself to the real issue of working class communities being used as a dumping ground for sexual predators, Socialist Worker as apologist-par-excellence grubs around to provide its readers with the ‘facts’ that accord with it’s own instincts: “93% of paedophiles don’t reoffend whilst being supervised by probation... In Britain 97% of child sex offenders comply with the sex offenders register, this means the police know where they are... More children are killed in car accidents... 90% of child sex abuse takes place in the home... etc”. Apparently unaware she was proving the case for the opposi­tion, JulieWaterston took up the cause of the innocent victims of mob terror”

Of the 20 names on the Paulsgrove hitlist, “three” she announced triumphantly “were people who never committed any crime”. And the rest? Paul Barker, senior research fellow at the Institute of Community Studies, summed up the hypocrisies succinctly. Writing in the Evening Standard “In defence of the women of Paulsgrove” (14.8.00), he described the actions as an “outcry by the power­less”, whilst adroitly acknowledging that “the marchers were, mostly, from the rougher end of the working class, not the respectable end”. A fact that he seems comfortable with, unlike our predictably extenuating left counterparts. “If” he went on “the protesters had been black or brown, we would have been told by all the usual public mouths that - first and foremost - we must listen to their concerns. And rightly so. I sometimes think that no-one terrifies the chattering classes so much as the white working class. But they too have a right to their say”.

Though coming from an unusual quarter that of course is entirely the point. The working class, even when white and from the rougher end of the market - ought to have rights. Though bizarrely you’d be hard pressed to find a ‘revolutionary’ to agree with you. For them victimhood has become inverted. For many of them too, paedophiles are possibly the last ‘sexual outlaws’ and therefore almost romantic figures. This intellectual belief in ‘inter-generational sex’ does not however extend to their own off-spring. These social experiments are, it is presumed, to be conducted with other peoples kids. Working class ones. And though not mentioned by anyone it is ‘self-respect’ rather than ‘scapegoating’ that motivated the women of Paulsgrove. Class in other words permeates the whole affair.As The Guardian’s Julie Burchill put it: “The fact is that the contempt shown to anxious parents is part and parcel of the contempt shown to the working class of this country over the past twenty years. For make no mistake it is working class children who are the victims of abduction, assault by strangers and murder; the rest of them live their lives in a cradle to rave bubble of of play-dates and people movers.”

Paul Barker concurs: “When the letter-writing classes say that for example paedophiles should” he observes “be reintegrated into ‘the community’ these are the communities they mean. Not on our own doorstep, thank you; and excuse me now while I load my daughter and her friend into the four-by-four to take them off to their fee-paying nursery school:’

Oddly enough, though approaching the problem from precisely this perspec­tive, it is The Guardian which stumbles on the solution. According to it’s edito­rial, the “standoff” has “exposed the chasm which divides the 3,000 or so estates like Paulsgrove from the more affluent sheltered parts of Britain:’ Here it claims “calmer discussion prevails”, based on “the liberal arguments familiar in the newspapers, TV studios, parliamentary tea-rooms and bishops studies:’ Well, if true, the solution is surely obvious. If as Socialist Worker says “press witch-hunts or repressive sentencing is not the answer:’ if the long-term solution is to be reintegration, then it is within the ‘affluent, sheltered, liberal, communities’ sex offenders should be re-housed. There, at least they could be ‘outed’ without having a brick (or worse) thrown through the window. At the same time the temptation to abuse their trust, would due to the ‘cradle to rave’ culture be limited to the point of non-existence. Wonder why no one has thought of it before?

Bob Martin

Reproduced from RA Bulletin Volume 4, Issue 8, September/October '00