Water Cannons

By Some Words on a Screen Blog

This man suffered severe eye injuries from a water cannon in the protests in Stuttgart against the construction of the Stuttgart 21 train station.
This man suffered severe eye injuries from a water cannon in the protests in Stuttgart against the construction of the Stuttgart 21 train station.

The Metropolitan Police Service want their water cannon; they want it by this summer (1).  Previously only employed on the streets of Northern Ireland, the introduction of water cannons is keenly supported by London Mayor, Boris Johnson, to apparently combat a repeat of the 2011 riots (2).  So far, the request for funding this request has been turned down by the Home Office, but a final decision on the deployment of this weapon is expected in February.

The request for water cannons to be used in the capital has led to further concerns that the British State is further seeking to limit the right to peaceful protest.  Green Party London Assembly member, Jenny Jones articulated these concerns:

 “Allowing water cannon [sic] on the streets of London is a step in the wrong direction towards arming our police like a military force, and it goes against our great tradition of an unarmed police service. People have a democratic right to protest and my fear is that once the Mayor allows these weapons onto our streets we will see them being used against people exercising their legal right to protest.”

Jenny Jones, London Assembly Member (3)

It is hardly surprising that the Met and the Mayor feel comfortable now pushing for a weapon that has only previously been used in Northern Ireland.  The austerity years have seen a wide range of attempts to crack down on legitimate protest as the government forces through its programme of cuts and attacks on working people.

The past few months have witnessed a particularly harsh crackdown on legitimate and peaceful protests on university campuses, among them a court order obtained by the University of London to ban “occupational protests” (4).  This follows the arrest of Michael Chessum, President of the University of London Union, under Section 11 of the Public Order Act for his part in organising a legitimate protest on the campus (5).  Subsequent protests over police presence on the campus led to the arrests of thirty-six, including two journalists, and allegations of heavy-handed violence on the part of the Met (6).

It is not with force alone that the state is trying to supress dissent.  Perhaps one of the most sinister attempts to subdue public protest has come in the form of Antisocial Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, which was defeated by the unelected House of Lords on 8 January (7).  At the core of this nasty piece of legislation is the incredible vague reference to ‘annoying’ or ‘nuisance’ behaviour:

 “(2) The first condition is that the court is satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, that the respondent has engaged or threatens to engage in conduct capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person (“anti-social behaviour”).”

Antisocial Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, Part 1, Section 1: Power to grant injunctions (8)

If passed, this law would have effectively outlawed being ‘annoying’.  There would have been new sweeping powers to curb public protest:

 “It is easily foreseeable that these powers may be invoked by the police in situations where their use impacts bluntly upon the exercise of rights to free expression and free assembly, as well as other core rights. In these circumstances, it is a matter of great concern that the Bill is drafted in such broad terms and includes so few safeguards to limit the potential effect of its provisions upon those rights.”

Lord MacDonald, (9)

George Monbiot’s blog includes an interesting analysis of the implications of this failed bill (10).

With the government forcing through its austerity project despite of growing public opposition, it is clear why Britain, like many other European nations, is set to become more of a police state.  More and more people are realising that while it is austerity for us, for the super-rich and their friends it is still boom time.  The idea of the ninety-nine per cent has become a common part of public discourse, and, as more of us have nothing to lose, public anger will continue to spill out onto the streets.  When it does, we will be met by the water cannons and draconian legal instruments of the British State.


(1)    Guardian (2014), Met police want water cannon ready to use in Britain by summer, 8 January 2014

(2)    Sky News (2014), Boris wants water cannons for London’s streets, 8 January 2014, available from http://news.sky.com/story/1192141/boris-wants-water-cannon-for-londons-streets [accessed 9 January 2014]

(3)    Independent (2014), Met police will have water cannons by this summer is Boris has his way, 8 January 2014

(4)    Channel Four News (2013), London’s biggest university bans student protests, 8 December 2013, available from http://www.channel4.com/news/university-of-london-student-protest-ban-senate-house-occupy [accessed 9 January 2014]

(5)    Independent (2013), Students outrage as ULU president Michael Chessum arrested in ‘attack on the right to protest’, 14 November 2013

(6)    London Student (2013), 36 arrested at ‘Cops of Campus’ protest, 5 December 2013, available from http://london-student.net/news/12/05/36-arrests-cops-campus-protest/ [accessed 9 January 2014]

(7)    Politics.co.uk (2014), Coalition defeated over ‘annoyance’ clamp down, 8 January 2014, available from http://www.politics.co.uk/news/2014/01/08/you-re-annoying-so-go-away-political-protests-under-threat-f [accessed 9 January 2014]

(8)    United Kingdom Parliament (2013), Antisocial Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill [as amended in committee], December 2013, HL Bill 66, The Stationary Office Ltd

(9)    Tatchell, P., (2014), New asbo-style Bill Menaces Free Expression, in Huffington Post, 8 January 2014, available from http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/peter-g-tatchell/anti-social-behaviour-bill_b_4559328.html?utm_hp_ref=uk [accessed 9 January 2014]

(10) Monbiot, G., (2014), Dead Zone, 6 January 2014, available from http://www.monbiot.com/2014/01/06/dead-zone/ [accessed 9 January 2014]

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.