In the summer of 1911 - almost a hundred years ago to the day - Britain was on the brink of civil unrest and a potential revolution. A dispute in the London docks had spread to the other major ports, railwaymen had gone on strike as well, and engineers had followed them. 20,000 troops from the Woolwich and Aldershot garrisons were put on standby to impose order in the capital when the Port of London Authority backed down and made concessions to the dockers' demands. Strikes continued in the other ports and in Liverpool two warships were ordered up the Mersey and troops deployed in the streets. Shots were even fired over the heads of protesters. It was not the finest hour for Winston Churchill the gung-ho Home Secretary who earlier in the same year had overseen the sending of troops into the Rhonda to impose order against striking miners.
Right now HMS Ocean is moored up near Tower Bridge, we have air to surface missile sites in the East End, and there are large numbers of troops in camo uniforms all over the place. It is probably the most visible military deployment in London since the Second World War. But interestingly the general public response has been sympathy for the squaddies who have been obliged to give up leave after returning from Afghanistan in order to pick up the pieces for the bungling of Olympic security by the ConDems and big-business private security contractor G4S. It speaks volumes though that I am far more troubled by the sight of squads of tooled-up wannabe robo-cops from the Metroplitan Police.
PC Simon Harwood, the un-convicted killer of Ian Tomlinson personifies the psychological type drawn to their ranks. An aspiring action man with a hair-trigger temper who hasn't got the bottle to join the real army and fight anyone who shoots back - so he opted for the safer option of combating unarmed civilians at home. If that seems like an exaggeration I challenge anyone (if they dare) to go and inspect any serial of TSG cops. The likes of PC Harwood or Sgt Delroy Smellie seem to fit a certain profile that is a prerequisite for the Met's goon squad.
Most ordinary people will treat the squaddies - disproportionately from the most economically shat-on parts of the UK - with good natured class solidarity, but they have every reason to be wary of the pit-bulls of the Met currently straining at the leash. I am certainly going to be careful about treading on the cracks of the pavement in the next few weeks ...