I was reminded of this yesterday as I wandered home after a morning on the picket line. We did quite well, I think, persuading some people not to go in, talking to students and strikebreaking staff politely and calmly (one woman explained that she wasn't striking because 'my salary's excellent': solidarity, baby!). After we finished, we heard that the Prime Minister was visiting the city, and would be arriving at the railway station, so we headed up there, pleased that we'd have a chance to put our case about the country's educational degradation to the most important person we'd ever meet.
When we got there, a lot of shifty looking trained killers were wandering around, moving powerful cars and generally being important.
|Is that a gun in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see me?|
|Police officers and Tories are apparently exempt from seatbelt and mobile phone laws|
We chatted to the uniformed police - who were pretty relaxed and friendly – and to the special branch cops, who weren't: when a colleague asked when Cameron was arriving, he was threatened with arrest for trespass!
There were about fifteen of us, neatly dressed academics looking forward to an exchange with the PM. Sadly, it wasn't to be. Rather than walking through the main entrance to the car, he sneaked out through the café's kitchen, spending less than 3 seconds in the open air. I didn't even see him: the cars then roared away, running over my foot in the process.
It felt like a Ceacescu moment. Here he was, not really visiting the city and its people at all. Instead, he moves from staged event to staged event, reminiscent of the Potemkin villages built for Catherine the Great to hide the Russian famine. In this case, he was visiting construction firm, Tory donors and notorious tax-avoiders Carillion to praise their apprenticeship scheme: I'd rather they just paid their taxes personally. But Cameron's agenda is clear: avoid the actual condition of this city (mass youth unemployment, one-third of the shops empty) in favour of a shiny happy event, just like Ceacescu and his solar collectors.
The gracelessness with which Cameron avoided the electorate in favour of publicity stunts with his mates is I suppose normal politics, but it was thought-provoking. Is he scared of us? Or is it a modern version of Queen Victoria, who pulled down the blinds of her railway carriage when travelling through the Black Country? Cameron's got blacked out windows and a Range Rover, but the contempt feels rather similar.
|Off he goes, at high speed|
|This is the closest we got to a conversation with the prime minister|