The University Of East London is not seen by most in the know as exactly a haven of democracy or free-thinking.  Recent years have seen much the same corporatisation of the institution that is mirrored across academic campuses all over the country but UEL has been at the forefront of bringing this to the boardroom in a recent coup to oust the Vice-Chancellor by the board without any following of due process and in a manner that would not have been out of keeping with the banking sector.

It was therefore a pleasant surprise that the University management agreed to host the Alternative G20 Summit, which, were this one not to take place would leave that at the ExCel centre in London very much the only show in town.  Professor Chris Knight, an academic at the institution, was very much instrumental in the bringing together the event and co-ordinating a rich plan of events and speakers that was to take place on Wednesday 1st April.  The event was seen as something of a showcase of alternative thinking to the laissez-faire capitalism that was to be taking place literally down the road and a real chance for the university to put itself on the national and international map, the profile of the speakers very much represented this with figures from across the social and political spectrum due to speak on economic, political and environmental matters.

Shortly before the event the University had a change of heart and decided that far from allowing the event to take place on campus they were going to be shutting down the entire Docklands campus for the two days surrounding the ExCel event.  As usual the “security” gambit, and “on advice from police” was used to justify the actions.  It was decided that the alternative summit would go ahead anyway.

Hence Tony Benn, Mark Thomas, Lindsay Germain, Oliver Tickall and many others were to be seen on the lawn in between the two campus buildings from 5pm until 9pm holding forth with a megaphone that was rushed in from some SWP activists who had been demonstrating elsewhere, and speakers were forced to try to hold their own against a steady procession of flights taking off from city airport some 500 or so yards away across the water.  The reputation of UEL as a repressive corporate-minded institution caring more about revenue and image than it did about education and debate was preserved.

What was a step into greater unknown territory, as if denying eminent visitors from across the country the right to speak were not enough was the treatment of one of its own.  Professor Knight was suspended from duties whilst the university “conducted an investigation into his comments.”  Professor Knight had been interviewed in the Sunday Times and his story has since been picked up by a number of sources including the BBC.

Professor Knight is quoted as saying “We are going to be hanging a lot of people like Fred the Shred from lampposts on April Fool’s Day and I can only say let’s hope they are just effigies.  To be honest, if he winds us up any more I’m afraid there will be real bankers hanging from lampposts and let’s hope that that doesn’t actually have to happen.”  He goes on to say that the protests might “get nasty.”  This has prompted the university to suspend Professor Knight under the pretext that his comments were inciting violence.  This is a ridiculous claim, I was present at the summit when an occupation of the UEL library was discussed, there were plenty there who would have been prepared to take matters into their own hands, Knight was the voice of calm, the library had one more chance to respond to the Earth hour calls to switch the lights off and Knight was prepared to give them that chance in the hope that no further action would be necessary.  His “I hope it does not come to that” stance seemed pretty endemic of most of the crowd, but determination remained that something had to be done and it was more a question of the crowd having differences in their tipping point as to when things could no longer be done by rational law-abiding means.  Professor Knight was nowhere near the radical end of that spectrum but was certainly committed to demands being met having himself been suspended from his job and seen a great conference that he had worked hard for almost derailed at the eleventh hour.  Frankly under those circumstances I found his restraint somewhat admirable.

When describing the mood of the nation with regard to bankers, who are still claiming profane salaries, pensions and bonuses that were bad enough when paid for by customers but utterly sickening when paid for by the taxpayer, as people being angry enough to take it out on the bankers by perhaps hanging the real ones from lampposts within the context of a planned protest by hanging effigies from lampposts is something spontaneous and is called wit, there was an attempt to shame the bankers many of whom are totally unabashed at their actions, as anyone watching those bankers waving £10 notes at the protesters in London can testify to.  Without any sense of remorse for what they have done how could anyone expect them to behave any differently with our money than they did with the company’s money beforehand.  Amusingly some sharp commentator in the crowd ridiculed the bankers by saying it was clear what a mess they had made of things as three years ago they would have been waving £50 notes at the crowd.

Anyone who has ever been on a political march knows that there are risks of things “getting nasty” this generally occurs when the police either pre-emptively strike and pen large numbers of people into a confined space for a long period of time, or a couple of idiots either over-exuberant, a bit pissed up, or extremely naive decide to take things into their own hands.  The police retaliation for this is usually swift and generally brutal and this can be clearly seen with their actions during this week, at no point did I see demonstrators charging police with weapons however I did see police charging the crowds swinging their truncheons around indiscriminately and kicking protesters who had already been dropped to the floor.  I fail to see any reason why someone who has already been dropped to the ground can represent any sort of a threat that may validate these actions

Is Chris Knight a 66 year old professor of anthropology therefore really as dangerous as the actions against him would appear to suggest?  Those who think are dangerous enough in the modern world, the status quo relies on apathy, ignorance and fear in order to survive, anyone who questions what is supposed to be a consensus by default is therefore opening up the system to scrutiny that it cannot withstand, anyone who teaches others to question it is perhaps the most dangerous sort of dissident for therein lies perhaps the true seeds of a revolution.  The question should not be whether Chris Knight is dangerous but bearing in mind the establishment is now clearly scared for whom they are going to come next?

Song Of The Day ~ The The – Angels Of Deception