Oh Charlie, you silly arse. What did you go and do that for?
How interesting the story of last Thursday could have been, eh? But with grim predictability, a story which could have focused on a movement intriguing in its complex, leaderless and hydraheaded nature was swiftly simplified into a tale of two Charlies. The first, your Royal namesake, had his little local difficulty on Regent Street quickly depicted as a drive into the heart of Dickensian darkness, the heir to the throne haplessly thrown into a perfect storm of grimy underclass anarchy. And then you, Charlie, when you swung from the Centotaph by a union flag, and then giggled and gurned your way through an apology, were equally if not more unhelpful.
Any number of erudite, articulate young people were out there on Thursday, many protesting not fees but their loss of the EMA, which is arguably a greater blow to working class educational prospects. They could have expressed themselves clearly and coherently. But the spotlight swung relentlessly towards you, and I wish you’d had something more useful to say.
Since non-traditional demographics have clawed our way into higher education, often working to pay our way through degrees, it vexes me to see the Idle Oxbridge Loafer straw-man raised above the parapet yet again. It’s strange, and good, that we’re on the same side at all. There’s an awful lot to play for here, and you don’t at first glance appear to have much at risk. You don’t seem to be unduly troubled by finding £30 a week to get to college, or spending decades paying back student debt. You don’t appear to have your future at stake. I’ll be charitable, then, and assume that your turning out on Thursday was based on a wish to express solidarity. In which case, fantastic. I’d like to think that this isn’t a quick dilettante’s dip into direct action before investment banking beckons, but I won’t be getting my hopes up.
We’ve all done stupid things, and said stupider. It’s not your fault that it’s becoming increasingly hard to do or say stupid things without there being a recording device somewhere in the vicinity. It’s not your fault that a partial and sensationalist media will seize upon any scrap of circumstantial evidence to discredit a whole swathe of the dissatisfied. Mainstream media and politics don’t want subtlety or nuance to their stories, they want scandal, shock, and stereotypes, and that’s what you gave them.
I’m sorry, Charlie, that you were in the wrong place at the wrong time. I guess you were just doing what comes naturally. I certainly don’t want every future protest to be head-bowed and solemn, with all the raucous and vital spontaneity of Leonard Cohen taking school assembly. But it’s depressingly inevitable that, instead of pictorial evidence of peaceful protest and police brutality, instead of the hospitalisation of Alfie Meadows, it’s your image that will endure.
If anti-Coalition protests are to gain momentum, those involved need to watch our backs, cover our arses, and other feats of unfeasible gymnastic synchronicity. We need to not give politicians or the media an excuse to make us look thuggish or thick. Responsibility is stereotypically not an attribute of youth, but we shouldn’t be dealing in stereotypes. Being angry, or edgy, or radical does not mean and need not involve behaving like an utter tool. When I look at that photo of you, Charlie, I don’t even see anger. I see the entitlement, arrogance, and exuberant recklessness of the young and moneyed. And we’ve got more than enough of that to contend with in those actually running the country.
Ah well. Let’s put on our classics and we’ll ‘ave a little dance, shall we?