Onanism and the National Security State

One of the reasons I was pleased (and not surprised) by Labour’s defeat in the general election is that I hold Blair, Brown, the infant Milibands and their mates responsible for a frightening growth in the authoritarian intrusiveness of the state over which they exercised such untramelled control. Even so, this piece by Paul Lewis shocked me.

A story lost amid the election coverage was that of David Hoffman, a photographer who had placed a poster of David Cameron containing the word "wanker" in his window on polling day. Hoffman, 63, was visited by police, who handcuffed him in his living room, threatened him with arrest and forcibly removed the poster, which they had deemed offensive.

The poster, which Hoffman considers an act of legitimate protest, has since returned to the window in Bow, east London. But the offending word has been replaced with “onanist”, derived from a biblical character in Genesis 38:9 whose seed was "spilled on the ground”.

As it turns out, Hoffman is no stranger to the policing of dissent, having spent the last three decades chronicling it. He photographed the miners’ strikes, the Wapping disturbances and the poll tax riots, but believes the policing of protest is today at its most repressive. (At last year’s G20 protest, he lost three teeth.)

The Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition has promised to change all that, and made “restoration of rights to non-violent protest” a central plank of its drive to reinstate civil liberties. That ambition was repeated this week by deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, who will oversee the reforms.

I will start to take this coalition seriously if Clegg & Co deliver on the rolling back of the national security state. But I’m not holding my breath.