Wednesday, August 17, 2011

How I tried to incite a riot using the mainstream media, and got away with it, by Tom Freeman (aged 18¼)

What with the recent rioting and looting – and the four-year sentences given to two morons who tried (and failed) to whip up a bit more trouble by posting on Facebook – I was reminded of my own murky past.

In 1995, when I should have been revising for my A levels but found everything else somehow more interesting, I noticed a letter in the Guardian from a man complaining about how unaccountable our rulers were. I don’t remember whether the idea came to me immediately or crept up on me over a few hours, but my reply was published on May 31:

In answer to Joe Phillips (Letters, May 30), I’m afraid there are very few ways in which we can vent our dissatisfaction at the monarchy, or the House of Lords, or even the Government between elections. We have opinion polls, where we can say what we like but get dismissed as unrepresentative, and we can write letter to politicians and newspapers but get dismissed as cranks.
However, there is a third way. At 2.30 tomorrow afternoon I will be conducting a violent and bloody revolution at the Palace of Westminster. All welcome. Refreshments will be served and crèche facilities will be available. Weather permitting.
Tom Freeman

Nobody could possibly take that seriously, just as nobody could possibly take seriously a jokey tweet pretending to threaten Robin Hood Airport with destruction if it didn’t clear the snow and reopen quickly.

Later that day, I received a phone call from a man from Stoke. (Back then, the Guardian printed its correspondents’ full addresses, so he’d clearly rung directory enquiries.) This polite and, from the sound it, ageing class warrior wanted to know about travel arrangements.

I let him down gently, and he had the decency to chuckle. But I realised that further explanation was needed, and so on June 2 the Guardian was good enough to print this:

My fellow anarchists and I apologise to readers for the failure of the planned “violent and bloody revolution” (Letters, May 31). The oppressed masses we had hired for the event were held up by traffic cones on the M4, and so the uprising was inquorate. The regulator Offcoup has recently revoked our Chartermark: with the loss of such government approval, we were unable to recruit enough passers-by to smash the state.
Tom Freeman

The police have yet to come a-knocking.


Mil said...

That *would* be the long arm of the law, wouldn't it (not that I'm casting aspersions on your current youthful visage)? Now I wonder if the Guardian would be happy to print such letters in the current circumstances.

Anonymous said...

I didn't realise that you'd invented the third way ........

Tom Freeman said...

I doubt you could get away with letters like these nowadays - it was a more innocent era back then...

Notes for younger readers: a Chartermark was some sort of 'yeah, you're great' thing issued by the government as part of the Citizen's Charter, which after Railtrack was John Major's second greatest institutional legacy. The 'third way' had only recently been coined by not-yet-hated opposition leader Tony Blair.

As you can see, I was a smug, self-promoting twerp/keen political satirist (delete as applicable) even at an early age.

jams o donnell said...

Despite your subsequent retraction it is clear that you are totally responsible not just for the recent riots but for every single act of anti social behaviour since 1996.

Personally I hope they throw away the key!

Anonymous said...

And how could you forget John Major's greatest achievement - the cones hotline!

tim f said...

Why does it not surprise me you were one of those kids?