With English rain falling, it must be the season for Glastonbury. Perhaps a few of the multitude going down to Worthy Farm to set their souls free remember the first festival 41 years ago when the entrance fee was £1 including milk from the farm. Things have certainly changed.
Back in 1970, Edward Heath had just come to power and the festival opened the day after the death of Jimi Hendrix. In those far off, heady days, going to Reading, the Isle of Wight or Glasto was regarded as an act of defiance and open rebellion. The establishment were horrified by lurid tales of promiscuity, anarchy, drug-taking and even gratuitous nudity. Police were used as a rather blunt instrument to suppress this dangerous free expression but to no avail. Festivals got bigger.
Now, Glastonbury is an established date on the social calender along with Glyndebourne, Henley, Royal Ascot and that other rain fest in SW19. The elite arrive by helicopter and enjoy corporate hospitality in designer wellies whilst getting down to some cool grooves in the acid house tent. The off duty police officers joining the mud slides and tweeting that they will protest at Bono`s tax avoidance now probably outnumber their uniformed colleagues charged with keeping order. It is a sure sign of Glastonbury’s age that the police seem to be getting younger and younger.
In the wake of Kent State, Grosvenor Square and the Paris riots, police forces across the globe were seen as the natural enemy of emerging baby-boom “youth” culture. As an implacable instrument of the state, actual officers were always denied an individual opinion as the uniform represented the state. Things have certainly changed.
If a bunch of hippies sitting in a muddy field smoking dope was considered a credible threat to the very fabric of society 40 odd years ago, it is understandable that the new establishment is scared witless at the rise of social media. If information is power, then informed opinion becomes dangerous. The last thing any government needs is an electorate armed with actual facts and when servants of government break the traditional ranks of silence and discretion, alarm bells are ringing up and down the corridors of power. With MPs, civil servants, local councillors, police officers and members of the armed forces offering opinions on blogs and twitter, those that rule us resemble King Canute attempting to close Pandora’s Box whilst trying to get the Genie back in the bottle. Something has got to give.
Old school politicians, who expect old media to print and broadcast whatever they are told to, have been somewhat taken aback by the power of the internet. More savvy politicos have embraced the chance to communicate but only tend to post or tweet about opening garden fêtes, how hard they work, to spoon feed the party line or to make some supportive comment about the local football team in an attempt to gain popularity.
The Old Bill, however, particularly in this neck of the woods, are taking social media much more seriously. Superintendents, Inspectors, Sergeants and response officers are all over Twitter and are producing informative and often entertaining blog posts. We are even treated to tweets from a police dog and a helicopter. This seems to be more than just a PR stunt as the bobbies, bobbettes, mutts and choppers are attempting to actively engage with the public, give an insight into the work of the police and encourage community involvement.
So far, it seems to be working and as a consequence has placed actual human beings inside the implacable uniform and adorable pooches with a fondness for puppies replacing fearsome attack dogs. This harks back to a time when everyone in a neighbourhood knew, respected and either trusted or feared their local beat bobby. Rather than being annoyed at being woken up at two in the morning by a low hovering helicopter, it’s rather reassuring to receive a tweet telling you that three masked men armed with knives and baseball bats have been arrested whilst running down the street.
This initiative to gain trust and share information has, unsurprisingly, attracted criticism. Not, as one might expect, from anarchist revolutionaries, but from the right wing press and the rather sinister Tax Payers Alliance who bellow that tweeting for help to find a missing child is an abuse of police resources and therefore a waste of tax payers money. This is an erroneous argument as the police still have plenty of time to perform their traditional duties of hitting students over the head, harassing ethnic minorities and doing the dirty work of bad, failing and secretive governments.
In 1970, the 1500 people who attended the first Glastonbury were treated to Quintessence, Amazing Blondel and T.Rex. The festival was opened and closed by a wonderful band who are still recording and still touring. With more police officers now on Twitter than self-obsessed bores, the coppers are winning the battle for hearts and minds and are doing a lot to counter the suspicion generated by the actions of some of their more aggressive colleagues. Here in Walsall we are fortunate to have a number of officers who are willing to engage in social media. Some write with clarity, honesty and humour. One hopes that others, including councillors and council officers would do what they do and give a little candour.
One tweeting policeman has a keen sense of humour and a fine taste in music. His posts usual feature a song lyric as a title and he offers a virtual nod to the first to spot the reference. If only more would do the Stanley.
Here’s a clue.
The hippo offers a virtual nod to him.