• Frank Furedi
  • Frank Furedi
  • Sociologist, commentator and author

Mark Field did nothing wrong

I really do not understand why Mark Field was suspended as a Foreign Office minister for throwing out a female Greenpeace activist, Janet Barker, who ‘peacefully’ invaded and disrupted a private dinner. I also do not understand why Field bothered to apologise for doing what any responsible man or woman would have done in similar circumstances.

Many have claimed that Field’s behaviour dealt a blow to the right of peaceful protest. That’s a tendentious interpretation of the right to protest. People can protest peacefully in a democracy. But when they disrupt a meeting or an event, protesters cannot expect everyone else to sit by passively. Protesters need to know that they do not have the moral authority to force people who are their targets to simply put up with their behaviour. Stewards, bouncers and members of the audience are entitled to protect the integrity of their event and kick out people who are trying to ruin it.

I have been involved in numerous protests and have done my share of disrupting meetings. I and with my fellow protesters knew that we could get manhandled and that, at the very least, we were likely to get physically ejected. We never imagined that those who ejected us were somehow infringing on the right to protest. If we wanted to avoid any potential physical confrontation and just wanted to protest, we could have stayed outside and handed out leaflets.

Some argue that it was unacceptable for Mark Field, a man, to physically manhandle a female protester. In an ideal world there would have been a woman steward on site to eject a woman. But in the absence of such a steward, the alternative was to allow the protester to dominate and ruin the event or chuck her out. It is a testament to the passivity of members of the British establishment that no one else there felt a duty to react. Only one person got up and took the initiative.

No doubt Greenpeace assumed that if they used women to front the protest, then those in the audience would sit still, transfixed and paralysed. In our era of gender equality, it is a bit rich when supporters claim that it was wrong to treat a lady this way. Certainly, the hundreds of Suffragettes who struggled to win the vote for women would have been surprised by the demand that women protesters should be treated as if they were untouchable saints.

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