There are moments when governments simultaneously reveal themselves to be vindictive, petty, cowardly, stupid and vengeful in equal measure. I’m not referring to the Imperium’s attempt to get Edward Snowden for spying because he revealed that the US government was spying, but to the decision by the British Home Office yesterday to deport the ‘Boat Race protester’ Trenton Oldfield.
An Australian citizen who has been living in the UK for ten years, Oldfield received a six-month sentence for swimming in front of the rowers at last year’s Oxbridge Boat Race in protest at what he called ‘elitism’ in British society and inequality’ in London. What can he be referring to readers?
That sentence was harsh enough, considering that all Oldfield did was disrupt a sporting spectacle by 25 minutes. He was charged with the ostensibly minor offense of causing a public nuisance, but the prosecution alleged that he constituted a ‘substantial threat’ to the London Olympics and the British royal family, and alleged that he intended to ‘target’ other elite events such as the Diamond Jubilee celebrations and Trooping of the Colour, Royal Ascot and the Jubilee Concert at Buckingham Palace.
At his sentencing, the judge accused him of endangering his own life and others, showing a lack of respect for the public and the athletes and also – somewhat bizarrely – ‘prejudice’ in targeting the race ‘based on the membership or perceived membership of its participants.’
Oldfield was released after serving two months, and that, you might think, ought to be the end of it. After all, he has been living and working in the UK for 10 years, and has a British partner who is about to have a baby. But not in this country, where immigration law has been used for some years now as an instrument for removing ‘undesirable foreigners’ who have already been punished.
The Home Office has frequently removed or tried to remove ‘foreign’ criminals who have already done time – even when those deemed to be ‘foreign’ originally came to the UK as kids and didn’t get into trouble with the law until they were adults – in order to prove to the kick ’em all out crowd how ‘tough’ it can be on immigration.
But this is the first time it has sought to expel someone for protesting – and protesting peacefully at that. The Home Office says that ‘ Those who come to the UK must abide by our laws’, which shouldn’t mean that you have to be punished twice. But hell hath no fury like an elite accused of elitism, in a country where the yes man is king.
Oldfield certainly does seem to have some, shall we say…idiosyncratic, ideas alongside his critique of elitism and inequality. Some may question whether his suggestion that university cleaners should discomfort rightwing professors by removing their toilet paper will contribute to the creation of a more egalitarian society (personally I find that rather funny, but it’s probably just me).
But the loathing and contempt directed at Oldfield by the rightwing press last year has nothing to do with such recommendations. In these craven and conformist times, protest and dissent will always be treated with scorn and contempt in certain circles – even more so when some upstart Aussie ‘narcissist’ has the temerity to come over her and start criticizing our illustrious institutions – and governments are increasingly prepared to go to unusual lengths to punish those who engage in such activities.
The laughable assertion that Oldfield represents a threat to national security should belong to the realm of satire or black comedy, were it not for the fact that we live in a security-obsessed world that has long since left satire behind.
I don’t know Oldfield personally, but I would suggest that someone who cares enough about the impact of austerity to stage such a protest is more ‘conducive to the public good’ than the ghastly gang of Tory zealots, Orange Book Liberals and millionaires that are currently running British society into the ground.
And a government that wants to kick a man out of the country for swimming in a river is really a pretty pathetic government indeed.