Francis Beckett

It turns out that Richard Stokoe, the £90,000 a year head of communications for London Fire Brigade, thinks the Fire Birgades Union's proposed Bonfire Night strike was a good idea.


He told the PR person's trade magazine PR Week: 'Bonfire night threats of strikes did more for cut-through into the political and media world than the strikes they had held in the three weeks before their announcement. Yes, there were lots of anti-noises, but it certainly moved it much further up the political agenda.'

He's right, of course, just as he's right to say: 'What about the poll tax riots? They managed to bring Thatcher down and yet the far bigger march against the Iraq War - which was peaceful - changed absolutely nothing. I'm not advocating such things, but it is interesting to see what actually works.'

And - Stokoe would add, I'm sure - a few people trashing Prince Charles's car will have a greater effect on the political establishment than the biggest student demonstration in a decade achieved a few days ago.

He's right.  But how do we get to the point where only doing something that causes damage can do any good?

The firefighters got there because when they behaved nicely, and negotiated properly, they were being trashed by their bosses, the odious chair of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, Brian Coleman (aided, it has to be said, by the vast, inflated and hugely expensive PR department run by Mr Stokoe.)

The student protestors got there because they were betrayed by democratic politicuians, one by one.  First they were betratyed by Labour, which they thought was their natural defenders, until it turned round and bit them by introducing fees.  So they turned to the Liberal Democrats - practically every student I interviewed on the march a few days ago had voted Lib Dem at the last election.  I don't think any of them will do it again.

For now the Lib Dems have betrayed them.  Last night on television, Vince Cable claimed that the only reason anyone opposed his tuition fees proposal was that they didn't understand it.  In one sentence, he turned himself into an old-style machine politician, determined that he must always be right, and no one who has looked at the facts could possibly disagree with him.

Where do you go when democratic politics offers no route at all, however much support you can muster?  You call a strike on bonfire night and trash Prince Charles's car.  Why not?