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Spitting at Me Because You're Angry at the Media Is Like Spitting at a Starbucks Worker for the Company's Tax Arrangements

04/10/2015 18:11 | Updated 04 October 2016

Without wishing to provoke another attack, I would have preferred to have been punched.

Spitting is disgusting, horrible, vile and degrading.

I don't know why the man did it. Maybe he was fired up by the adrenaline of the protest, and felt his actions would be cheered by the people around him.

I assume he didn't know I was a member of the press, not that that matters. Do David Cameron or Iain Duncan Smith deserve to be spat on?

After he did what he did, I chased after him. It wasn't much of a pursuit, he wasn't running away and instead just pushing his bike.

I grabbed him, threw him down and within seconds the police were there separating us.

If it had ended there, I would have been angry at him, gone off and washed my face and put it down to the actions of one idiot.

I understand that the actions of one do not necessarily represent the thoughts of thousands.

But it didn't end there.

As the police dealt with the ill-mannered gentleman, a crowd of protesters gathered round to see what was going on.

Myself and Kate McCann, a colleague from the Daily Telegraph, were penned in, with a few police officers standing between us and the increasing crowd.

At that point, I genuinely wasn't worried. The protesters were just trying to find out why someone was being arrested. I assumed they thought we were Tories - we were both dressed smartly and clearly there for the conference - and that when they realised we were press, they would leave us alone.

I shouted out that we were journalists, and flashed my National Union of Journalists issued-press card.

I thought that would cause them to shift their anger to the guy who spat at me. After all, his actions had now overshadowed at least my reporting of the anti-austerity protest.

They didn't leave us alone, apparently, we were fair game. I deserved to be spat on, according to more than one person in the crowd.

It didn't matter that I work for The Huffington Post, hardly a Conservative-supporting website.

It didn't matter that Kate and I are lowly political hacks and far from editors-in-chiefs, and therefore have absolutely no say whatsoever in the editorial direction of our respective outlets.

It didn't matter that this country is supposed to support a free press, and the intimidation of journalists is something the Left in particular are supposed to be vehemently against.

None of that mattered.

I felt the air turn nasty, and it reminded me of many of the football games I've been to when opposing fans clash.

The police told Kate and I we needed to move out of the area or we would "get lynched". I didn't doubt it. The crowd was getting larger, and angrier. People in Unite the Union t-shirts, someone wearing a mask from V for Vendetta, one man just giving me the middle finger.

Tension was growing.

A protective shield was formed by the officers and we ploughed through the crowd to the lobby of a hotel. I held up my press card as we ran, hoping that people would see it and realise we were journalists. According to one officer who shouted at me, I had just made matters worse.

Last week, Jeremy Corbyn called for a kinder, gentler politics. I don't know if the man who spat at me is a Labour supporter. I don't know if he votes. I'm probably safe to assume he isn't a backer of David Cameron. But I do know there is a nastiness in the air which there hasn't been for many years.

I'm not asking for Corbyn to come out and condemn what happened because he is somehow responsible - he is not.

But I do think some of those responsible for getting people fired up need to think very carefully about the language they use, and the message they send out.

I'm grateful to Michael Dugher, Frances O'Grady, Jess Phillips, Stella Creasy and others for their tweets and also to the other Labour MPs who have called and text me to apologise on behalf of their movement.

To the protesters, I would just say this: spitting at me is like spitting at a nurse for the state of the NHS, a train driver for the state of the hospitals or a Starbucks worker for the company's tax arrangements.

You are not hurting the things you are against, you are just undermining your own argument, your own credibility, and ultimately, your own chance of ever being in a position to actually change things.