The flamboyant son of Pink Floyd star David Gilmour, notorious for being photographed swinging from the Cenotaph during last year's student protests, is due to be sentenced today for violent disorder on the demos, which could see him doing a stint in prison. Some of Gilmour's defenders say the charges against him may be politically motivated. The sad truth, however, is Gilmour is just guilty of vandalism and fooling around. There was nothing political about his 'protest' that would elevate this to another level, worthy of defence.
Certainly there are many times when protesters have been badly treated by authorities and it is important to rally to their defence. For example, in 2005 peace campaigners Maya Anne Evans and Milan Rai were arrested by the Cenotaph for refusing to stop reading out the names of British soldiers killed during the War in Iraq. This blatant attack on the freedom of expression of these two individuals, using the 2005 Serious Organised Crime and Police Act, was vociferously opposed by civil liberties campaigners. And rightly so.
Contrast that with Gilmour who, after the image of him hanging from the war memorial appeared on the front page of the Daily Mail, issued a public apology. He confessed: 'I got caught up in the spirit of the moment. I did not realise that it was the Cenotaph and if I had, I certainly would not have done what I did.'
Given Gilmour didn't even know the identity of the monument he was swinging from, surely even his staunchest defenders are scraping the barrel to suggest his actions were politically significant? (Indeed, if Gilmour was treated with kid gloves, wouldn't many of the same people protest about double standards for rich kids? The delaying of his sentence until he'd finished his Cambridge exams already raised some eyebrows.) Although the acts Gilmour faces jail time for took place later in the day, such ignorance about the Cenotaph typified his behaviour, as photos and film footage of his antics throughout the day suggest.
It's hard to challenge young Charlie's suggestion that he got caught up 'in the spirit of the moment' though. Such apolitical, childish acts were widespread throughout the student protests last year. Devoid of a real sense of what they were protesting for, and what their alternative to increased tuition fees would be, students often filled this political vacuum by gaining a sense of purpose instead through engaging in scuffles and 'cat and mouse' games with the police. Raging against - or, in the case of Gilmour, shouting poetry at - police lines did nothing to change the world; but it did help these angst-ridden teens let off some steam.
Instead of coming up with, putting forward and rallying around some strident new political ideas, students instead celebrated the 'leaderlessness' and 'spontaneity' of the protests as virtues to be celebrated. As a result, all the demos ended up demonstrating was students' confusion, lack of direction and lack of ideas. Before fizzling out and being quickly forgotten.
There are many instances, throughout history and in more recent times, when violence or criminal damage have been an understandable expression of political angst or response to police repression. Such acts should clearly be treated differently to the average act of Saturday-night vandalism in a city centre. But given the absence of any political purpose or objectives, it becomes extremely hard to view Gilmour's and other students' antics - such as throwing objects at cars, breaking windows, setting fire to traffic lights - as anything other than the directionless, naughty behaviour of frustrated kids. As a result, why should Gilmour be treated as anything other than any other vandal who trashes neighbourhoods when he gets wound up?
While Charlie Gilmour's flamboyant foolishness may have provided the iconic image of the student protests, the depoliticised, directionless, angst-filled nature of his 'protest' was commonplace throughout the demonstrations.