Violent protests against a freely elected government are wrong and should be punished

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Iunderstand that many of the decisions that the government is making are unpopular and that many feel the need to protest. I like people (and particularly young people) getting involved in politics and I marched in Copenhagen at the climate submit in December 2009. What I object to is the use of violence and the presumption of the illegitimacy of this and previous governments by many protesters, particularly anarchists and extreme socialists.

I do not believe the police are saints, I know they will have broken the law occasionally during the protests and some innocent people will have been hurt, but they had a very difficult job. They were protecting a democratic parliament voting on the laws of this country. Unlike many Conservative Party members I did not like the outcome of the tuition fee vote but I fully accept the legitimacy of parliament to make decisions that MPs think are right. I commend the police on their bravery for protecting Parliament in the face of violence from a minority of protesters.

Opposition to the coalition using the argument that it is illegitimate highlights the simplistic view that many have towards politics. People want to see a direct link between what they vote for and protest against. Politics just doesn’t work like that. There are over 45 million people in the electorate in the UK and therefore any voice is diluted, to the point that even a few million people opposing an issue doesn’t often matter – we are one voice in a massive crowd. We elect MPs for constituencies, with each MP having individual mandates from their areas to support the policies which they stood for and who should use their own judgement when this isn’t possible.

Even those who disagree with constituency system and would prefer PR have very little grounds to say the coalition government is not legitimate; the two parties received 60% of the vote between them, more than any UK government since 1945. Nick Clegg said during the General Election campaign that in the event of a hung parliament his party would seek to work with the party with the most votes and seats, this was always likely to be the Conservatives. Therefore I have little sympathy with voters who are angry with a Liberal–Conservative Coalition.

In my view, as someone with considerable experience canvassing for a political party, people dislike the cuts or support specific cuts and oppose others. The majority of people want the economic and political system to be reformed, not replaced. Often big government is a greater source of annoyance than big business. Broadly speaking the public want the status quo made fairer, not a revolution. They should trust the people they have elected and who have formed a government together, if they don’t like that they can vote for an entirely different set of people at the next General Election. In the mean time there are council elections throughout the UK, Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly Elections and a referendum on electoral reform.

People should be able to protest against government policies but they shouldn’t get violent if it doesn’t make a difference. A government should listen to protests but that does not mean it should have to change its mind in the face of large protests; they, not the protesters have the democratic mandate to govern. I think the political system should be reformed, I will vote yes in the Alternative Vote referendum in May and would like to see the House of Lords replaced with a partially elected Senate subordinate to the fully elected House of Commons. But while the current system could be improved I believe it is legitimate and broadly reflects the views of the British people. People shouldn’t assume the moral authority to use violence to oppose the actions of an elected government, regardless of the government in charge. An elected government should have a monopoly on legitimate violence, because it is given power by the people and has to answer to them at elections. Violent protesters only have to answer to each other and if we are lucky to the law.

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