Is Trenton Oldfield Our Pussy Riot?

Attack the elite and they won't take it lying down, writes Caroline Criado-Perez.

On 17th August 2012, Pussy Riot, a feminist punk collective based in Moscow were jailed for two years for “hooliganism”. And around the world governments were rightly swift to condemn the ruling as bearing no resemblance to justice. The UK media gave us rolling coverage of the events. It was big news and Britain basked in the safety of an outrage that didn’t affect us.

In the run-up to the trial, Britain’s very own, self-proclaimed freedom-fighter and iconoclast Brendan O’Neill, wondered what a UK Pussy Riot could “bravely mock”? He theorised that the only orthodoxies that are truly “dangerous” to mock in modern Britain are institutions such as the NHS, or concepts such as “multiculturalism”, or perhaps most bravely of all, “victim culture” – I guess Brendan has never seen Sarah Silverman’s set on why rape jokes are about as safe as you can get.

Irrespective of the fact that O’Neill makes a living out of “bravely” standing as a one-man army against these over-bearing ideologies and yet still, inexplicably, remains free, our courts have now provided an antidote to his theorising. Because yesterday, without the blanket media coverage and fanfare that accompanied the Pussy Riot sentencing, a man called Trenton Oldfield was jailed for six months.

His crime? Disrupting the Oxford-Cambridge boat-race as a part of a protest against elitism. Or, to use Judge Anne Molyneux’s terminology, his crime was “prejudice”. And as Molyneux says,

No good ever comes of prejudice. Every individual and group in society is entitled to respect. It is a necessary part of a liberal and tolerant society that no one should be targeted because of a characteristic to which another takes issue. Prejudice in any form is wrong.

And indeed it is. But don’t these fine words in defence of a put-upon elite sound a little familiar to you? They should. But if they don’t, here’s a little re-cap:

In a modern society relations between various nationalities and between religious denominations must be based on mutual respect and equality and idea that one political movement can be superior to another gives root to perspective hatred between various opinions.

These are the words with which Judge Syrova sentenced Pussy Riot to two years in a penal colony. They are the words which were so complacently mocked and derided by the world’s media. They are the words upon which the twitterati offloaded an abundance of WTF. And they are words which now make our judiciary sound like an authoritarian echo-chamber – and make our complacency look very shaky indeed.

Trenton Oldfield without a doubt comes across as pompous, self-satisfied and lacking in any tangible aims. His protest was childish, ineffective and bizarrely targeted. It deserved little more than the smirk he supposedly awarded Judge Molyneux yesterday.

But in the wake of Molyneux’s judgment, Oldfield’s pronouncements about elitism start to look far more credible. The boat race starts to look like far from a soft target. And O’Neill’s choice of orthodoxies start to look wildly off base. Indeed, when it comes to “victim-culture” it seems that if you must commit a crime, you’re still far better off actually physically attacking someone who lacks institutional power, say like a girlfriend, than of committing the heinous offence of interrupting a jolly day out at the races.

Not so much of a “modern British orthodoxy” after all then Brendan.

This post was originally published at Week Woman

Trenton Oldfield leaves Feltham Magistrates Court. Photograph: Getty Images

Caroline Criado-Perez is a freelance journalist and feminist campaigner. She is also the co-founder of The Women's Room and tweets as @CCriadoPerez.

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Boaty McBoatface is no more, and other stories on this good day to bury bad news

Your mole looks into the stories the government would rather you let sail by...

Win, lose or draw, today was set to be a healthy day for British democracy. Until this: Boaty McBoatface is no more. Oh buoy.

Back in March, when the Natural Environment Research Council invited people to suggest names for their new £200m polar-research ship, this name shot to the top of the polls. Its success quickly kicked up a media storm, with commentators liking and loathing the prospect in equal measure: an irreverant symbol of national pride, said some; an embarrassment, said others. Much like Boris Johnson then.

Except, unlike Boris, McBoatface has been stripped of its democratic credentials. Science Minister Jo Johnson today announced that the results will be overruled, despite Boaty McBoatface winning four times more votes than its nearest competitor in the online poll. Instead the vessel is to be named “RRS Sir David Attenborough”, in honour of the broadcaster and naturalist.

The government has yet to decide whether the whole exercise has been a “triumph of public engagement, or a PR disaster”. Your mole thinks it's a-boat time they made up their minds.

Democracy is alive and well, however, in St Ives. On Thursday, the Cornish town (otherwise known as "Kensington-on-sea") held a referendum on whether or not to ban new second homes. In bad news for wealthy Londoners, more than 80 per cent of voters supported the plan. If the decision is upheld, it means that new builds will be reserved for full-time residents. As yet another sign that the British housing market is out of control, the government must be thankful that today's media eyes are largely elsewhere.

A more chilling revelation that the elections nearly concealed from this mole's senstitive snout is this morning's quiet release of an impact assessment on the UK's capacity market.

In order to prevent blackouts in the winter of 2017-18, the government plans to subsidise old power plants that would otherwise be at risk of shutting down. The Telegraph calculates that such subsidies could cost households up to £38 on their annual energy bills.

The government argues that blackouts would cause bills to spike, bringing the net cost of the levy down to £21. But Lisa Nandy, Labour's shadow energy secretary responded: "The Tories are trying to bury this bad news. Every family's energy bill is to shoot up to pay for these gross new handouts to the big energy companies."

I'm a mole, innit.