Bernard Ingham: Militant action will quickly lose sympathy of the public

THERE are no prizes for guessing what the Lefties are up to these days. Where two or three are gathered together, they are pre-occupied with devising ways of disrupting your life in the "noble" cause of weakening what "Red Ed" Miliband terms "the Conservative-led government".

This is not surprising. It is what happens when the Tories have their hands on the levers of power. As I have often warned, the Left has a highly selective view of democracy.

Life has been rather frustrating for them these past 13 years, holding themselves back with a Labour government of sorts in office.

Where our revolting students have led, can the Left now be seen to be far behind?

Stand by for blasting, with Len McCluskey, of Unite, in the van. Just imagine the intolerable pressure on strike-mad Bob Crow, RMT, with McCluskey calling the wrecking shots and ASLEF's Underground men striking for treble time for working Bank Holidays, plus a day off in lieu. It shouldn't happen to a dog. Arthur Scargill must feel he was born 20 years too early.

Indeed, unless I walk in strange places, many people seem resigned to nasty trouble this year. It is not difficult to see why with the coalition making itself extremely unpopular in the cause of rescuing the economy. Most of its decisions, from bankers to bobbies are not calculated to endear it to voters.

Viewed in this light, the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives did rather well in the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election.

But there is so much potential pain and distress in prospect this depressing winter that it is going to require extraordinary leadership from David Cameron and Nick Clegg to pilot the country through the next 12 months in reasonable order.

If they get through it – and economically the hurt is seen to be worth it – they will, as Clegg suggests, be viewed in a different and more respectful light well before the next election.

This raises the devilishly difficult question as to how far protest should go in 2011. Let me be clear: no democracy is worthy of the name if disgruntled people cannot peacefully parade their discontent. But the accent is on "peacefully".

As the students have shown, just as the poll tax protesters did in 1989, any popular demonstration can be hi-jacked by violent and, usually in our society, Lefty militants. That should be a warning to any responsible protest organiser, especially as the mayhem before Christmas did the students' cause against tuition fees no good whatsoever.

What is more, contrary to the Left's fevered imagination, the poll tax riots did not bring Margaret Thatcher down. It was the handiwork of treacherous Europhiles in her party.

Protest is anything but a sure way of changing society. Ask the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

Against this background, I would regard it as dereliction of duty by the police if, in the interests of civil order, they were not infiltrating groups, including environmentalists, bent on damage. They may not recently have kept adequate control over one of their undercover squad. But, as the Metropolitan Police found over the student riots, they are on to a hiding to nothing if their intelligence proves deficient.

But that is by the way.

Those orchestrating the current very understandable angst against soaring petrol and diesel prices have a lot of thinking to do. How can they best mitigate the damage they are feeling?

If they think Cameron and Clegg are soft touches, they can try to frighten them with interruptions in supply. In the process, they can expect an instant loss of sympathy once the public is inconvenienced.

Alternatively, they can deploy some powerful arguments for alleviation when the British motorist and haulier are relatively heavily taxed – and therefore penalised – and when the Treasury coins it from North Sea oil as the world price rises.

They can also point to the way global warmers like Energy Secretary Chris Huhne are hurting motorists and domestic and industrial energy consumers alike – and the poorest worst of all – with their zeal for tax escalators in the case of petrol and diesel and their stupid subsidies for wind power in the case of electricity.

They cannot argue with the urgent need to cut the budget deficit. But they most certainly can claim that growth and recovery will suffer if people are unnecessarily imposed upon and British goods and services are priced out of the market.

Remember, the Left does not want a reasonable balance. It wants the coalition's head.