Being that Cardiff and Newport are home territory to me I popped down to Cardiff Castle last night to see this “ring of steel” that everyone was talking about. There is a massive fence around Cardiff castle, where there was a summit dinner last night, and also around the Celtic Manor Resort, where the summit itself is being held. A lot of roads are closed and there are half a dozen Royal Navy vessels in the Bay.
I expected that there might be protests, and where there are protests, there is generally trouble: kettling, mass arrests, and so on. The Minor Injuries Unit at Barry Hospital had been temporarily coverted to an emergency triage centre. At an anarchist bookfair in Bristol earlier in the year, I had met a man, who seemed to me very obviously like an undercover policeman, who was desperately trying to get people to sign up for “direct action” at the NATO summit. I mean literally sign up: he had a clipboard and he wanted names and email addresses. He had few takers but I detected what I thought was something of a groundswell.
I turned up in Cardiff wearing a jacket and tie, which is regulation attire for the protest voyeur, as it can help you get through a police cordon. But despite a heavy police presence from all over the UK, the atmosphere wasn’t oppressive. Although every constabulary in Britain clearly wanted a piece of the action (I saw police from Devon and Cornwall, Humberside and Kent) there was really very little for them to do but stand around and wave to small children. Unlike the last NATO summit in Chicago in 2012, I saw hardly any protesters at all. By that I mean less than thirty. There were less people in town than average too. Cardiff seems to have dealt with the summit by ignoring it.
There is much to be said about security theatre in general, and about NATO too, which is at present a profoundly terrible organisation without any core rationale, and thus subsumed totally by the fringe politics of Washington zealots, which has led to it doing more harm than good for the last few years. And by harm I mean killing thousands of civilians and violently destabilizing entire countries. However, in South Wales, absolutely nothing was happening. I had it in mind, before visiting, to write some “outpost of Empire” spiel about Fortress Cardiff and the new world order, but what a misconception that was. It turns out being an outpost of Empire is quite pleasant, if a bit boring. It was a nice evening and I spent most of it in a beer garden with friends.
To be honest the worst thing about the Newport summit was that atrocious Welcome to Wales video with Matthew Rhys and Damian Lewis and HelenMcCrory. Somebody wrote and paid for that. I would love to know who.
On the plus side I did see a V-22 Osprey in flight, the most expensive helicopter ever built, zooming in low over Sofia Gardens at night. Very big and very quiet, like something out of a sci-fi film, with its lights slowly strobing. Oh, and there are going to be 300 new jobs in Caerphilly building Scouts (a small armoured fighting vehicle, or AFV) for General Dynamics UK. They look rubbish though, to be honest.