Donald Trump’s visit to Portsmouth tomorrow is shrouded in secrecy and corrupted by controversy. Local author and publisher Matt Wingett thinks the people of Portsmouth deserve some explanations.
There’s a long tradition in Portsmouth of its people being ignored and then used by government when it suits them. Stories of the city enjoying boom days when there is a war to fight stretch back to the Napoleonic Wars and before. Perhaps the most blatant disdain for the city from the UK government came with the Falklands War, in which dockers worked every hour available to fit out the fleet, only to be laid off the moment the conflict was over.
So it’s no surprise that the same heavy-handedness has arrived with this year’s D-Day events. What could have been a massive community celebration has been totally skewed by the arrival of the US President and his entourage. And people don’t know what the bloody hell is happening. Police have made it clear that it’s going to be a grind getting into Southsea, a massive steel wall has gone up and those who wish to protest against Trump have been told in no uncertain terms that they well be controlled and contained in an area that will smother protest. The official protest will occur in Guildhall Square, far from where Trump will be. Of course, there are sensitivities here to do with honouring the veterans, but is Trump’s arrival the best way to honour them? And if so, why?
Meanwhile, the police have been making door to door enquiries at houses fronting on to the common, to check the identity of residents and ensure there are no unsavoury elements there.
Portsmouth City Councillor Steve Pitt confirmed this was happening, but added it is also to ensure that those with access issues to their houses which may be disrupted by the security – people such as the elderly and disabled – are looked after.
Then, last week, a message went around to all council employees from the police advising them to inform on colleagues who may be considering protesting. Again, Councillor Pitt demanded the police retract this measure.
Inside sources complain that Portsmouth City Council are pretty much being excluded from any plans, as, once again, the UK government scorns the locals and bows to Washington’s whims. One local politician said to me, ‘It usually takes 18 months of community organisation to arrange something like this. Forget that. Since it was announced Trump was coming, it’s all being directed from Washington, in 6 weeks.’
This means that the agenda is being continually changed and local people are being disdained by the Trump and May elite. What should be a festive atmosphere has been replaced by a general feeling of wariness and distrust. People have no idea what is going to happen on the common, but the attitude of Portsmouth residents appears to be ‘best to stay away.’
On the upside, Councillor Pitt has demanded that the steel wall be taken down overnight after Trump has left and then we will be able to enjoy the common freely once again. Trump and the other heads of state will probably be in Portsmouth for an hour or two at the very most. Yet local people will have been severely inconvenienced for weeks.
Portsmouth deserves better than this. If ever there were an example of the ‘little irrelevant people’ being ignored by the elite, this is it. Trump, May and the whole sorry circus need to make room for the people. It was the ordinary people who fought in the war and laid down their lives. We, their heirs, demand better then this shoddy treatment.
It’s our city and it’s our celebrations that have been hijacked. So, even at this late hour, tell us more clearly what to expect. Let us know with good communications when ordinary people are going to be welcome on the common? Is there booking for some events? If so, how? What’s free? Come on, council, tell us – what the bloody hell is going on?
Photography by Amanda Garrie.