14. The Right To Protest
It seems to me that the government is particularly exposed whenever it is seen to block the right of its citizens to protest. Freedom of speech and the right to protest are two of the founding pillars of democracy, and that is what the government is fighting so many wars to promote overseas right now.
That being the case, the government may soon find itself due for a bout of embarrassed squirming, having evicted many of the Brian Haw protestors from Parliament Square. (In fact Team Nice encountered the protest a few months ago, details here…).
I should probably point out that on this occasion parliament itself did not send out Boris and Prezza to move tactfully persuade them, or punch them in the ears. They don’t need to, the government’s work on this project was done when they drafted and passed the bill making it illegal to stage a protest within sight of their offices.
Unfortunately a few loopholes in their new law have left the government playing cat and mouse with Mr Haw and his associates ever since. For this round, their (frankly, surprising) ally is the Mayor Ken Livingstone, who has decided that the protest is a health hazard because of fears that the square is being used as a toilet facility.
For reasons not entirely obvious, the police have also seen fit to erect a sturdy fence around the ‘officially sanctioned’ protest area.
Could it be that the police are demonstrating an unexpected sense of humour? Having failed on several occasions to drag Mr Haw through the courts and off the Westminster front lawn, they now appear to have met him halfway and let him stay there… in an improvised prison.
Well anyway, Brian can probably count himself lucky. At least his protest isn’t being accused of being a front for a clandestine group of terrorists. The Camp for Climate Action protest has been regarded with near hysterical paranoia, since weeks and weeks before the first tent was unpacked. This has been used to justify a hugely expensive and visible policing operation, after numerous court attempts to get the event banned have met with mostly failure.
Interestingly Ken has been supportive of this protest – they must have better toilets at the Heathrow camp…
By Peter Muriuki