Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Our masters must not be disturbed

Well, well, so the politicians must not be disturbed by protests. After all, what have they to do with disgruntled people of any kind? Or with people in general?

Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, has used the powers granted him by the Serious and Organized Crime and Police Act and has created a half-mile exclusion zone around Parliament for all unauthorized protests. And what are the chances of an authorized protest being permitted?

This is supposed to ensure that MPs are not held up by noisy (or quiet) people , who are demonstrating for or against something they feel strongly about, and prevented from getting into the Chamber to do their duty, that is passing on the nod the legislation that is sent over from Brussels.

There are just one or two problems with it all. For example, how can one person prevent hundreds of MPs from getting in? The Order on the exclusion zone makes it clear that even one person is a demonstration and if it is not authorized, it is not allowed.

Given that the exclusion zone is wide enough to include St James’s Park and the London Eye on the other side of the Thames, the possibilities for police intervention to protect our masters are barely limited.

Of course, we know what is at the bottom of all this. No, gentle and perspicacious reader, it is not fear of terrorism. The abject terror of our elected politicians has already caused Westminster and, more specifically, the House of Commons to be turned into a miniature police state. The House of Lords remains the only part that does not boast squads of armed police officers.

While the rest of London might go for weeks without sighting a friendly bobby (or even an unfriendly one), the area around the Houses of Parliament is so crowded with uniformed and heavily armed guardians of the law that it is sometimes rather hard to get from A to B on perfectly legitimate business.

The two crucial reasons for this pathetic exclusion zone are that famous incursion by a bunch of teenagers in t-shirts during the protests against the authoritarian and oppressive ban on hunting, since imposed by a completely unconstitutional method; and the continuing presence of Brian Haw with his large selection of increasingly weather-beaten protests against the Iraqi war.

Mr Haw is something of a nuisance and he has managed to turn Parliament Square into a rather squalid squat. However, it is not true to say that he has been all the time for the last nineteen months. He vacates his spot every Monday to collect his social security.

Rather than imposing draconian measures on the entire population, would it not have been simpler to suggest to Mr Haw somewhat forcefully that it was about time he did a bit of job searching or his social security might come to an end? Other people are told that all the time.

If they cannot do that, then let them leave Mr Haw alone.

But, of course, it is not even the appearance of Parliament Square that is bothering our political masters. It is the thought that they might be accosted by the sans-culottes, a group that includes all of us.

It might not hurt Charles Clarke and his quaking, terrified colleagues to read a little French history. The sans-culottes do not stay silent for ever.

Or they could read some English history. They could, for instance, read about the House of Commons that stood up to the King and led the fight for parliamentary liberties.

Or they could contemplate what happened after the assassination of Spencer Perceval in 1812. Certain lily-livered predecessors of our own elected members called for protection after the dastardly assassination in Central Lobby, only to be told that such behaviour was “unmanly” and those who enter into public life must bear the consequences.

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