Stop the War, Allow the Demo

This year Britain’s members of parliament were welcomed back from their summer hols by a demo organised by ‘Stop the War’ and CND. In a masterfully inept move, the Met police, doubtless pushed by Downing St, brought out and dusted off legislation passed in 1838 against the Chartists, then seen to be threatening civilisation as the rich and powerful enjoyed it.

Nothing could have boosted the demonstrators more than a ban on marching, and the numbers who turned up in Trafalgar Square for the rally would have made a ban impossible to implement short of mass arrests and Burma-style draconian measures.

An hour or so before the rally, the police/government had to back down, giving the demonstrators permission to march as far as Bridge Street, just short of Parliament Square.

In the end the had to back down further, allowing the marchers bit by bit access to Parliament Square and eventually at least some were allowed to go to their final goal and lobby their members of parliament. Some of the police were obviously rattled by this climb-down and took it out rather by harassing the photographers, trying to prevent them from photographing the march as it moved down Whitehall, and I was almost knocked flying by a firm shove as I was walking backwards, camera to eye. Another officer put out an arm to stop me and apologised.

Police then kept the marchers penned up around the square, either in Parliament Street or in front of Brian Haw’s pitch in the square itself, and some conflicts seemed more or less inevitable, and few were surprised when there was a sit-down in the middle of the traffic junction that police were trying hard to keep open.

Frustrated marchers sit down in the middle of the traffic junction

Sensible policing would have taken the march through the area as quickly as possible, stopping the traffic for the march to pass, and moving it on to College Green or Victoria Gardens, where the organisers might have made some further speeches before an orderly dispersal. Trouble-makers would then have been relatively isolated and much simpler to police.

A  popular sentiment!

The event dragged on a long time, and the sky began to get very gloomy and threaten rain. I’d photographed the sit-down, but nothing else seemed to be happening. So I – and some of the other photographers – decided it was probably time to go home.

No sooner had we left the scene than the police sprang into action, forcibly removing the demonstrators from the roadway. Many moved onto the square itself, pushing down and piling up the barriers that were erected to prevent access to it some weeks ago. I missed taking pictures of this, but you can’t be everywhere all the time.

The event was at least handled a little better than ‘Sack Parliament‘ that met returning MPs last year. Then one of my colleagues was hospitalised by the police (he is taking them to court) and there were many more arrests, even though there were relatively few demonstrators.

Many more pictures of course on ‘My London Diary

Peter Marshall 

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.