Democracy Camp Stops Traffic

The Democracy Camp which set up in Parliament Square on May 1 was cleared by bailiffs and police early on Tuesday morning after two and a half months there. I wasn’t there to see it go, but I did visit last Friday after the court had announced its decision that they had to leave.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
Dry grass – just add water & leave it to grow – but made to look like bare earth in the Standard

For the moment Brian Haw and his Parliament Square Peace Campaign is still there, and in its tenth year, but very much under threat.  He’s become something of a national institution and I hope he manages to keep there until he feels it is time to leave.

It seemed to me that the Democracy had perhaps in several ways outstayed its welcome, although certainly its presence had livened up what is normally one of London’s dullest areas, and one that the city has always completely failed to make sensible of proper use of.  It did at least provide a little entertainment and amusement for tourists. It also gave a temporary home and some hope to a number of London’s homeless – including some ex-soldiers – at minimal cost to the tax payer. But perhaps like the Climate Camp it should have cleaned up, packed its bags and left of its own accord after a decent period of occupation.

Of course there were down sides, though the councils and the press seemed to make rather too much of these. Clearing the rubbish was only a matter of a lorry coming occasionally to pick up the neatly piled black sacks as the campers did the rest of the work and it’s hard to see how Westminster Council can work out the rather large amounts it has quoted.  The site too was largely self-policing and there was certainly no point in the presence of ‘heritage wardens’ who simply stood around doing nothing there (I did see one taking a few photographs.)   The grass about which so much fuss has been made was not in much worse state than my own lawn, and I confidently expect that to recover given a few decent falls of rain and a few of months of my usual neglect rather than the unnecessary turfing and reseeding the Mayor will spend Londoners money on.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

One of the causes which the camp has brought some attention to through its protests is the war in Afghanistan, and the longest banner on its site read ‘SOLDIERS COME HOME ALIVE!’ On Friday evening Stop The War were holding a demonstration opposite Downing St against the war, so I wasn’t surprised to see the campers coming up Whitehall carrying the banner.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

Nor was I surprised that rather going across the road to the area on the opposite side of Whitehall where demonstrations are permitted they instead stood on the pavement to block the gates to Downing St. Like them I’m not happy with the restrictions including this on the right to demonstrate that were made by the Labour government in SOCPA  (Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005) which were a serious assault on our democratic freedoms.

The police at least responded fairly reasonably and after a few minutes told them they would have to move, and they did, but only to the centre of the road so as not to obstruct the gates.  It was difficult there for both police and photographers who were in danger from the traffic that was still being allowed to move along the road, and police politely explained this to some of the leading campers and requested that they move across to the pavement where they were allowed to demonstrate.

Instead some of the other protesters from the camp decided on a different logic of solution. If traffic created a hazard, stop the traffic – and so they did. Police made some attempt to get them to move, but there were simply not enough present to actually force them. After around ten minutes I saw one of the officers talking to one of the leading protesters and they shook hands, I think having come to an agreement. She organised the protesters to stand with their banner for a few minutes across the road, then led them back towards the camp.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

It was a protest without violence from protesters or police. The protesters had been allowed to make their point clearly but the police had also minimised the disruption caused by the protest, although it had held up traffic for almost 20 minutes by the time it ended. Perhaps it was a little bit of democracy in action.

Pictures from Parliament Square, the Stop the War demonstration and the Democracy Camp’s contribution to this on My London Diary, along with more about the event. A few thoughts on the photographic problems in another post here.

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