Written by Michael Newland
The right to protest and demonstrate has in modern times always been upheld as a democratic right. Sometimes more in the letter than in the spirit but no one in power has seriously suggested it should be banned. It’s actually arguably more important than voting since it’s even more fundamental to having a say in how things are run.
Saturday 28th November, changed all that.
I spent the day walking all over central London watching as the police set out to ban a peaceful demonstration. Their argument appeared to be that protest was banned by law and they were simply enforcing.
But no such law has been passed. The virus regulations applying on Saturday – passed by ministerial diktat – say that gatherings are allowed if there is a ‘reasonable excuse’, and examples are given. The examples do not include protest as with the last regulations but they do not need to. Protest is allowed by Articles Ten and Eleven of the Convention on Human Rights which prevails over other law. True, restrictions can be placed but they have be proportionate and reasonable in the circumstances and a total ban is arguably not. The police appear to think that everything is banned unless specifically allowed (or want to) when in English law it’s the other way round.
Huge numbers of police were roaming the streets. You’d have thought there must be an armed revolution threatened or a terrorist threat all over. Or am I in Hong Kong? In fact the target was several thousand, as it later emerged, peaceful, reasonable people who do not agree with the lockdowns. They came from all over the country despite the police blocking coaches from travelling and were non-political in the sense of being from left, right, anarchist and every other viewpoint. The solidarity was palpable despite being from all shades of opinion. It was heart-warming.
The demonstration had been announced to start at Kings Cross and the arrests had already started. All day this went on with people being targeted if they looked like they might express an opinion in public, or at random if they looked like easy meat. Women seemed to be deliberately focused on. Was this to provoke the men so more arrests could be made? Women were handcuffed behind their backs. Why? Handcuffing is supposed to be to prevent escape or violence – not as a form of punishment applied outside the courts. One man was arrested wearing a Santa Claus outfit. Not exactly the Provisional IRA or Al Qaeda, is it?
All day groups of people moved around central London trying to outpace the police snatch squads. In Trafalgar Square a carousel of police vans kept furiously driving this way and that through the square on their way to attack another dangerous woman who happened to be on the streets. It had an air of the Keystone Kops – not really knowing what they were at but desperate to ‘obey orders’. Unfortunately, feral thugs assaulting the public fits better what I saw.
Around four much of the crowd reached Hyde Park where a huge number of vans full of police set about arresting more people. Apparently there were over 150 arrests during the day. Did it work? No – it simply disgusted everybody rather than putting people off daring to express a view ever again.
When Sir Robert Peel formed the first centralised police force, the Metropolitan Police, in the 1820s there was considerable concern that it would be used by government for political control. Peel avoided the police being military in appearance and they were given only a truncheon as a weapon. Look at them now. Dressed for combat and laden with weapons – and politicised. Exactly what people in the 1820s feared would happen. Cressida Dick and the leadership of the police should never have agreed that their force be used like it was on Saturday.
All too many of the crowd were under the naive illusion that you can reason with paramilitaries obeying orders. Often people talk themselves into being arrested not realising how the most innocent remarks can be manipulated. Do not talk to the police! They are not your friends.
Boris Johnson now has the dubious distinction of being the Prime Minister who is reducing Britain to being one of those nightmare dictatorships we used to deplore in newspapers. The sooner he is gone the better.
The point of demonstrations is not the demonstration itself. It’s what political message will be broadcast as a result. On that basis Saturday’s event was a huge success. It broadcast the message that Britain is hovering on the edge of being a totalitarian state.
It’s control by fear not by persuasion. People need to know.