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Home > Politics

Haw doth protest too much

30 July 2005

One of the most basic rights enjoyed by people in a free society is the right to protest – and it is enjoyed, if you can call a fervent plea for change enjoyable. Over a million people took to the streets of London in February 2003 to protest the imminent invasion of Iraq. Alas, they were poo-poohed out of existence via the brief waltz of logic of a shiny-shoed Prime Minister. ‘Look . . .British people have the right to protest. It’s a basic right. And it is their right. Iraqis. . .do not have that right. So we are going to put them out of their mis – um, liberate them. Then they will have the right to protest our ongoing occupation which endangers them all, thank you, no questions’.

Protests make governments uneasy, but they’re a handy tool for the same governments to use whenever they want to point out how magnaminous they are and how great it is to live in this country; so they let their citizens have their little mew and wave their little banners, and take little notice. But our government seems to have had an attack of protest-fatigue, a lapse in tolerance for the frenetic exercising of this particular basic right, what with some individuals still refusing to move on from the war. Or indeed from Parliament Square. 56-year-old Brian Haw has been keeping vigil there – noisy vigil, admittedly, berating MPs at a most indiscreet volume for hours on end - for four years, making him almost as well-known a London ‘character’ as that Sinners and Winners arse at Oxford Circus. Except that Haw has a point. And, like his inane Scouse counterpart, he has a right. For now.

In two days’ time, the police will have powers to boot Brian from the spot where he has been quietly protesting all these many months. This is because new laws decree that anyone wishing to protest within half a mile of Parliament must ask nicely first. There can be no spontaneous expression of disgust about Iraq, or anything else for that matter. The fact that Haw has been camped, festooned with banners and badges, on the House’s doorstep for some time, making his protest rather less than spontaneous, won’t protect him. MPs are blustering about being unable to work with the constant ballyhoo, and about the ‘security risk’ posed by Haw’s display – presumably, they’re worried the anti-war flags and placards will inflame disaffected young Muslim males, resulting in immediate radicalisation and a headlong rush into the Commons with whatever weapon is to hand. But they’re confident he’ll soon be out of their hair. Only he may not, because this week the veteran protester won the right to – yes – protest the new laws being applied retroactively. Cheers!

He’ll lose, of course, to a chorus of snotty hoots from MPs intent on nothing more than furthering their own careers and maintaining their standing, who profess the utmost respect for their constituents in the most unctuous tones whenever it is in their best interests, but who secretly – and sometimes not so secretly, as in the case of an embarrassing bug-in-the-Merlot like Haw – hold them in utter contempt. If Blair could carelessly discount a million ordinary people of all ages, social strata and levels of hygiene as silly, then it’s a breeze for the rest of the bunch to laugh a solitary buffoon with a megaphone off the political map. No one cares what he’s saying. He’s a mad jobless arse who lives in a tent. Pfft.

But when said mad jobless arse is dragged kicking and sloganeering from Parliament Square, they may find the peace and quiet resonates somewhat with the massed grumbles and scowls of quite a few other people who know that the war hasn’t gone away. Those MPs who supported it will have to live with it every day of their lives, as the body count racks up, and with the doubts in their own heads making such a racket, they might even miss the hollering bloke who used to distract them. Then the protester – who will surely be lurking not too far away - will have the last laugh.

Haw. Haw.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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