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Home > Politics

Together Alone: Protesting in Parliament Square

1 September 2006

Let's face it, if we got a nice, fair, humanitarian government tomorrow, huge swathes of people would have a lot less fun. Maybe not Muslims trying to go on holiday, Iraqi civilians or Britain's underclass but it's a good bet that many a blogger, newspaper columnist, protester and weekly email comment sheet would be bereft. Railing against the current incumbent scumbags is such a joy.

It's a small counterbalance to the death, destruction and misery caused by New Labour but they've also been a catalyst for so many people to come together and have a bloody good laugh. More of that joy, laughter and coming together was on display yesterday during the 'Mass Lone Protests' in Parliament Square, orchestrated by crusading comedian Mark Thomas.

In short, the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (SOCPA) established an exclusion zone around Parliament meaning that anyone making a political statement or protest inside that zone without a permit can face arrest. Permission for any protest must be obtained from the police at least six days in advance.

The Government says the Act was brought in for security reasons, though just how it stops a potential terrorist from going down the local nick and having his 'protest' rubber stamped by the police hasn't been explained. Most suspect it's just a way of suppressing dissent. It's the political equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and shouting, 'la, la, la, can't hear you'.

In an attempt to use the act against itself and display it's inherent absurdity, Thomas came up with the wheeze of the 'Mass Lone Protest' where as many people as possible applied, on the same day at the same police station, for an individual permit to protest. And apply they did. Last Thursday, 120 people turned up to lodge their applications at Charing Cross police station.

And in the best spirit of British ingenuity many had a ball with the process. One woman brought her application iced on a cake, which after it was noted, was shared with the policemen on duty. A medium, claiming to be channelling the spirit of Winston Churchill applied for a protest in the late prime ministers name. The police were forced to take on extra staff.

Our application lodged and our protest licence / permit / condescension having arrived in the post, The Friday Thing set off for a warm and sunny Parliament Square. Our placard wrapped in a bin liner, we pushed fretful thoughts of table-leg-in-a-bag-shot-by-the-fuzz Harry Stanley to one side. Upon arrival the first face we saw was that of British blogging's very own merry prankster Tim Ireland (of bloggerheads.com fame) who, after Downing Street nicked his designs for making Tony Blair contactable by email, was there with his 'Tony Blair owes me 2000' banner. (Tim later went down to Downing Street to offer Tony favourable repayment terms but the Prime Minister hid behind the sofa.)

The next person we saw was Mark Thomas himself handing out commemorative badges he'd had made, the sweetie. They'll all be on eBay today, you mark our words.

If we're honest, the media almost outnumbered the number of protesters. But what they lacked for in numbers they made up for in imagination and variety (have a look at some photos). July 7 bombing survivor Rachel North was there with friends calling for a public inquiry into the atrocity. Anti-war and ID cards protesters were well represented jostling with those calling for Pluto to have its planetary status reinstated. The Croydon Loony Party called for 'Free Chocolate For Students, Pensioners and the Unemployed'. The campaign to have Robbie Williams exiled for crimes against music seemed popular as was the call to have wanking banned because 'every time you masturbate, God kills a Tory'. Though whether people might regard that as an incentive rather than a warning is up for debate.

At the heart of proceedings was Brian Haw, the man whose permanent antiwar protest in Parliament Square SOCPA was specifically designed to stop. In a typical New Labour 1984-meets-The-Chuckle-Brothers twist, a court ruled that the law could not be applied retrospectively and Brian now finds himself the only person in Britain able to protest in front of Parliament without police permission. He's also the only person allowed to use a loud speaker during protests, though considering the volume he can shout at, it's to be wondered if he needs it. He's also, in another flourish of bureaucratic incompetence, only allowed to use the loud speaker outside of office hours. When, naturally, there are more people on the street to hear his message.

Like we said, it was a small, low-key affair. The police presence was minimal (three coppers stood in the shade of a tree about a hundred yards away). What impact it had is difficult to say although the live TV broadcast by BBC London allowed 120 people pratting about to reach a much larger audience than just the tourists gawping from the open-top buses. (Watch the broadcast here. It takes great relish in pointing out the undemocratic idiocy of SOCPA. The video's also worth watching to see Thomas take Tory London Assembly member Brian Coleman to pieces. Coleman protested against the protests. Without police permission.)

For all the laughter (and there was plenty) the serious message behind it all shouldn't be lost. Like Dirk Bogarde in the film 'The Servant', the Government have forgotten that they are the hired help and have got scary ideas above their station. We've said it before but we've yet to have it adequately explained to us how we fight for our rights, freedoms and democracy by giving them away. If we're going to start appeasing fundamentalists for our 'security', why not go all the way and introduce Sharia law?

While it was a small gathering this week, it seems it was just the beginning. Another Mass Lone Protest - with, we're told, an added twist - is planned for next month with more of an effort made to spread the word beforehand. Keep an eye on Thomas' website.

We'll be there, having fun in order to stamp out fun.

Down with fun.

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

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