It does not bode well that, while the Queen’s Speech was announcing a rebirth of civil liberty, Brian Haw was being arrested in Parliament Square. This was yet another bad move by the Met. They know Brian very well by now, and are fully aware that he is not a threat to the Queen. It beggars belief that, after they have stared at his every moment for years, they might suddenly think he was storing weapons or using drugs, This was crass and insensitive.
The rest of the Parliament Square “Peace Camp” is quite a different matter. I have not spoken with Brian recently, but I can tell you that it is wrong to presume that he welcomes or trusts all those comparatively fleeting campers who join him in good weather.
My own view is complex. There is, I believe, a genuine difference between the right to protest in Parliament Square – which I strongly support – and the right to live in Parliament Square, which in general I don’t support. Brian’s vigil is different because its maintenance became the only way to maintain the right to protest there under Draconian New Labour legislation. Camps, vigils and occupations have their place in protests. But do I think anybody has the right to pitch tent in Parliament Square and stay for weeks? No, I don’t really.
Public spaces are public, and if you appropriate them to live there, that is a loss to the public.
Actually for me the real scandal of Parliament Square is the sacrifice of this public space to the bloody motor car. It is not a square, it is a horribly busy traffic roundabout. It has been made quite deliberately almost impossible to get past the traffic and on the the green area of the square. None of the many sets of traffic lights has a pedestrian phase allowing you to do that.
Westminster is a disgrace. What should be the great public areas of the country – the Embankments, much of Trafalgar Square, Whitehall, The Mall, Birdcage Walk, Parliament Square – are horrible spaces full of noise, pollution and danger. Cars should be banned from the entire area.
I do hope the mean-minded charges against Brian are thrown out, though I doubt they will be. Another measure announced in the Queen’s Speech was elected police commissioners. Now wouldn’t Brian be a great candidate?