To Trafalgar Square today to demonstrate for withdrawing our forces from Iraq, and against joining the attack on Iran that the US has been publicly contemplating. Arguably a waste of time, as HMG now seems set on slouching out of Basra, however slowly. Presumably a dignified sloth saves faces, if not actual limbs and other body parts. A-and joining a US attack is—surely?—unthinkable after Iraq.
But then it is hard to know any more what is unthinkable. The Metropolitan Police announced (well into a series of planning meetings with the experienced Stop The War organisers) that they had been “instructed” to forbid the march, and that all demonstrations are now banned within a mile of Parliament when it is sitting. (Recall in this regard that ‘demonstration’ includes such outrages as reading the names of the fallen at the Cenotaph, for which young Maya Evans now carries a conviction.) The notorious Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 that HMG supposedly means to repeal won’t quite stretch to this enlarged ban, so the Met invoked a section of the Metropolitan Police Act 1839 obliging them to protect MPs’ access to Parliament. None of this had seemed a problem in 2003 when STW mobilised a million protesters.
This tactic is now thought to have backfired. If I had hesitated about trudging to the Commons to urge HMG to a course on which it already seems reluctantly set, or against a course of evident madness, all doubts evaporated in the face of suppression. The prime minister’s first speech to Parliament was all about rolling back executive power and devolving it. There is nothing inevitable about freedom and democracy. The freedom of those who care sufficiently to demonstrate about an issue publicly will surely disappear unless periodically reasserted. If the last decade of New Labour government has anything to teach us about civil liberties, it is to think the unthinkable. The nodding through this summer of open official access to our phone records amounts to a revival of the notorious, bitterly resisted and supposedly long-dead general warrant. (Americans thought they had nailed this one two centuries ago, engraving a prohibition of writs of assistance into their constitution.) Email cannot be far behind.
I was dismayed to find that at 1pm I could stroll easily into Trafalgar Square. Radio news tonight reported “hundreds” of protestors. Well, there were thousands, but not many thousands. How few seem to have grasped that what happens in Britain over the coming decades has more to do with our foreign policy – Iraq, energy sources, and letting millions die in our effluent – than any domestic agenda. Eventually the climate terrorists will get busy seeking our attention. The dribbling away of ancient freedoms parallels perfectly the melting of the ice caps. If only this were all metaphor.
Reading John Gray’s Straw Dogs does nothing to lighten these thoughts. So thanks to OurKingdom stalwarts Anthony Barnett and Jon Bright, and to Henry Porter of The Observer, for company on the march, without which I should no doubt have been even more despondent.