Boris Johnson’s touching concern for the wellbeing of the environment would be most admirable if only it didn’t clash with the wellbeing of free speech and democracy


On Wednesday the 2nd there was a protest outside the Houses of Parliament whilst MPs debated whether or not to bomb ISIS targets in Syria. The turnout was impressive, but protesters were forced tighter together, restricted to a shut-off road due to a wall of police standing between them and Parliament Square.

Representatives from Occupy Democracy, a social movement standing for a democracy free from corporate influence and one that works for the people and the planet, this week challenged the decision of London Mayor, Boris Johnson in the High Court on the use of metal fences to exclude protest from Parliament Square in the months leading to the general election (results from the hearing are yet to be revealed at the time of writing). And with the same action occurring in October 2014, this isn’t the first time the Mayor has sectioned-off the Square.

Legal advisor for Occupy London (from which Occupy Democracy is a working group) Matthew Varnham spoke of:

‘When people around the world have a problem with their government they take their grievance directly to the seat of power. Parliament Square is of equivalent significance in the United Kingdom as Tahrir Square is to Egypt or Tiananmen Square is to China. It is a test of the democracy of the country itself, how the authorities choose to respond to protests in these spaces’.

It doesn’t add up when you think about it, that in a space which homes statues of Ghandi and Mandela, two flagship figures of protest, someone like Boris Johnson can go and employ the ‘use of metal fences to exclude protest’. According to the GLA (Greater London Authority) the Square was sectioned-off in order to ‘provide protection for the grassed area’. Let’s get this straight, a government that is slashing solar subsidies, reinvesting in nuclear weapons, doing very little to fight climate change, making the poor poorer, leaving Syrian refugees out in the cold and bowing down to the Saudi authorities for the environmentally catastrophic gem that is oil, is telling you to shut up because they want to ‘provide protection for the grassed area’. Jesus.

On the fencing-off of Parliament Square, legal officer Rosie Brighouse said:

‘Peaceful protest in the UK has a long, proud history. Many of the freedoms we enjoy were won because people were prepared to demonstrate. Parliament Square is not the mayor’s private back garden. He has a duty to facilitate this political activity, not prevent it — especially in the very heart of the world’s oldest democracy’.

This act of fencing-off Parliament Square really questions how democratic our system of government is. It is a worrying symptom of these increasingly tense times and a call for what people such as George Monbiot call, an ‘Age of Consent’, meaning that in a world that is now connected by globalisation, democracy should work for the people instead of the businesses lobbying governments.

Police funding is on the rise, as are racial tensions and inequality levels, but if you want to protest any of this you will have to do it somewhere other than outside the seats of the British Government. If the UK went for a check-up on its health it would surely be told to change its ways pretty quickly.

Closing Parliament Square to protest is undemocratic, it shows an unjustified limitation on the freedom of speech and expression. Considering that the number of MPs voting in favour of the airstrikes on Syria were outnumbered by those protesting outside Parliament, we, together, need to take a serious look at the way our ‘democracy’ is working. And one step forward would be to let people stand on the f***ing grass.

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