Alex Hern reports on the eviction of peace protesters from parliament square.
The Parliament Square protest camp was evicted last night by the Metropolitan Police.
The Guardian reports:
The Metropolitan Police said that officers had arrived on the scene at around 7.30pm on Monday to remove “all tents and sleeping equipment”.
The move comes after the passing of the police reform and social responsibility (PRSR) bill, for which the home secretary had created an amendment that outlawed the setting up in Parliament Square of “any tent, or any other structure that is designed, or adapted… for the purpose of facilitating sleeping or staying in”.
The square has been the site of a number of protest camps over the years, with this just the latest one to be evicted.
Brian Haw, who occupied the square from June 2001 until his death in June 2011, was even the subject of a law specifically written to end his protest – the serious organised crime and police act of 2005, which contained a clause banning all unauthorised protest within an area roughly half a mile around parliament.
This failed to have the desired impact due to the fact that Haw’s protest had technically started before the act was in effect. It has still been used several times in the intervening years to prevent other protests which would otherwise have been legal, such as Maya Anne Evans’s; she was arrested shortly after the passing of the law for reading out the names of dead soldiers.
More recently, the ‘Democracy Village’ which was evicted today, was originally set up on the square itself, before being evicted by the Greater London Authority in July last year following a court order and moving onto the pavement around the square.
This, however, is owned by Westminster Council, and so eviction required a separate order, made possible by the new PRSR bill.
This move follows David Cameron’s statement, concerning occupy London, that:
I have got this rather quaint view – you shouldn’t be able to erect tents all over the place.
I think protesting is something you, on the whole, should do on two feet, rather than lying down.
Left Foot Forward has reported before on the crackdown on protest in London, which previously has been largely done by abusing the extent to which public spaces in the city are owned by private companies:
Boris Johnson – and Ken Livingstone before him – has been instrumental in making London the home of international finance. Want to camp outside City Hall? Unfortunately, More London Estates is unlikely to allow that.
Occupy a major shopping district, so as to draw attention to the problems of consumerism!? It had better not be Carnaby Street, Westfield Stratford or Westfield White City, although if you’re lucky and the police permit, you may be able to march down Oxford Street or Regent Street.
All of these areas were once public land and therefore the public were free (within reason) to protest on them.
A private company on private land can deny any person access at any time for almost any reason. That is fine if that private land is, for example, a shop or an office block. But when it is a street, square or park, and when it is indistinguishable from the private land around it, it creates problems.
Currently, the PRSR bill only outlaws tents in a specific area; but it is a worrying sign of the extent to which the government is happy to follow the example of the one before it, and use primary legislation to shut down protest it disagrees with. Civil liberties were one of Nick Clegg’s yellow lines – will he fight over this?
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• Occupy LA evicted as America clamps down on protest – Alex Hern, December 1st 2011
• How we sold off the right to protest to the one per cent – Alex Hern, November 3rd 2011
• Seek solutions to protests, not problems – Mike Morgan-Giles, November 2nd 2011
• The privatisation of public space is harming our ability to protest – Alex Hern, October 30th 2011
• The “occupy” protests come to the City this Saturday – Shamik Das, October 12th 2011