Several media outlets--including the Guardian, the Independent, and the Telegraph --are reporting today that London Mayor Boris Johnson (Con) is seeking a High Court action to remove peace protesters who have been camping outside the Houses of Parliament.
The removal has the support of the local Conservative Council and Tory members of Parliament, all of whom seem to miss the irony of attempting to remove peaceful protesters from Parliament Square on the very same day that David Cameron presented his commitment to 'restore' the right to peaceful protest as part of the throne speech.
Mark Field, the Conservative member of Parliament for the Cities of London and Westminster, provides some insight into the rationale, by attempting to justify the removal of the peace camp because it's 'an appalling eyesore.' This sentiment reveals just how shallow the Tory commitment to civil liberties really is.
The right to non-violent protest is the right to non-violent protest. It can't be overlooked because it is aesthetically unpleasant. It can't be dismissed because it may cause disruption. And it can't be over-ruled because a government and/or members of the general public find it offensive. A commitment to civil liberties is best demonstrated when demonstrating this commitment is the least easy option to pursue. In this regard, the Conservatives have failed their first test. This failure does not bode well for the future, given that the policies pursued by the this government--like any government--will catalyze a great deal of protest.
Therefore, early indications are that the Tory commitment to the right to peaceful protest--and to civil liberties more generally-- is a rhetorical ruse, a means of appearing more humane while they--and the Liberal Democrats--orchestrate a series of devastating cuts to the public sector that will prove to be deeply unpopular once their effects are experienced.
Lest one be seduced by this ruse--and given Labour's appalling record on this front it's easy to be seduced--remember that the Conservatives are the political party that previously passed legislation (e.g., the Employment Acts of 1980, 1982, 1988) that undermined long-standing labour rights--and note that re-establishing labour rights does not appear in the coalition's manifesto. Remember too that the Conservatives were also the party that introduced the Public Order Act (1986) and subsequent amendments which dramatically undermined the right to Public Assembly.
It just goes to show how bizarre UK political culture has become, when given their track record, the Tories are being portrayed in some quarters as the champions of civil liberties.
Photo credit: Josh Heald