Bring on Brown as PM

A Scottish streak of tapioca as prime minister - bring it on! Are they serious? Are they really going to do it? If I understand the events at Brighton this week, the Labour Party has finally decided that at some stage in the next four years they are going to make Gordon Brown Prime Minister. Never mind an election; never mind democracy. Sometime soonish Tony Blair and the Labour Party will part company, with many a dry eye on either side. Gordon is simply going to be translated to Number 10, with all the public consultation that attended the transition from Claudius to Nero; and for many of us it will be a transformation devoutly to be wished. For years we have been watching and waiting, consumed with a palpitating expectation, and for years Gordon has disappointed us. What has got into you, Gordon? we have asked ourselves. What have you got under that kilt, then? Are you a man or a mouse? Blair is the man who made Gordon look foolish in that original deal, 10 years ago, at the Islington restaurant. Blair is the smoothychops lawyer who learned about politics from Gordon, and then snaffled the leadership from under his nose. Blair is the one who nicked Gordon's best soundbite - tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime - and passed it off as his own. Blair has led the Labour Party into a disastrous war in Iraq, and blatantly misrepresented, to Parliament and public, the extent to which Saddam was a threat to this country's interests. Blair is the man who has alienated huge sections of the Labour rank and file with his reckless sucking up to George dubya Bush, the cross-eyed Texan warmonger. And yet Blair has led the Labour Party for 10 unchallenged years, and Gordon has done nothing to contest his right to the job, except to allow his spin-doctors, from time to time, to issue little off-the-record whimpers of resentment. It's pathetic! I have lost count of the number of times I have been rung by Peter Oborne, the brilliant political editor of The Spectator, to be told that the Blair-Brown feud is about to reach its climax, and that Gordon's impatience can no longer be contained. I was assured that Brown was going to jugulate Blair before the last election. And what happens? He just sits there, marmoreal, impassive, the incredible sulk, watching Blair jig around in front of him with all the inscrutable savagery of Old Brown, the owl, contemplating Squirrel Nutkin. Gordon Brown has spent so long wondering when to make his move that he makes the giant panda seem a martyr to rash impetuosity. For the better part of the decade the "Brownies" have schemed and briefed against Blair, with the illustrious Charlie Whelan falling in hand-to-hand combat against Alastair Campbell. What kind of leadership has Brown shown these troops, many of whom have laid down their lives in the hope that he would become prime minister? He has let "I dare not" wait upon "I would"; he has been a big girl's blouse; and if Blair has a streak of granite running through him, as he boasted to this week's conference, then it would be fair to say that Gordon has a streak of solid tapioca. Frankly, some of us had despaired of Gordon's killer instinct; and that is why we are all the more encouraged and amazed by the news this week. It seems that Tony actually means to keep his promise, and that Gordon is genuinely going to get his birthright. If we are right to think this, my message to the Labour Party is, go right ahead, punks, Make My Day. I say this to Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper, and all the other Brownies hoping to do well when Gordon makes it to Number 10. You may think that the Tories are having a little leadership difficulty at the moment, and you would be right that we seem to have devised an ingenious solution to the Tory habit of assassinating our leaders. We appear to have decided that for quite a long period after our own party conference we will do without a leader at all, opening the possibility that someone - perhaps even I - will just go down to Central Office, put martial music on the tannoy, and issue a pronunciamento. But if the Labour Party thinks the Tories' disarray is long-lasting, they are deluded. Sooner or later there will be a leader, and any one of the main contenders will beat Gordon Brown at the next election. That is the point. That is why I have prayed, so long, for him to make his move. Not only is he a gloomadon-popping old busybody, who has increased taxes, fleeced the pension funds, and instituted tax credits of such infernal complication that of the 4.25 million pensioners eligible for Pension Credit, only 2.65 million actually claim the cash, which is in most cases a scarcely adequate compensation for the increases he has occasioned in council tax. Not only does he lack Blair's charm - or whatever you want to call that gliserting-toothed air of sincerity. The key quality of Gordon Brown is that he is a Scot, and he sits for a Scottish seat at a time of glaring constitutional inequity, which Labour has no proposals to amend. It is infamous enough that Gordon Brown can pass laws for my constituents, in England, and stick his nose into the admissions systems of ancient English universities, when I have no corresponding say over health or education in Scotland. What makes the position doubly absurd is that he has no say over those questions insofar as they affect his own constituents in Scotland. The problem is not that the people of England are being ruled by Scots; the problem is the asymmetry and imbalance in the constitutional arrangements, combined with the profusion of electorally tiny Scottish seats. Until that injustice is righted, I believe the English electorate will find it hard to accept a Scottish MP prime minister; and for all these reasons I say to Labour: pick Brown, and bring it on!

40 thoughts on “Bring on Brown as PM”

  1. “We appear to have decided that for quite a long period after our own party conference we will do without a leader at all, opening the possibility that someone – perhaps even I – will just go down to Central Office, put martial music on the tannoy, and issue a pronunciamento.”

    Please, please do. What do you say? If 100 people comment on this thread by the end of the conference, will you do just that?

    You know you want to 🙂

  2. Errr. ‘Any one of them will beat Gordon Brown at the next election’.

    David Cameron?
    David Davis?
    Liam Fox?
    Malcolm Rifkind?

    OK. You might swing it with Clarke. But even that’d be a tough call. I suspect you may be a little too close to your subject here, Boris. Time to get back out there and talk to some voters. And preferably not the sort that live in leafy Henley.

  3. Why not more stand for leader?

    The ‘in’ joke is that anyone could stand – so why not Boris of course. He would risk scaring the pants off many a powerful MP and giving others heart failure. Boris would be wise to stay within his comfort zone – as a backbencher and editor.

    Time for quiet reflection over this time of change – things are going well for the Party.

    MCW @ Boris Johnson’s Office

  4. Boris’s forte , certainly at this juncture , is to write leaders : since one appears not to be in the near future chosen; why on earth then does he not WRITE us a leader. Ken Clarke is perhaps not everyone’s choice , but he certainly is mine. Out of a herd of ‘has been’ and ‘wannabe’ candidates such as we have at the moment, Ken is the only one who stands a chance of putting the animated teeth and his Billy Bunter lady in waiting in their place Come on Boris : write us a leader.

  5. Confidentially, Blair’s dragging his abdication out precisely so that some of Brown’s guilty little secrets have time to make it into the public consciousness – at which point he’ll be completely unelectable and Blair’s preferred candidate will have a clear run.

    After that happens, if you thought Ted Heath indulged in the longest sulk in history, well – you ain’t seen nothing yet!

    Brown will ultimately destroy the New Labour project in a fit of spite. He lost faith in Blair before the rest of the country did and it’s only his desparate need to fulfil what he regards as his destiny that’s kept him in check till now.

    Poor old Gordon, he’d have made a great PM in the late 60s but he’s got an obsessive need to over-complicate everything (look at Tolley’s Tax Guide) and the time for radical social engineering by tax policy is loooooong gone.

  6. The key bit to this letter is :

    “What makes the position doubly absurd is that he has no say over those questions insofar as they affect his own constituents in Scotland. The problem is not that the people of England are being ruled by Scots; the problem is the asymmetry and imbalance in the constitutional arrangements, combined with the profusion of electorally tiny Scottish seats.

    Until that injustice is righted, I believe – – – ”
    the constitutional problem is THE dominant problem of what is still – just about – British politics . The problem is basically that of the vast discrimination against the English of the British constiutional setup – ie no parliament for England which is becoming more and more a country occupied by the British state . .
    What is peculiar , but alas , all too typical of most , not all , of the people who comment here is thier capacity to rabbit on about inessentials and ignore this basic problem .

    Face it , the United Kingdom is dying .

    The English lack leadership and representation . The natural party to represent them , the conservatives – which should be renamed the English Consertive party , refuses to do so and instead spends its time pining after the past .
    Until it recognises the blindingly obvious it will get nowhere .

  7. Strong words Boris, Hope you’ve got some more when Browns Labour attack machine has done a good firm number on your parties latest Neocon wannabe in 2009.

  8. John :
    The blindingly obvious , as you so rightly put it ,has been roundly discussed , in so much depth elsewhere on these numerous pages, that it is obvious you have not long been an interested observer thereof. A flip through previous entries will disclose almost identical words to those used by yourself,from a whole army of contributors. See April 14 Blair or Brown as PM just as a forinstance.

  9. Damn Boris I agree with you again. I remember having a somewhat heated discussion in a pub a few months back with a labour minded (but not a labour voter these days) friend of mine about just why I fond Brown infitinely worse than that swine Blair.

    It always has struck me that whenever anything resembling mud is slung, Brown ducks stays quiet and hides, at least until his chance comes to once more rally the Blair/Brown conspiracy fraud again and win him some more love from the old lefties.
    Ive always though that the truth is: the man is a total and abject fraud. He doesn’t seme to have a spine anymore, maybe he managed to swindle the devil with it rather than his soul when he made the ‘deal’ to be PM one day.

    I do hope you are right, I’m not keen on Davis and the ilk, but frankly anyone but that bugger Brown. Please.

  10. >>Blair has led the Labour Party into a disastrous war in Iraq, and blatantly misrepresented, to Parliament and public, the extent to which Saddam was a threat to this country’s interests.

    Blair is the man who has alienated huge sections of the Labour rank and file with his reckless sucking up to George dubya Bush, the cross-eyed Texan warmonger.<<

    So Boris has now succumbed to Bush Derangement Syndrome. Michael Howard already caused me to leave the Conservative Party after his dishonorable equivocations on Iraq. Boris may yet persuade me, against every inclination I have (on education, on health, on Europe, on defence, on the constitution, you name it) to vote Labour at the next election. Why are you determined to turn the Conservative Party into a half-hearted version of Kennedy’s Lib-Dems? Lets start up the anti-semitism as well, perhaps? Guess what, in this week’s Spectator, we do!

    Boris, please get a grip!

  11. Robert

    Sad to read your conclusions. You are entitled to accept and welcome life being hookwinked by Blair and Bush – but Boris and many others are entitled to object. And with some justification too.

  12. Robert, Bush is a Texan warmonger, he uses commander in chef language; he and Bliar have involved their countries’ in more wars than previous heads of state. I believe that the war in Iraq was wrong right from the beginning because it had the smell of hypocrisy, while I supported the war in Afghanistan. And I do resent that being against the war in Iraq makes me an anti-Semite, I resent this even when I view my opinions about the mess Israel has made of the Palestinian situation (on the other hand I also point out the mess the Palestinians have made of their own situation). If the Spectator has an opinion that is different from the usual Barbara Amel dross, I am pleased, debates and different opinions are ok for me. If this is your opinion, you are right in voting Labour, so that whoever is against your opinion can just be arrested under the anti-terrorism laws and put into a dark cell in the tower, since that seems to be the way the country is going to.

  13. ‘Marmoreal’ – an apt and amusing adjective. In fact, the whole article is entertaining, and possibly true (an added bonus).

  14. evil tim lawyer – it’s already been confirmed that Boris doesn’t read this blog.
    [Ed: meanie Jaq! not so confirmed am glad to say, see comment below]

  15. All depends on the economy. If things go belly up, then step forward Peter Hain…However, if not, I think Gordon will prove as unbeatable as Blair – despite the fact that I personally find him quite creepy (his insincere smiles trump Blair’s any day). Many people will see it as a matter of “fair play” that GOrdon should have a chance as PM.

    Davis is impressing more, although am still concerned about my perception of him as fundamentally lazy since that charge has been put by others who actually know him. However, on the other hand he appears to be an effective bruiser whose sympathies are with his party which is perhaps what the Tories need at the moment in lieu of any more fundamental charge.

  16. E Tim Lawyer
    >Melissa, does Boris ever reply for himself?

    Boris is focused on serious and important business – he is very much aware of what goes on in the blog and he instigated having it. However, monitoring the blog is something that can be delegated – looking out for unacceptable trackbacks and other unsuitable comments for instance. He does, of course, answer for himself at times. But it is not possible for him to answer all the questions himself, hence someone like me, or other colleagues, step in.

    Today he has a constituency day and is out and about all day in the Henley area. Next week he will be in Blackpool for the first half of the week.

    It would be good if others had blogs that are as interactive as this one but MPs fear the amount of time they might take to monitor and also like being a little secretive. What a welcome approach Boris has – he is the only Conservative MP to have a permanent weblog. Would that there were more!

  17. Perhaps we could persuade Boris’ Conservative Association to refuse to select him for the next election unless he stands for party leader?

  18. Anonymous poster:
    I’ve said it before, and i’ll say it again.

    Boris would get re-elected round here if he was in the Conservative Party or not. He is an exceptional constituency MP, a most refreshing change. He is a man who “gets things done”.

    I say NO to Boris as party leader…I, for one, wouldn’t like to see him distracted from the fine work he does around here!!

    Psi.
    (a Henley resident, obviously!)

    (Oh, and a selfish git too!!!)

  19. “Never mind an election; never mind democracy. Sometime soonish Tony Blair and the Labour Party will part company, with many a dry eye on either side. Gordon is simply going to be translated to Number 10, with all the public consultation that attended the transition from Claudius to Nero”

    Erm…do you mean like the changeover from Thatcher to Major?

  20. Psi: Since both initials fit the description of the official name of the ” Not me Guv’, I wasn’t in the building when the old guy got manhandled” excuse for a Premier; The Right Hon Anthony Bliar; you may take your pick. I don’t think Maggie lied, when she quoted St Francis of Assisi, even if she became a little deluded as to her mortality at a later date.
    It must somehow go with the territory of certain politically powerful individuals, this megalomania thing. Poor Walter Wolfgang, he escaped one of them only to become embroiled later with another. Thank goodness we don’t have so called “security bruisers” on the web.

  21. The Chinese have “security bruisers” on the web. [And if the current US admin had its way, they would too. In fact, I’ll bet my bottom dollar (er … euro) that they’re beavering away at various clamp-down methods as we speak.]

    “The Chinese Government’s State Council Information Bureau and Ministry of Industry and Information has issued a list that contains 11 subjects forbidden to Chinese bloggers.

    Bloggers are banned from putting out news that:

    – violates the basic principles of the Chinese constitution:
    – endangers national security, leaks national secrets, seeks to overthrow the government, endangers the unification of the country;
    – destroys the country?s reputation and benefits;
    – arouses national feelings of hatred, racism, and endangers racial unification;
    – violates national policies on religion, promotes the propaganda of sects and superstition;
    – diffuses rumours, endangers public order and creates social uncertainty;
    – diffuses information that is pornographic, violent, terrorist or linked to gambling;
    – libels or harms people?s reputation, violates people?s legal rights;
    – includes illegal information bounded by law and administrative rules.

    and the final two dictates that:

    – It is forbidden to encourage illegal gatherings, strikes, etc to create public disorder;
    – It is forbidden to organise activities under illegal social associations or organisations.

    Blogs that break these new rules will be shut down and those running them will have to pay a fine that could reach 30,000 yuans (aprox $3,500 USD).”

    http://www.blogherald.com/2005/09/26/the-11-subjects-forbidden-to-chinese-bloggers/

    Interesting to listen to Wolfgang and Clare Short talking about “control freaks” on Sky this morning.

    Enjoy Sunday, and blogging, everyone!

  22. Reminds me of the sixties joke about the man who was sentenced to 20 years hard labour for calling Kruschev a fool.

    He got a year for insulting premier and 19 years for revealing a State secret.

  23. Dear Boris,

    I was cheered by the sincerity of the above ‘Sooner or later the Conservatives will have a leader’ article by “Melissa”. I once wrote to my schoolfriend Andrew Mennear, now your councillor and failed parliamentary candidate Karl Andrew Mennear, that I considered Michael Howard to be the MasterBoss of Darkness. This was just after the 1997 election, and before Howard was so convincingly defeated by Paxman, who was, of course, to become his chum one televised leadership election later.

    Two election defeats on, and Howard is- finally- no longer a threat. I am shamed to admit that the desperation induced by Blair-Brown actually induced me to write some posts containing lukewarm support for Howard in the hope that ‘New Danger’ would lose enough seats to hamper their scheme, only to be disappointed. It seems poor reward for what could be said to be a decent parliamentary party performance which claimed the scalp of a Labour minister over the World Trade Center, a second over their inability to run the examination system and then the Home Secretary, over using his position to pursue a pregnant ex-lover, another man’s wife, in the courts and then forcing her to submit to a sperm test. I am informed that he actually resigned on an immigration issue(?) Of course, the Hutton inquiry was a rather poorer show, but what can you expect when the American embassy is involved.

    So, Boris, what is your personal position on the continuance of Ashworth Hospital?

    You may need to be reminded of the issue: in 1990 the inmates of Moss Side and Park Lane high-security hospitals were allowed to participate in an ‘election’ to name the merged hospital. Later in 1990 the Conservatives replaced their leader, a year almost to the day after cameras were first introduced to the Commons- was it to the day?. Apart from the troubled election victory of 1992 and the subsequent defeats of 1997, 2001 and 2005, the hospital has been the constant source of scandal, the most notorious being the ‘groomed for abuse’ disgrace when Howard was Home Secretary, with the subsequent inquiry reporting to Blair’s Labour government. Dobson refused to close the hospital and later became involved in Labour’s election for their candidate as mayor of London. The hospital was to be retained on the condition it was under the management of professionals- in fact it has been subsequently run by a former ‘patient care’ worker.

    The notion of Blair being allowed to hand on the country to his fellow Scotsman Brown in a form of truce mediated by identity cards, Muslim terrorism and a namesake police chief anguishes me as much as you- if not more so. However, I believe the Ashworth question will be a profitable line to follow. Sooner or later.

    Khrushchev was a fool. Also, isn’t it poor history to suggest that a writer can issue a “pronunciamento”?

    Best wishes at your conference,

    yrs,

    ‘Anecdota’

  24. “Blair is the man who has alienated huge sections of the Labour rank and file with his reckless sucking up to George dubya Bush, the cross-eyed Texan warmonger”

    Understatement of the month Boris, it’s not just the Labour rank and file who have been alienated.

    About the leadership race, I was tending towards David Davis, until I heard the man waffling on in the Westminster Hour last night.

    The one thing that can be said about Clarke is that he is always clear and decisive. People like that in a leader.

  25. Ed: please don’t call me names. I asked if Boris read the blog some time ago and had the reply:
    “Please rest assured that in his own oblique way Boris is aware of this blog through and through – he may not show it at times tho”
    It was NOT confirmed that he READ the blog but that he was “aware” of it in an “oblique way” and from your post in this thread is made aware of it. That’s not the same as reading it himself. The question wasn’t “is he aware of it?” As far as I’m concerned the answer was a ‘no’ then – he doesn’t read the blog.

    I know you lot in Westminster like to fudge the truth and seem to dislike those who insist on telling it. When it comes to a closed question that requires a yes or no answer please don’t shoot the messenger when, if Boris did read the blog, he could have answered himself: “YES” or “NO”

    I feel like Jeremy Paxman or Ian Hislop! Well, I always feel like Ian Hislop 🙂

  26. Please, not another saucer-head for leader!

    The Guardian has launched a vicious attack on Clarke, so that must mean he is the best candidate to take on Blair and Brown.

  27. Apparently over 600 people were arrested at the Labour Lectures – all under the anti-terrorism act.

    This is an abuse of power, the act was designed to prevent terrorism – yet it is being used to suppress peaceful protest against the actions of a dictatorial government.

    This government is NOT to be trusted on ANY civil rights issue. This has now been demonstrated.

    Sorry if this is the wrong thread for this…it was the closest I could see!!

    :o(

    Psi

  28. Psi – I didn’t know people were arrested at the lectures – agree with you, it IS an abuse. Thank you for bringing this vile corruption to our attention.

  29. Dear Boris,

    I haven’t been able to write a novel yet, and I haven’t had a glass of champagne for a while, so neither of those habits could be responsible for my perceiving a shadow behind Michael Howard. So let’s consider more recent politics. Your failed parliamentary candidate Karl Andrew Mennear and the winged pig poster problem seem to merit further reflection.

    You may need a reminder of the issue. The two major political parties have been engaged in a legal battle over the use of images on posters since your ‘Demon Eyes’ poster of 1997, which Labour objected to. The Labour Party has since then been allowed to use the images of Conservative politicians on its posters whenever it chooses. In January of this year your candidate for Finchley, Karl Andrew Mennear, decided that the latest poster campaign Campbell had ‘dreamt up’, presenting the faces of Michael Howard and Oliver Letwin on winged pigs, was more offensive than usual. He might have mentioned that Howard and Letwin were both targets for the ‘decapitation strategy’, or that it was better not to reference the previous 2001 Labour campaign- starring Hague and Portillo in ‘Towering Interest Rates’- but he preferred to link it to Holocaust Day, to a mixed reception. During the campaign, the MP who had run the James Review which the poster ostensibly referred to, Howard Flight, was forced to withdraw, without the poster controversy being alluded to. Blair’s aircraft was also struck by lightning, apparently the second time that this has happened.

    The most recent materialisation of the ‘pig poster problem’ seems to have been at the Labour conference, with an elderly Jewish refugee being thrown out of the hall to join other protesters detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. It may seem easy to dismiss this as Labour spin. The deliberate murder of an unarmed Brazilian who had been under police surveillance as part of the same supposed anti-terrorist controls leads to misgivings. After all, we don’t want to recreate the society of Rudolf Hess, whether in Henley or Liverpool.

    Andrew Mennear was always against identity cards, as a supporter on the terraces, before the Taylor Report.

    Best wishes at your conference,

    Yrs,

    ‘Anecdota’

  30. Protesters are Criminals

    And hardly anyone is contesting the new clampdown

    By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian 4th October 2005

    ‘We are trying to fight 21st-century crime – antisocial behaviour, drug-dealing, binge drinking, organised crime – with 19th-century methods as if we still lived in the time of Dickens’. Tony Blair, 27th September 2005.(1)

    ‘Down poured the wine like oil on blazing fire. And still the riot went on – the debauchery gained its height – glasses were dashed upon the floor by hands that could not carry them to lips, oaths were shouted out by lips which could scarcely form the words to vent them in; drunken losers cursed and roared; some mounted on the tables, waving bottles above their heads and bidding defiance to the rest; some danced, some sang, some tore the cards and raved. Tumult and frenzy reigned supreme ‘. Nicholas Nickleby, by Charles Dickens. 1839.(2)

    All politicians who seek to justify repressive legislation claim that they are responding to an unprecedented threat to public order. And all politicians who cite such a threat draft measures in response which can just as easily be used against democratic protest. No act has been passed over the last 20 years with the aim of preventing anti-social behaviour, disorderly conduct, trespass, harrassment and terrorism which has not also been deployed to criminalise a peaceful public engagement in politics. When Walter Wolfgang was briefly detained by the police after heckling the foreign secretary last week, the public caught a glimpse of something that a few of us have been vainly banging on about for years.

    On Friday, six students and graduates of Lancaster University were convicted of aggravated trespass. Their crime was to have entered a lecture theatre and handed out leaflets to the audience. Staff at the university were meeting people from BAE Systems, Rolls Royce, Shell, the Carlyle Group, GlaxoSmithKline, DuPont, Unilever and Diageo, to learn how to “commercialise university research”.(3) The students were hoping to persuade the researchers not to sell their work. They stayed in the theatre for three minutes. As the judge conceded, they tried neither to intimidate anyone nor to stop the conference from proceeding.(4)

    They were prosecuted under the 1994 Criminal Justice Act, passed when Michael Howard was the Conservative home secretary. But the university was able to use it only because Labour amended the act in 2003, to ensure that it could be applied anywhere, rather than just “in the open air.”(5)

    Had Mr Wolfgang said “nonsense” twice during the foreign secretary’s speech, the police could have charged him under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. Harrassment, the act says, “must involve conduct on at least two occasions … conduct includes speech.”(5) Parliament was told that its purpose was to protect women from stalkers, but the first people to be arrested were three peaceful protesters.(6) Since then it has been used by the arms manufacturer EDO to keep demonstrators away from its factory gates,(7) and by Kent police to arrest a woman who sent an executive at a drugs company two polite emails, begging him not to test his products on animals.( 8 ) In 2001 the peace campaigners Lindis Percy and Anni Rainbow were prosecuted for causing “harassment, alarm or distress” to American servicemen at the Menwith Hill military intelligence base in Yorkshire, by standing at the gate holding the stars and stripes and a placard reading “George W Bush? Oh dear!”.(9) In Hull a protester was arrested under the act for “staring at a building”.(10)

    Had Mr Wolfgang said “nonsense” to one of the goons who dragged him out of the conference, he could have been charged under section 125 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, which came into force in August. Section 125 added a new definition of harassment to the 1997 act: “a course of conduct … which involves harassment of two or more persons”. What this means is that you need only address someone once to be considered to be harassing them, as long as you have also addressed someone else in the same manner. This provision, in other words, can be used to criminalise any protest anywhere. But when the bill passed through the Commons and the Lords, no member contested or even noticed it.

    Section 125 hasn’t yet been exercised, but section 132 of the act is already becoming an effective weapon against democracy. This bans people from demonstrating in an area “designated” by the government. One of these areas is the square kilometre around parliament. Since the act came into force, democracy campaigners have been holding a picnic in Parliament Square every Sunday afternoon (see http://www1.atwiki.com/picnic/). Seventeen people have been arrested so far.(11)

    But the law which has proved most useful to the police is the one under which Mr Wolfgang was held: section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000. This allows them to stop and search people, without the need to show that they have “reasonable suspicion” that a criminal offence is being committed. They have used it to put peaceful protestors through hell.

    At the beginning of 2003, demonstrators against the impending war with Iraq set up a peace camp outside the military base at Fairford in Gloucestershire, from which US B52s would launch their bombing raids. Every day – sometimes several times a day – the protesters were stopped and searched under section 44.(12) The police, according to a parliamentary answer, used the act 995 times, though they knew that no one at the camp was a terrorist.(13) The constant harassment and detention pretty well broke the protesters’ resolve. Since then the police have used the same section to pin down demonstrators outside the bomb depot at Welford in Berkshire, at the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston, at Menwith Hill and at the annual arms fair in London’s Docklands.(14)

    The police are also rediscovering the benefits of some of our more venerable instruments. On September 10th, Keith Richardson, one of the six students convicted of aggravated trespass on Friday, had his stall in Lancaster city centre confiscated under the 1824 Vagrancy Act.(15) “Every Person wandering abroad and endeavouring by the Exposure of Wounds and Deformities to obtain or gather Alms … shall be deemed a Rogue and Vagabond…”.(16) The act was intended to prevent the veterans of the Napoleonic wars from begging, but the police decided that the pictures of the wounds and deformities on his anti-vivisection leaflets put him on the wrong side of the law. In two recent cases, protestors have been arrested under the 1361 Justices of the Peace Act. So much for Mr Blair’s “21st Century methods”.

    What is most remarkable about all this is that until Mr Wolfgang was held, neither parliamentarians nor the press were interested. The pressure group Liberty, the Green Party, a couple of alternative comedians, the Indymedia network and the alternative magazine Schnews have been left to defend our civil liberties almost unassisted. Even after “Wolfie” was thrown out of the conference, public criticism concentrated on the suppression of dissent within the Labour Party, rather than the suppression of dissent throughout the country. As the parliamentary opposition falls apart, the extra-parliamentary one is being closed down with hardly a rumble of protest from the huffers and puffers who insist that civil liberties are Britain’s gift to the world. Perhaps they’re afraid they’ll be arrested.

    http://www.monbiot.com

    References:

    1. Tony Blair, 27th September 2005. Speech to the Labour Party conference.

    2. Page 757 of the 1978 Penguin edition.

    3. George Fox 6 Supporters Group, no date given. Students Face Jail for Handing out Leaflets at University. Press release. There is more information at: http://www.free-webspace.biz/GeorgeFox/

    4. George Fox 6 Supporters Group, 30th September 2005. Student demonstrators will appeal aggravated trespass conviction. Press release.

    5. Section 59, the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003.

    6. SchNEWS, 20th March 1998. Issue 159. http://www.schnews.org.uk/

    7. Smash Edo, 26th March 2005. Arms Dealers Drop Legal Bombshell On Protesters. Press Release. http://www.smashedo.org.uk/

    8. Simon Dally, pers comm, 4th August 2004 and 21st February 2005. Simon Dally acted as legal adviser in this case.

    9. Yorkshire CND, 13th December 2000 and 16th January 2001. Menwith Hill news diary.
    http://www.cndyorks.gn.apc.org/caab/articles/caabspmhs.htm

    10. Schnews, 16th February 2001. Issue 293.

    11. Mark Barrett, PeopleÂ’s Commons protester, 2nd October 2005. Pers comm.

    12. Liberty, Gloucestershire Weapons Inspectors and Berkshire CIA, 2003. Casualty of War: 8 weeks of counter-terrorism in rural England. http://www.liberty-human-rights.org.uk/issues/pdfs/casualty-of-war.pdf

    13. Bob Ainsworth MP, 11th April 2003. Holding Answer.

    14. Liberty, Gloucestershire Weapons Inspectors and Berkshire CIA, ibid.

    15. Keith Richardson, 30th September 2005. Pers comm.

    16. An Act for the Punishment of idle and disorderly persons, and Rogues and Vagabonds, in that part of Great Britain called England, 1824.

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