I happened to be at the Houses of Parliament around 10:00am. I was actually heading back to the tube but I noticed the anti-war protest encampment on Parliament Square (founded by Brian Haw) and was curious to know what they thought about David Cameron's announcement that he would try and get it cleared if he got into power. I am pretty sure if it wasn't for my blogging and activism I would have left it at that and just wondered but I keep finding myself these days just going for things that I previously would not have done so I strode over the road and started up a conversation with a woman I had seen emerge from one of the tents a minute or so earlier who was now smoking a cigarette.
After an initial bout of suspicion as I explained I was a political blogger and a derisory chuckle when I mentioned I was a Lib Dem ("Not a fan?" I enquired - "No, Lembit Opik tried to have me arrested." was the response) she opened up and was willing to talk to me. Her name is Barbara Tucker and she has been a part of the protest for 3 years. In that time she has been arrested on 33 occasions (so about once a month), each time she insisted that it had been a case of arrest first, find a reason later.
She explained that as far as she is concerned, the entire political system has failed. She thinks that we are led by war criminals and all who support this system are also complicit. She said that parliament does not have legitimacy and that the whipping system is anti-democratic. Eventually she hopes that enough people will decide to opt out of the system and then things will have to change.
For me, some of her arguments and positions are too extreme but I have to admit that some of her points resonated with me. In fact we found common ground on the subject of proportional representation and devolution of more power locally. We also agreed on the subject of how bad things have got with cabinet ministers and other senior politicians often talking in an impenetrable language that most people cannot understand.
I enquired as to whether they shout things at politicians as they walk past and she smiled and said "Of course, with a loudspeaker!". This must be very embarrassing for them and I am sure goes a long way to explaining why Cameron wants rid of the encampment on his watch if he becomes PM. On that subject, Barbara said that she thinks the camp is a reminder that Cameron and his party were complicit in the decisions about the wars we are fighting and he wants rid of it for that reason.
I was very impressed with the resilience and fortitude that I saw. It is a huge undertaking to
live in a tent in a square in the centre of London for years on end and I take my hat off to Barbara and the other protestors. I don't agree with everything that they say but I absolutely agree with their right to say it. David Cameron will be making a big mistake if he tries to clear the encampment because if he does he is sending out a clear signal that he will not tolerate protest.
Protests like this are the pressure valve of democracy and we need them along with the commitment of people like Barbara to remind
our politicians of things they may not want to think too hard about.