Free speech and the right to protest

I do like living in the UK.

Today I walked part of the way into work – it’s glorious out, low sunshine and golden leaves – and passed on my route the Houses of Parliament. I’d heard on the radio that morning that there were protesters on the roof and, lo and behold, as I rounded the corner there they were.

Picture 8You can’t miss them – they’ve got lime green and yellow banners saying Change the politics, Save the climate. But considering they’re sitting on top of one of the most significant buildings in the country, on the first day of Parliament after the summer recess, on the anniversary of the Brighton bombings and you’d imagine there’d be a little more fuss.

But not really. They’re sitting on the roof, not shouting, just stamping their feet to keep warm and occasionally adjusting their flags. The police are on the ground occasionally looking up at them but generally chatting away among themselves about their weekends and the weather. And the tourists and commuters are bustling along the pavements outside Westminster like nothing’s unusual. I suppose nothing is unusual – there are still Sri Lanka protesters camping in Parliament Square, now looking as established as the anti-war campers, who’ve been there for years. It’s all mightily civilised.

I couldn’t help but smiling. Of course climate change is very serious. So is a breach of parliamentary security. And although trespassing and climbing the roof of a public monument isn’t the most civilised method of protest, the way it is dealt with is ever so sedate. But I love love LOVE the fact that Greenpeace have the right to protest (if not to trespass) and that the UK upholds freedom of speech. They care about climate change and they have the right to tell us about it whether we agree or not. I love the British calmness that means the police aren’t storming parliament’s roof (yet) in flak jackets with guns to drag them off. I love the fact they can make their point and then go home. Job done.

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One response to “Free speech and the right to protest

  1. what are the laws about protesting within a certain distance of the Houses of Parliament, isn’t is forbidden to hold a demonstration near the building? (limited freedom of expression I’d say)

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