The Right to Protest

James Delingpole’s Report on Saturday’s Anti-Lockdown March

There follows a guest post by James Delingpole, the Executive Editor of Breitbart London.

I don’t know how many people went on the Freedom March through London at the weekend, but it was definitely a lot more than the “hundreds” initially reported by the BBC and Sky [did they get Neil Ferguson to do their arithmetic?], and probably ran into the tens of thousands.

We gathered beforehand in small ‘bubble’-like groups in Hyde Park and tried to avoid the attentions of the large numbers of police who were trying to find an excuse to disperse us or arrest us. Someone said it felt like being in Occupied Europe during the war. Everyone was slightly tense, keyed up, knowing that the police have shown themselves to be much more brutal and unforgiving towards anti-lockdown protestors than they are with, say, Black Lives Matter or Extinction Rebellion mobs.

At a pre-arranged smoke signal – everything was organised on Telegram and announced at the last minute so as to keep the police guessing – we began to coalesce and marched out of the Marble Arch entrance, up Park Lane then right down Oxford Street.

It was, as always at these events, a good natured crowd. Only a minority, I’m guessing, had been ruined by a university education. These were people that we’d call ‘salt of the earth’ and Hillary Clinton would call ‘Deplorables’. There was a great deal more racial diversity than you’d find at a BLM or an XR rally.

As we weaved through the traffic on Park Lane which had been brought to a standstill I expected hostility from the trapped drivers. What we got, though, was solidarity – especially from the bus drivers. They beeped their horns and accepted fist bumps and flowers through the windows.

I joined London Mayoral candidate Laurence Fox, leader of the Reclaim Party, who got a lot of love from the crowd for his pro-freedom, anti-lockdown, open-up-London-immediately campaign ticket. We snaked with the long conga line the length of Oxford Street heading for Holborn, acutely conscious that any moment the Territorial Support Group vans circling us like hungry wolves could close off the side-streets and kettle us in for hours in order to inflict torture by boredom, claustrophobia and bursting bladder.

On this occasion, however, the police were mostly restrained. Some said it was because the crowd was simply too large to confront; others that the police were taking a softly-softly approach after criticisms that they had been too harsh at the previous weekend’s vigil for Sarah Everard. My own suspicion is that they would have welcomed some aggro in order to discredit the anti-lockdown cause (as the state is very keen to do) but that in the event they opted for the next best thing: denying it the oxygen of publicity.

The compliant media certainly helped here. How often do tens of thousands of people march through London’s main thoroughfares on a Saturday with barely a mention in the Sunday papers? I remember, for example, last year most of the Sundays devoting double-page spreads to the Black Lives Matter march – with huge photographs and swooning copy. But this march – in support of a far less politically tainted cause: quite simply an affirmation of people’s right to work and play free of government oppression – was ignored. Sad.

Stop Press: Read Laura Dodsworth’s account of being on the demo for Spiked.

What Happened to the Good Old British Bobby?

We’re publishing an original piece today by James Moreton Wakeley, a former parliamentary researcher with a PhD in History from Oxford who wrote the recent essay entitled, “The Failure of the Political Class“. This one is a reflection on the events of Saturday evening when Metropolitan Police officers employed strong-arm tactics to disperse the Sarah Everard vigil on Clapham Common. As James points out, George Orwell praised the British police for being quite unlike the highly-politicised and faction-riven police forces of Republican Spain, or other such continental gendarmeries. A British police officer wasn’t someone to be feared, but, rather, someone to be turned to for help.

What went wrong? Here is an extract:

It is perhaps unsurprising that pictures of young women being dragged around and pushed to the floor by often male police officers has caused such outrage. Whatever one’s private thoughts on how society should respond to such bitter, senseless, and cruel tragedies as the murder of a young woman, it is impossible not be moved by scenes of the brutal treatment meted out to those who felt a deep need to commemorate a girl with whose situation they felt such a connection. As the editor of this website has already pointed-out, however, the Metropolitan Police’s behaviour is wholly unsurprising in the context of the past year, their relative temerity in the face of last summer’s ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests notwithstanding.

Other police forces, in other parts of the country, have also made a habit of over-enforcing the Government’s poorly-written and confusing Lockdown measures, damaging trust in the fairness and integrity of British policing. The whole country, for example, is familiar with the case of the Peppermint Tea Two, who were farcically ambushed by a gang of policemen when out walking a short distance from their homes and fined for apparently breaking the ‘spirit’ of the Lockdown restrictions rather than the letter. Public pressure forced Derbyshire Police to rescind the fines and to apologise.

This, however, was but one instance of a wider trend. Individual police officers and commanders appear to have been routinely over-interpreting their powers and capriciously fining people whose behaviour has been in line with the law. Figures from the end of last year show that three forces, Merseyside, Staffordshire, and Derbyshire, were forced to cancel almost half of the fines they had by then levied. According to the Crown Prosecution Service, of the 14 cases brought to court under the Coronavirus Act this January, 10 have had to have been withdrawn. The number of fines levied by different forces across the country varies enormously, suggesting that the way in which the law is understood and enforced is more postcode lottery than clear, objective exercise.

Worth reading in full.

First They Came For the Anti-Lockdown Protestors…

Twitter was aflame last night with prominent politicians and journalists condemning the Metropolitan Police’s heavy-handed treatment of women gathering on Clapham Common at a vigil to mourn the death of Sarah Everard and calling for the resignation of Cressida Dick, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. The irony, of course, is that these are the very same people who’ve enthusiastically supported the lockdowns, including the suspension of the right to protest, and who’ve condemned anti-lockdown protestors for being “selfish” and “irresponsible”.

I’m sorry, but if you didn’t object to the Metropolitan Police’s brutal tactics in dispersing anti-lockdown protestors in Trafalgar Square last September, you cannot condemn their employment of identical tactics last night. Either you defend the right to protest for everyone, or you defend it for no one. You cannot just get worked up about it when it affects those whose cause you approve of.

You cheered when our Government suspended our civil liberties, claiming it was “necessary” to contain a virus that kills 0.25% of those who catch it and which, if you’re under-65, is less deadly than an average bout of seasonal flu. You cheered when our Government continued to pursue its reckless lockdown policy in the face of mounting evidence that it causes more harm than it prevents, destroying hospitality and retail businesses, wreaking havoc with children’s mental health and separating people from their loved ones. You cheered when the tiny handful of people who took to our streets to demonstrate against the suspension of our liberties were led away in handcuffs, branding them “Covid deniers” and “conspiracy theorists”.

This is on you.

This is what an authoritarian state looks like.