Socialist Worker

March on parliament to defy Stop the War ban, says Tony Benn

by Chris Bambery
Issue No. 2071

Tony Benn speaking at a Stop the War press conference earlier this week (Pic:» Guy Smallman )

Tony Benn speaking at a Stop the War press conference earlier this week (Pic: » Guy Smallman)

Tony Benn and Labour national executive member Walter Wolfgang are set to defy the law and lead a banned anti-war march down Whitehall to parliament next Monday—the day Gordon Brown has promised to deliver a statement on Britain's presence in occupied Iraq.

Benn states, 'I will be marching. It is entirely up to the police and government what they do.'

Comedian and campaigner Mark Thomas also pledged to defy the ban.

Musician Brian Eno warned that the government hoped the ban would keep the issue of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan 'off the agenda'.

He warned that legal powers would be used to sideline protests over any military adventure against Iran.

The Metropolitan Police have told the Stop the War Coalition it is banned from marching from Trafalgar Square to parliament on the day it reconvenes after its lengthy summer break.

The ban extends to anywhere else within a mile radius of the Palace of Westminster. That covers a huge swathe of central London, including the centre of political power.

Senior police officers told march organisers from the Stop the War Coalition that the ban followed pressure 'from within parliament'.

The Metropolitan Police are under the direct control of the home secretary Jacqui Smith.

The ban comes less than a week after the prime minister pledged at Labour Party conference 'to uphold the freedom of speech, freedom of information and the freedom to protest' as part of an effort to distance himself from Tony Blair.

The ban is being enforced under the terms of the sessional order passed by MPs at the start of each parliamentary term. It guarantees the right of access of MPs and peers to gain access to the Palace of Westminster.

Tony Benn and the Stop the War Coalition have promised to assist any MP en route to the commons next Monday.

While cabinet ministers support the democracy protests in Burma, at home they are backing the ban on the Stop the War demonstration.

The power to ban protest speaks volumes about democracy in Britain in the 21st century – and how what rights we enjoy were won.

The legislation allowing parliamentary authorities and police to ban protest was passed over a century and a half ago to deal with Chartist and pro-democracy protests, in the Metropolitan Police Act of 1839.

The Stop the War Coalition will be allowed to rally in Trafalgar Square, but that is because protests won the right to assemble there at bitter cost following Bloody Sunday in 1887, when savage police attacks on unemployed protests in Whitehall left one protestor dead.

The government and Scotland Yard were forced to back down and lift a ban on rallies in the square.

Activists have made it clear that next Monday's march will go ahead despite Brown's ban. It will mark the sixth anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan.

'We have to stand against war on 8 October'

Stop the War groups around the country are mobilising to get people to the demonstration on 8 October.

'The demonstration is a big focus for the movement,' says Jonathan Shafi, a student at Strathclyde university in Glasgow. 'The banning has made people more determined to attend.

'The vast majority of people are anti-war. At our freshers fair last week we met a few people with questions about Iraq, but no one who was gung-ho and pro-war.

Nearly 400 students left contact details to get involved in our Stop the War society.

'This week we have been going through timetables and picking out lectures to go to and make announcements about the demo. I spoke at a politics lecture. The lecturer was happy to let me make the announcement.

'I told people about the demo and why it was important, and got a really good reponse. At the end someone came up and said they agreed and they definitely want to go on the demo.

'The anti-war movement is growing. I think the demonstration will help revitalise the campaign for troops out.

'And I think that in the back of their minds many people are worried about a possible attack on Iran.'

It's not only students who are set to protest at parliament. Jim Warner, joint secretary of Dudley NUT teachers' union told Socialist Worker that he is coming to the demonstration along with the other joint secretary.

Jim said, 'Our union branch is affiliated to Stop the War so we are representing the views of the branch.

'After we heard that the demonstration had been banned from Parliament Square we were even more determined to come.

'It is hypocritical that a government that talks about democracy in Burma can't guarantee democratic rights here.

'The war has been a disaster. It is very important that we protest at this particular time.'

Not one more death – bring all the troops home now! Demonstrate Monday 8 October – assemble 1pm at Trafalgar Square, central London. Called by Stop the War Coalition – for more details go to »

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