Mark Thomas explains in Red Pepper:
Such is the state of democracy in Britain that you could be forgiven for thinking that there are two types of MPs: those who have been in prison and those who should be. There are many reasons to sling the blighters behind bars, not least of which is the fact that they are an MP, crime enough in most folk’s books. However, there is now an even more compelling legal and moral reason to call in the police to deal with our honourable members. Put simply – we have them bang to rights. They have broken the law and there is a way we might get these elected miscreants in the dock. This is how we can do it.
MPs have a curious habit of passing laws and then believing they don’t really apply to them. No more so than the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, sometimes referred to as the ‘Brian Haw law’ as it was framed specifically to kick out the veteran peace protestor Haw from Parliament Square. Socpa, as it’s fondly known, requires us to get permission from the police should we wish to demonstrate in an area of London that spans from Tate Britain to the Mall and over Westminster Bridge to the South Bank of the Thames.
This is the law that Maya Evans was arrested under for reading out the names of the Iraqi and British war dead at the Cenotaph. She did not have permission and was convicted of taking part in an illegal demonstration.
But this is just the start of the Kafkaesque madness of this law. One person with one banner counts as a demonstration and must get permission from the police six days in advance of holding said banner. I have had to apply for, and have been given permission, to wear a red nose on Red Nose Day in Parliament Square as this is classed as a demonstration. I have got permission to stand holding a small banner saying ‘Support the Poppy Appeal’, as this too is deemed to be a demonstration.
This law is not just idiotic, it is totemic. Nowhere is the relationship of the citizen to the state so clearly defined as here. We have to account for ourselves to the state, while the state becomes less accountable to us. This is not the way things work in democracy.
However, MPs who rushed this law through parliament with little heed to what it really meant could now find themselves on the receiving end of it. On 29 August 2007, when Gordon Brown, along with Ken Livingstone and Nelson Mandela, unveiled the Mandela statue in Parliament Square, they took part in a political demonstration. They celebrated the life of a man who ran the armed wing of the ANC, dedicated his life to the collapse of apartheid and made political speeches.
Did they have permission from the police under Socpa? No. They have broken the law.
Wrexham MP Ian Lucas spoke about the need to redesign the Union Jack flag to include the Welsh dragon on 6 November 2008. He was then photographed holding said flag in Parliament Square. Did he have permission under Socpa? I think not. And if I need the police to say I can wear a red nose, then he needs them to say he can wave a politically contentious flag.
As there is no definition of what constitutes a demonstration you have to turn to the Oxford English Dictionary, which states a demo can be ‘an expression of opinion’. Thus each time an MP speaks to the TV cameras on College Green they could be breaking the very law they blithely rushed through parliament. They are, after all, expressing an opinion, vocally and intended for public consumption, in an area where they need to write to the police six days in advance for permission.
Just before Christmas my lawyers wrote to the Director of Public Prosecutions asking them to investigate MPs, including the prime minister, for breaches of Socpa. The DPP insisted that the police should judge if there was a case to answer and the matter is now in the hands of D/Supt Peter Newman of Westminster South Division.
Will the police bring charges against Mr Brown and Mr Lucas and a host of other offenders? I doubt it, which is why I am preparing a legal fund to challenge any decision not to prosecute.
Here is how you can help dear reader. You can buy a badge – I put Gordon Brown in the dock – online at http://www.markthomasinfo.com for £2. All monies not used in the legal case will go to Index on Censorship.
You can also go to http://www.shopanmp.com and report any MPs you see on the news giving interviews on College Green or Parliament Square, so we can constantly update D/Supt Newman with a list of fresh offenders. If luck is with us, Jack Straw won’t be picking a shit-kicking fight with prison officers over no strike agreements – they could be locking his cell door if he is not too careful.