Saturday, May 27, 2006

Interviewing Brian Haw

The following will also appear in the next edition of IMPACT:

I had heard that Brian Haw, the redoubtable protestor in Parliament Square, could well be evicted next week. Cut for time for organising an interview for IMPACT, I realised that here was a chance to get an interview with him. You know how it is, those-crazy off the-cuff ideas you get that just won't go away! And I was going to the launch of the Euston Manifesto on the Thursday beforehand, so that was a good time to do it, if at all.
Haw has been protesting there since 2001, with occasional visits to court hearings and the chance to get a shower from a sympathetic friend or two. Originally it was about sanctions in Iraq, then it was about US involvement in Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq. I have always wondered if the US withdrew from Iraq and Afghanistan, Haw would still protest there! He says he is doing it for his children's future, but the cynic in me feels there are other noble means of doing this!
My own personal view is that if someone feels that strongly, they ought to form an organisation, stand for Parliament and the like, or go to Speaker's Corner! There are ways and means of making one's voice known, but I am what you might call a soft, soft, left person, in that I believe that it is important to work with the establishment when necessary, so perhaps I am blinkered. In any case, Haw's actions fascinate me!

So, nervously armed with a digital camera and a dictaphone, I nervously approached the green in Parliament Square. The police moved a lot of the placards a few days beforehand, but many of Haw's supporters, most of them young (and I mean sixth form and University here), were busy drawing up and organising new placards. There was another protestor there, a new chap, who had a placard denouncing zionism, the British government, and the intelligence services for not allowing him a proper permit into the country, or something like that. One of Haw's supporters told me that they didn't know who he was. He just stared quietly ahead at the Palace of Westminster before him, fairly close to the statue of Oliver Cromwell.
Haw has an army of supporters, egging him on. At night they camp out at a nearby underground car park. Fully committed, many have their gripe against the government.
Some of the young people came because of a request via e-mail and have stayed for several days and when I asked them what issues drove them to do this, one of them said "Many, I mean someone just needs to tell them that what the government is doing isn't right!" I asked him what others thought of what he was doing and he replied that many agreed but weren't bothered to help themselves.

Then I got to meet the man himself, who had been busy up to now talking into a mobile phone. I asked him if he would be prepared to
do an interview, to which he immediately demanded to know who I was working for. I mentioned IMPACT and my blog, to which he said "How many hits do you get, I'm not being rude or mean or anything... Can you hear my voice?"
"Yes I can hear your voice"
"I have been speaking to The Times and The Tablet and on and on for hours and hours and we want to get it out to as many people as possible."
I got a bit nervous here and said that my blog has about several dozen hits a day, and that I was also part of an organisation called Bloggers4Labour , which..
Haw interrupted "Barbara will tell you when I start I don't stop" (Barbara was the woman next to him, who immediately voiced her agreement and added that this isn't fair for Brian who has been talking all day).
"Okay, I just thought that, the reason I came down here today was simply because of the hearing next week and I thought.."
Haw interrupted me and told me that they might try and make a case, but he was hopeful. He did add that they might put him in jail but that there were more protestors than just him! Barbara added that "they" didn't want a courtroom of people going nuts on this!
I thanked them and Barbara said that I should go to the court hearing, to which I added that I would be very busy working that day! I then decided to ask one of the things that had caught my attention on this story over the past few days.
"I did read a report that when a lot of the stuff was moved, mice were seen running from the place, is that true?"
"Oh there are some field mice! A lot of them live under the ground. Little tiny field mice, we are not vermin infested, This is dead ground. Somebody should..."
Barbara interrupted and mentioned the rats from The Palace of Westminster; "Over there they have more live animals"
Haw continued "There lots of field mice living here as there is sandy soil under here, and see them going around all over the watermark!"
"Not everywhere! Exactly!"
Barbara added that "Instead of focusing on the crap like that, people should be focusing on the children who are dying"
"Do you get any support from individual members of the political parties at all?"
"Check in the media and you will see all the pictures, you will see the truth. Instead of all this s**t , we get very upset about stuff that make out we are dirty" declared Haw.
"We're mad or bad!" added Barbara
"See the filthy business they are doing to other people" declared Haw, gesturing across the road "We bomb the s**t out of other people's sewers. We splatter the body parts of other people's kids all over the streets, is that nice! It's a bit nasty isn't it!"
There wasn't much answer to that! Well there was, but that would involve a discource on the nature of war, propoganda, vested interests on both sides, but I was a bit taken aback by Haw's mild aggression and he didn't look like someone who would be on receiver mode. I also felt momentarily morally inferior, so I simply said "Yes!"
"We are trying to stop that!" he continued.
"Well thankyou very much! Cheers."
But Haw hadn't finished. "We have works of art, if you see what we have.."
"Yes, I've taken a look. Yes..."
"Works of art. And then they come and destroy it! You see those glorious pictures on in the media and renowned for the muddle of their destruction and you look at all their art, and ask yourself who are the ones making all the mess!"
Looking at the Palace he added "These b*****ds, these Nazis all wearing police uniforms!"
I sympathised with the moral outrage, if misplaced, but I was not impressed with his tirade. The police were only doing their job and for the past five years MP's have had to take their chants and whistle blowing and occasional verbal abuse. From first-hand experience, some of which involved working for an MP, I know that whilst there are some unpleasant individuals working at Westminster, there are many, decent men and women trying to do their job and out of a calling to make the world a better place. Many voted for the War in Iraq, not without misgivings, but overall out of a desire to see a tyrant removed who was oppressing his people. Now that may have happened under misinformation and exaggeration, and out of some people's own unethical agendas, but many initally supported the War out of a sense of deceny and democracy and no sensible MP votes to send troops somewhere without carefully examining their own conscience.
We could all do what Brian Haw does, for all the teenage boy's assertion that no one seems to be bothered, it would be fairly easy. Plus if you simply dislike government policy on an issue, as Haw does, (and to be fair I sense there is genuine moral outrage that should be respected) you can get a coalition of support full of people with their own interests in embarrasing a government. Take the Daily Mail deploring the police removing a lot of the banners a few days ago, would they take that stance if it was a Conservative government! No, they would be quick to heap abuse on Brian Haw.
Quite simply there are other ways to protest or make your point! Amnesty International have a fine example (if occasionally developing their own political agenda), as do others. Haw could get involved more in politics, he stood at the last general election for the Westminster seat, (but got only 298 votes). Thing is, such is the coalition of anger towards the main political establishment from these people that I don't think it will happen!


Shaun (ed.) said...

Paul, do you support the Labour government's attempts to make protesting around Westminster and Whitehall illegal?

Of course I find some of these anti-establishment and anarchist-type protestors annoying and barmy, but the right to protest/strike peacefully and the freedom of speech should be absolute . That is why I find Blair's legislation despicable(some call it police state legislation, but I wouldn't go so far). How can it be that the lady who read out the names of dead soldiers at the cenotaph be arrested under terrorist legislation? Or the old Holocaust survivor who was thrown out of the Labour Party conference for heckling and refused entry under the same type of law? These are just some of the cases we know from media coverage where the police have used anti-terror legislation to arrest protestors.
I might not like or agree with what these demonstrators are saying, especially when they are offensive like the Muslims who chanted "UK, 7/7 is on its way" but one day when I may have a genuine concern to demonstrate about. That's why the famous quote of Pastor Niemoller is very enlightening:
"First they came for the Jews, but I did nothing because I'm not a Jew. Then they came for the socialists, but I did nothing because I'm not a socialist. Then they came for the Catholics, but I did nothing because I'm not a Catholic. Finally, they came for me, but by then there was no one left to help me"

Paul Burgin said...


Protesting around Westminster! Oh boy that is a very loaded question. In general no, I think people have the right to protest, but the various problems we face since 9/11, and especially since 7/7 mean that we need to do something! As for Brian Haw, I believe he is sincere and honest, but that he is being used as a front by some organisations which, whilst they are not on face value harmful, are not helpful towards our current political system. I would by lying however, if I said I had no misgivings about where such illegalities can go!
As for Walter Wolfgang, I have made my views known

and as far as I know the matter has been dealt with and those responsible have apologised. As for those chants, well freedom of speech is one thing, incitement is another which is why I think that your comments on Niemoller (and I have a high regard for what he and Bonhoffer did in the thirties) out of place. Particually as I would not equte Labour with fascism. Equally I might add, however much I think the Conservatives are misguided and however much I heartily dislike some of the individuals I would not call them facists, even though there is the Monday Club ;)

Andrew said...

Well done for interviewing the guy! I certainly wouldn't have been brave enough to do that :-)

Paul Burgin said...

Well I was nervous, but I knew I would be kicking myself if I didn't

Shaun (ed.) said...

As for those chants, well freedom of speech is one thing, incitement is another

Yes, a distinction between protesting about genuine grievances and incitement needs to be made, but I don't trust the state, specifically the police, to make that distiction. Why the heck have they been arresting protestors using anti-terrorist legislation?

I certainly don't equate the Labour government to a Fascist state, but Blair has a worrying disregard for basic liberties as their record on legislation and experience on the street shows (quite surprisng really , seeing as Blair was a barrister). The problem is that our political system makes each government an elective dictatorship and that the onus is on those in office to restrain themselves from using their powers to crackdown on basic liberties. Pre-1997 Labour and Tory governments have shown remarkable restraint, with a few exceptions in response to the Northern Ireland Troubles (kneejerk legislation to Guildford bombings and detention centres).

Paul Burgin said...

The trouble is where the line is drawn. I suspect the moves against Haw are in order to make an example!