The breaking up of a public protest by police is not pretty to see. But there was something particularly unpleasant about the scene I witnessed last week outside the gates of the House of Commons.
As I looked out of a window on to Parliament Square, I noticed a group of officers confronting an elderly lady who was standing next to the railings of New Palace Yard.
According to a colleague, the woman was part of a small group of ‘doddery’ protesters concerned about lockdown and the mass vaccination programme, whose demonstration was being dispersed.
This woman was dragged from outside Parliament during an anti-lockdown anti-vaccination protest on November 24
Several people were carried off by police officers and put into vans to break up the protest
My feelings of concern for the elderly lady turned to serious anxiety when a police wagon arrived and it became clear that she was going to be arrested. I felt I had to go down to the scene immediately and plead for moderation on her behalf. I did not care what her protest was about, but I did care about her right to get it off her chest.
I arrived too late. The woman had already been arrested and was being dragged, spread-eagled, into the back of the van.
I spoke from my heart to say how un-British, how contrary to our traditions of free speech and open protest this was. My views were not met with universal acclaim.
How dare I criticise the police for doing their job? What other options did the officers have?
They are fair questions which I would answer by saying that the police do have the right to use their discretion in how they exercise their powers in the enforcement of the law. The police, too, had an answer: that the lady was arrested for breaching the Covid restrictions relating to protests and the gathering of more than two people without written permission.
And, as it happens, I am not blaming the officers on duty outside the Commons last week, even though I disagree strongly with the action they took.
I blame the people who – under cover of this Covid pandemic – have so extended the definition of crime as to make the law almost unrecognisable from just 12 months ago, rules which made it a crime for that woman to be where she was.
Conservative MP Charles Walker described the incident as 'un-British'
The real villains of the piece are us, the politicians, with our cavalier approach to the trashing of our constituents’ civil liberties. For the past eight months, we have removed these liberties almost without a second thought, relying on the overstretched police to enforce our panoply of new and wretched laws.
I did not vote for these appalling laws but accept that I am part of the political collective that has forced them on our constituents. Merely to suggest that we may be ‘over-cooking the goose’ is to invite the wrath of the ‘high-ups’ in Parliament. It is tantamount to heresy to point out that criminalising parents for seeing their children strikes many as grotesque.
Loneliness is rife, mental health is damaged and the trust in authority is destroyed.
Vaccines aplenty there may be, but there will be no quick and effective vaccine to address the long and lingering injustice of the political over-reach of which we in Parliament are so recklessly guilty.
And too often, the Government has egged us on to become a nation of curtain-twitching sneaks, informing on our neighbours, dobbing in our friends. It is to the great credit of this country that these entreaties have been met with the public derision they deserve.
Of course, the Government is working its very hardest to get on top of the Covid-19 outbreak. Difficult decisions are having to be taken by committed and exhausted Ministers. But the point of Parliament is to interrogate these decisions and, if they are found wanting, to vote against them.
Parliament is never more dangerous and stupid than when it forgets this obligation and its 650 Members act as one, without debate and disagreement.
Since May, we have understood that Covid-19 poses the greatest risk to the elderly and people with underlying health conditions.
But when a number of us dared to give thought and voice as to how we could best protect the vulnerable, while allowing others to get on with their lives and freedoms as normally as possible, we were disgracefully dismissed as people who simply ‘wanted to let the virus rip’.
Nothing could have been further from the truth. What we were, and remain, in favour of is exploring all options that would protect people’s jobs, businesses, homes and fundamental rights, while also ensuring that our children and grandchildren were not handed a crippling debt burden. But this debate was never had, it was never allowed.
Charles Walker, pictured, during the protest, claimed the Commons has been gagged and political debate has bene removed from the democratic equation
The Government was committed to its course of three tiers and lockdown, with the Labour Opposition sitting on the sidelines, goading on Ministers to deploy even more job-destructive and wealth-destroying measures.
Until just a few weeks ago, political debate was removed from the democratic equation. The Commons was, in effect, gagged.
The Government used its emergency powers to introduce vast swathes of restrictive legislation, in the full knowledge that the Labour Party would not raise so much as a squeak of objection.
However, the most egregious abuse of our constitution has been the wholly unnecessary restriction on the right to protest. I call it a restriction but in fact, for all intents and purposes, it is a ban.
Therefore, while it was shocking that the treatment of that lady took place at the very gates of the House of Commons, it was entirely appropriate. For the blame for such a crime against liberty and freedom lies fairly and squarely at our door.
He said the Government used its emergency powers to introduce vast swathes of restrictive legislation, in the full knowledge that the Labour Party would not raise so much as a squeak of objection