By Alexander Bailey
“Thanks for being here” I said to Tony Benn, “you’ve really made a difference.” I am repeating myself. I had started my comments with the same line but Tony had asked me what I do for a living and how it was going; he’d asked the same thing of my girlfriend who, better at meeting people than I am, had approached him first. We are in Parliament Square on a cold Tuesday afternoon to protest about the continued occupation of Iraq by American and British forces. There are only about 200 people here, we take up perhaps one tenth of Parliament Square’s pavement. There would be more if it weren’t for the two-deep line of police officers surrounding the small group. This is steadfastly a peaceful protest despite certain police officers’ open hostility. Law abiding people exercising their right to protest have been jibed at, pushed and hit by police, one man has been grabbed by a gang of officers and rammed against a police van, just for calling ‘troops out, troops out, troops out’.
Who ordered so many riot vans for this afternoon? How can unprovoked police violence be justified against a peaceful protest, a protest that represents the views of the majority?
I don’t discuss these points with Tony Benn. It is the end of our conversation. “Thanks for being here,” I repeat. Tony starts to walk away – he must get people thanking him all the time for the work he puts into the Stop The War campaign. “It’s really made a difference you being here. The boys in yellow behaved themselves when you were here. They were getting a bit balshy before you arrived.”
Tony moved through the crowd to cross the road towards Westminster unassisted by any of the 50 police officers. The most esteemed politician in Britain waits for a gap in the rush hour traffic, thanks the white van driver who stops to let the old man cross and walks slowly through the cars.