Several thousand people, including many hundreds of London students, marched from Trafalgar Square to Parliament on 8 October as part of a Stop the War Coalition protest timed to coincide with Gordon Brown’s Commons statement on Iraq — in defiance of the police’s refusal to grant permission for the demonstration.
Workers’ Liberty was there, as usual, combining our opposition to the big powers’ military adventures with support for workers’ and other democratic movements in countries like Iraq and Iran.
This protest had a special significance. The police had tried to ban it.
Instead of using the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (SOCPA), which prevents demonstrations within a kilometre of Parliament without permission, the police decided to use a “sessional order” passed by Parliament in 1839 to prevent Chartist demonstrations. They banned the march — believe it or not — with the claim it might block the way of MPs and peers wanting to get to Parliament, despite repeated assurances from Stop the War that no one would be stopped from entering.
As Henry Porter commented in the Observer on 7 October:
“The organisers have guaranteed that access, but the ban stays in place, which is odd given that the Prime Minister is on record as saying he wants to repeal the section of SOCPA that requires police permission. As everyone now realises, the use of Sessional Orders may stop all demonstrations while Parliament is sitting. The repeal of the relevant sections of SOCPA, if it happens, will not make the slightest difference.”
The use of legislation framed against the Chartists is an appropriate symbol of New Labour’s hostility to democratic rights — and the success of Stop the War in defying it is a victory in the battle for democracy.