Occupy protesters gathered outside parliament. Photo: Morgan Elder
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Why are Occupy Democracy protesters staging another occupation in London?

Braving the damp weather, Occupy protesters have occupied a square in front of the Supreme Court, calling for a movement for representative and participative democracy.

In spite of the wet weather and icy winds, Occupy Democracy protesters gathered in Parliament Square last night to call for a movement for truly representative democracy. However, plans to occupy Parliament Square were immediately thwarted as the square had been fenced off, with dozens of police encircling its perimeter and Scotland Yard warning that an “appropriate and proportionate police plan” was in place. After a short-lived stand-off with the police, 150 protesters moved into the road to form a blockade, drowning out the beeps of angry Whitehall motorists. Managing to narrowly avoid kettling and arrests, protesters marched towards parliament to occupy the square in front of the Supreme Court. Having not moved, they plan to be there until Sunday evening, with a range of workshops and speeches planned.

Huddled in a sprawling circle, occupiers listened to speeches and poems from speakers who were all united in their disregard for the current state of British democracy. Part of the global Occupy movement, Occupy Democracy campaigns against corporate corruption, austerity and privatisation. The occupation drew a diverse crowd, including a number of “Occupy virgins”, students and of course the usual die-hard activist folk. Asad Khan, a women's wear fashion-designer was not your usual suspect. Incensed by what he saw as the police brutality of last month’s Occupy protest, Khan was at home when he came across a YouTube video of the occupation. “I saw a video of the police dragging people off parliament square for simply sitting down, I thought it was absurd and grotesque so I came down to see what was going on straight away”. Now joining Occupy Democracy for this weekend’s latest protest, Khan gestures at the crowds around him: “Look at these people nobody here wants to fight or deface anything, they simply want to come together to discuss how they can make the world a better place”.

Steve Robson, a 24-year-old from East London who works in customer service says that this is the first Occupy protest he has been too. Drawing links between London and Hong Kong he says: “I think its weird that in Hong Kong they're allowed to protest outside their parliament but we’re not even allowed on Parliament Square. We’re meant to be living in a democratic society but at the last occupation we had our sleeping bags and tarpaulin confiscated”.

Donnachadh McCarthy, the former deputy chair of the Liberal Democrats also joined occupiers. Since being forced out of the party for whistleblowing on corporate lobbying corruption in 2004, McCarthy has become increasingly involved in the Occupy movement. “I’m here because I believe our political system really is corrupt. I’ve experienced it first hand and from the inside you can see the lack of party democracy and the lobbyists in action”.

Last month’s ten day long occupation on Parliament Square was heavily policed, with over 40 arrests for trivial matters. The 2011 Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act now means that the police can forcibly remove protesters which set up camp in Parliament Square and confiscate items which are considered to be sleeping equipment or a structure. At last month’s occupation, pizza boxes were confiscated on the grounds that they were being used as pillows and umbrellas on account that they were used as structures.

An organiser, George Barda, who has been involved in the Occupy movement since its original occupation in St Pauls in 2011 has high hopes for the weekend. “We hope this weekend will increase the pressure on an anti-democratic system which seems determined to squash inconvenient voices. The more we come back to Parliament Square, the more we can expose the contempt for democracy by those in power”. In the hope that Occupy Democracy can extend beyond the green square they are occupying, protesters hope to stay where they are until Sunday, taking part in discussions on everything from the NHS to the climate, the economy and our democratic system as a whole.

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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.