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.

Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images
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Commons Confidential: Fearing the Wigan warrior

An electoral clash, select committee elections as speed dating, and Ed Miliband’s political convalescence.

Members of Labour’s disconsolate majority, sitting in tight knots in the tearoom as the MP with the best maths skills calculates who will survive and who will die, based on the latest bad poll, observe that Jeremy Corbyn has never been so loyal to the party leadership. The past 13 months, one told me, have been the Islington rebel’s longest spell without voting against Labour. The MP was contradicted by a colleague who argued that, in voting against Trident renewal, Corbyn had defied party policy. There is Labour chatter that an early general election would be a mercy killing if it put the party out of its misery and removed Corbyn next year. In 2020, it is judged, defeat will be inevitable.

The next London mayoral contest is scheduled for the same date as a 2020 election: 7 May. Sadiq Khan’s people whisper that when they mentioned the clash to ministers, they were assured it won’t happen. They are uncertain whether this indicates that the mayoral contest will be moved, or that there will be an early general election. Intriguing.

An unguarded retort from the peer Jim O’Neill seems to confirm that a dispute over the so-called Northern Powerhouse triggered his walkout from the Treasury last month. O’Neill, a fanboy of George Osborne and a former Goldman Sachs chief economist, gave no reason when he quit Theresa May’s government and resigned the Tory whip in the Lords. He joined the dots publicly when the Resolution Foundation’s director, Torsten Bell, queried the northern project. “Are you related to the PM?” shot back the Mancunian O’Neill. It’s the way he tells ’em.

Talk has quietened in Westminster Labour ranks of a formal challenge to Corbyn since this year’s attempt backfired, but the Tories fear Lisa Nandy, should the leader fall under a solar-powered ecotruck selling recycled organic knitwear.

The Wigan warrior is enjoying favourable reviews for her forensic examination of the troubled inquiry into historic child sex abuse. After Nandy put May on the spot, the Tory three-piece suit Alec Shelbrooke was overheard muttering: “I hope she never runs for leader.” Anna Soubry and Nicky Morgan, the Thelma and Louise of Tory opposition to Mayhem, were observed nodding in agreement.

Select committee elections are like speed dating. “Who are you?” inquired Labour’s Kevan Jones (Granite Central)of a stranger seeking his vote. She explained that she was Victoria Borwick, the Tory MP for Kensington, but that didn’t help. “This is the first time you’ve spoken to me,” Jones continued, “so the answer’s no.” The aloof Borwick lost, by the way.

Ed Miliband is joining Labour’s relaunched Tribune Group of MPs to continue his political convalescence. Next stop: the shadow cabinet?

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 27 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, American Rage