(30/9/20) This blog by the UKIP Cambs & SE Cambs branch chair, Richard Fullerton, is his view alone and is not representative of branch members nor UKIP.
Q: Why do people go to demonstrations? A: Because they care enough about an issue that they’ll sacrifice the time, the money getting there, the discomfort, and potential arrest. They reach a threshold where they feel compelled enough to attend.
Since early on in this corona crisis, I’ve followed public protests partly because people I have met are organising them and partly because I believe that their actions are right even if I don’t share all their views, which extend to conspiracy theories about 5G and forced vaccinations.
In May, a friend of mine, ex-Kipper Jeff Wyatt, was arrested in Hyde Park under the Coronavirus Act. All he was doing was holding a placard up and being with a bunch of protestors against the lockdown. His trial has now been re-scheduled for 23rd October, along with that of Piers Corbyn who was arrested at the same time.
The recent series of protests against the lockdown have been led by people such as Jeff and Piers and a couple of women who go by the names of Kate Shemirani and Fiona Rose Diamond. There are others of course. And the demonstrations are not just in London either. Other cities such as Southampton, Leicester, Manchester and Sheffield have all had protests, and in fact Corbyn was arrested and charged as result of the Sheffield demo. But the main large gatherings have been in London.
On Saturday 19th September, there was an organised gathering of several thousand lockdown protestors in Trafalgar Square which was ended by the Metropolitan police, quite aggressively by all accounts. The organiser, Fiona Rose Diamond was arrested in the following week along with Shemirani and held for 30 hours before being released without charge. Both her and Shemirani’s houses were searched and computers taken. It was hearing those accounts and the government’s signal that we’re heading into a second lockdown via the introduction of the ‘Rule of Six’ that I realised that I had reached my personal threshold.
So I decided to go to the next rally, called ‘We do not consent’, which was aimed at highlighting the impending renewal of the Coronavirus Act which has to be done every six months by law (it has been renewed today by MPs). So I travelled up to Trafalgar Square on Saturday 26th September having arranged to meet an ex-Kipper colleague, Darren, arriving just after 12noon as the first speaker was starting.
The square was packed and we estimated there were about 15,000 people there. There were people of all races there and the crowd consisted mainly of young adults up to people in their sixties and perhaps older. Many had placards and banners and there seemed to be a general feeling of mutual goodwill and common purpose within the crowd.
I have to say though that the speakers didn’t impress me. They weren’t helped by a poor sound system – not the organisers’ fault really given the circumstances – so some were driven to shouting which gave a mixed tone of aggressiveness and desperation. Aside from the last two speakers I didn’t recognise them. There was an angry young woman in a baseball cap who reminded me of the spoof gangsta rapper Honey G from the X Factor. Then there were two or three forgettable men followed by a woman who read from a script and droned on for far too long. By now the crowd was losing interest and talking amongst itself so it was impossible to hear the speakers.
Finally, Piers Corbyn was on. I had met him once at one of his climate change lectures and he has been a prominent protestor since lockdown began. Thankfully he only touched on 5G, dangerous territory if you want to retain credibility with a wider audience, and he was received well.
Next up, the piece de resistance
, David Icke. This former Coventry city goalkeeper and TV presenter has been a subject of ridicule for years via his promotion of various conspiracy theories. The author of more than 20 books, he’s most famous I think for believing that shape-shifting alien lizards control the human race. Icke spoke without notes and whilst he didn’t mention the reptiles and it wasn’t psychobabble, it was meaningless really, with exhortations on how we, the crowd, will win by our resolve etc etc.
By now Darren and I were hungry and we thought Icke was the final speaker. As we walked towards a pub, there was a commotion above us on the platform immediately under the National Gallery (we had been in the square below). I assumed the police had decided to end the rally now that the speakers had finished however I was wrong. Whilst we were in the pub, another guest speaker, the German doctor Heiko Schoening who is a prominent anti-lockdown speaker in his country and recently addressed a crowd of over a million there, attempted to start his speech but the police in the form of the Territorial Support Group in riot gear moved in and confiscated the sound equipment and stopped the rally. There were scuffles and some injuries on both sides apparently. It is interesting to read that some protesters who spoke with some police said that they (the police) were against their use in policing the rally so heavily.
Apparently after the rally was shut down, several hundred people marched for 30 minutes to Hyde Park Corner. There the police were waiting for them and everything was tightly controlled. Dr Schoening was arrested for trying to speak and held in Wandsworth Police station for 22 hours.
So what are my thoughts after the rally? Firstly, I am glad I went. If we do nothing, democracy will just wither. We are currently being ruled by diktat from a Johnson Junta. Even Tory MPs are openly rebelling about this lack of scrutiny of daily new laws which are trampling our liberties. However, I’m afraid the ‘sheeple’ – the majority of the population – just don’t get the seriousness of the situation. Like many of my fellow protestors, I do think that there has been a power grab by the government and we will have lost some key rights permanently.
Secondly, be in no doubt that I and 15,000 people broke the law. Although political demonstrations are exempt from the harsh COVID laws on gatherings, the organisers have to submit a risk assessment to the police in advance. This involves lawyers too. It’s clear that the risk assessment was voided because we didn’t wear masks and didn’t social distance. But in our defence, our rally was to show that we do not agree with the lockdown. I think most people there were there for libertarian reasons. To conform would have meant we gave approval to the government’s quite frankly fascist laws. Our argument is that it is our choice if we wish to risk getting infected. If others are worried about being infected then it is for them to self-isolate not us. We want to get on with our lives and save the economy and our jobs.
Thirdly, it was disappointing that no politicians stepped up to the plate and spoke. We know that there are many in the Tory party with strong feelings. But perhaps because they don’t want to be associated with fringe personalities with whacky views as much as to be seen to break the law via unlawful assembly or even be arrested. Ditto prominent anti-lockdown figures such as journalists like Toby Young, businessmen such as Tim Martin of Wetherspoons, and scientists like Dr John Lee. But how bad does it have to get before they do?
Fourthly, and this is a message to future speakers: You’ve got your 15 minutes of fame. But that’s too long. Shorten it. Don’t shout. Don’t read from a script, use prompts by all means but you need some spontaneity and passion. Neither happen when reading from a script. Talk about loss of liberty and Parliamentary democracy, give us the real facts about this virus and how the government has massively over-reacted, and why they have done so.
Finally, the police. It’s clear some of you have scruples. That is good. But collectively, as others have revealed, you are very selective when it comes to shutting down demonstrations. Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion are given a lot of slack despite brazenly breaking the law with violence and causing damage and destroying property. Anti-lockdown protestors technically break the law but we didn't start the violence and we don't destroy property. But you give us no such respite. Shame on you.
I would like to end by saying 'well done' to all those who turned up, the speakers (despite my criticism), the stalwarts like Jeff, and the organisers. You are undoubtedly shifting the dial. But my advice would be to concentrate on the libertarian and economic arguments against stringent lockdown conditions. These are the ones that will find common cause with a wider audience.
Video: Very short panoramic of the crowd from our position
Article: Daily Mail report on the demonstration
(with lots of pictures).
Video: Jeff Wyatt talking immediately after the rally was prematurely ended
Article: Post on Conservative Woman by journalist and political strategist Anthony Webber This shocking police attack on free speech
Video: Police action in Hyde Park and arrest of Dr Heiko Schoening
Video on Twitter: Dr Heiko Schoening speaking after his release