Free speech in the lower fourth

The picture at the top of this blog shows Democracy Village in Parliament Square, set up since the start of May.  It may not be there for very much longer.

There is of course a long history of campaigners setting up here, and a matching determination of the authorities to get rid of them.  The vigil of Brian Haw has become a cause celebre, although it appears he is not entirely happy about the newcomers.

The latest shot is that the Mayor wants the village moved before the state opening of Parliament – in case the sight of it offends the Queen.  The Evening Standard reports that particular offence is likely to be caused by the sight of two soldiers protesting against the war in Afghanistan.  More generally there are comments about squalor, but I’ve visited the villageand the place was orderly and peaceful – no squalor to be seen.  The idea that it is offending tourists is risible – they appeared to be fascinated by it.

What does this tell us about our society?

Orwell famously wrote that Britain was like a dysfunctional family with the wrong members in charge.  Boris Johnson’s comments about the Queen – a truly classic piece of excuse-mongering -suggest something a bit different: Britain as a sort of gargantuan minor public school, obsessed with the appearance of respectablility, strong on chapel, tradition and team spirit and governed by the whim of a homogenous prefectorial elite.  It’s like Molesworth and St Custard’s fifty years on, with Grabber still winning the prize for raffia work in recognition of his father’s generous donation.  A society in which inconvenient and challenging realities are wished away in a nostalgic haze, but which have an habit of breaking through nonetheless.

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