The tourists by the entrance to Downing Street laughed and clapped as Neil took up his spot outside the gates. They queued to have their photograph taken with him, but the police were not amused because he soon produced a sign from his rucksack that said “NOT ALOUD”, which because of the ludicrous nature of the government’s new Serious and Organised Crime and Police Act’s exclusion zone meant that he was breaking the law.
Within minutes an armed officer called over to him.
“You can’t stand there, mate. It’s illegal.” Neil shrugged as though he didn’t understand. The policeman tried again. “You can’t demonstrate.
Move along or you’ll get arrested.” The crowd of people began to boo at the policeman. “Doesn’t he have the right to remain silent?” I offered. The crowd laughed. The officer angrily looked at me.
“Are you trying to be funny, mate? Who are you? Are you with him?” I shook my head and he turned back to Neil, who was doing his best to look scared, which was drawing sympathetic noises from the crowd. One called out: “Leave him alone, he’s only standing there!” Someone else put in: “It’s a free country, isn’t it?” Neil shook his head with a rueful smile and the crowd began to applaud and cheer.
Governments will take any excuse to reduce the freedom of its citizens, it seems to me, and the 'War on Terror' has given them the perfect opportunity to restrict people's right of expression. In the USA, the FBI are spying in its citizens without restraint and the New York Police infiltrated groups who might protest the Republican Convention in the city and locked peaceful protesters up for days. The vast majority of these were released without charge.
It's time that MPs and Congressmen remembered who they are representing.