Fwd: Tony Benn's testimony in the High Court

Mark Barrett marknbarrett at googlemail.com
Tue Jun 22 09:35:16 BST 2010

*Press release for The Democracy village, Parliament Square*

*The case of Boris Johnson vs Democracy Village at the High Court*

*Tony Benn’s testimony for the defence, Jun 21*

On Monday June 21 in the High Court, Tony Benn took the witness stand for
the Democracy Village.  ‘In Parliament,’ he declared ‘we find the politics
of the present; on the streets the politics of the future.’ As an MP for 51
years, Benn has spent more time going to and fro by Parliament Square than
anyone. ‘It’s the closest piece of public property to Parliament itself, so
people tend to gather in or near it to protest. It’s an integral part of the
democratic process.’

He outlined the sequence in attitudes towards new and revolutionary ideas:
‘At first, they’re ignored,’ he said, ‘then, if you press on, people think
you’re mad. Next, you become dangerous. At last, after some pause, you won’t
find anyone at the top who doesn’t claim to have thought of those ideas in
the first place. The village at Parliament Square is in the early stages of
that process.’

When asked about the impact of Democracy Village on the Square, he said that
all public events, including coronations and state openings of Parliament,
cause disturbance, but to use that as an excuse to prevent people getting as
close as possible to Parliament would be completely indefensible.

Benn expressed his great admiration for Brian Haw as a hero, ‘a man ahead of
his time’. In the future, he explained, ‘the Afghan and Iraq wars will not
be seen as acceptable.’ While Benn had visited to support Haw many times in
the nine years he has been the famous peace campaigner at Westminster, since
May 1st, he had also visited Democracy Village on the Square. He did not
know all the different causes represented, but in general he supported them.
‘The idea of turning Parliament Square Gardens into a Democracy Village is
an imaginative idea. It exactly sums up my view of its role.’

Was Democracy Village deterring others from use of the Square? This
democratic process has to be understood in its entirety, Benn said.
Referring back to great historic predecessors like the Suffragettes, the
Chartists and the Tolpuddle Martyrs, he also talked about Nelson Mandela.
The Square had been completely packed out when the Mandela statue was
inaugurated. ‘He’s another man ahead of his time. Now, Mrs Thatcher used to
describe him as a terrorist. No change happens without people putting
pressure on governments from below.’

Was there evidence on his visits that Democracy Village was intimidating to
others? No, none whatever. The defence lawyer Ms Harrison then asked if he
was aware that the Democracy Village was being treated as an assembly, and
that according to Mayor Boris Johnson’s bye-laws, anyone who wishes to take
part in an assembly on Parliament Square must ask for permission. Prior
permission? Now that, Benn insisted, is intimidating.

Your own presence, Harrison further explained, could constitute a criminal
offence. Part of the proceedings the Mayor is bringing is to prevent people
being present and, once evicted, to stop them coming back. That could apply
to you; people could become victims of court action just for being present
on the Square, for talking to villagers or encouraging them. That, Benn
pronounced, is an attack on the democratic process. ‘It is terribly
important for young people to be interested in Parliament. If those young
people are intimidated, they will just become cynical about the process.’

The Mayor of London’s lawyer, Mr Underwood attempted to exploit divisions
between Haw and the Democracy Village, but Benn was having none of it. He
simply and truthfully stated of the villagers in relation to Haw: All the
people around him, support him.

Some of the defendants of Democracy Village, as young as 18 years old,
actually hardly know who Tony Benn, aged 85, is. Today in court, he was
still learning from their example, while giving all of us a vital history

"We hear men speaking for us of new laws strong and sweet /Yet is there no
man speaketh as we speak in the street.”
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