Why war has broken out in the peace camp

Protesters in Parliament Square are busy fighting among themselves as eviction looms, writes Tom Peck
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For longer, even, than the war has raged in Afghanistan, the peace protesters at Parliament Square have fought their own campaign against an establishment determined to evict them.

But as that battle comes to a head in the High Court on Monday, Brian Haw and his associates have another conflict on their hands. War has broken out within the confines of the square itself – and it is far from civil.

“We’re disassociated from that lot,” says a gruff chap in his sixties, sat amidst the placards opposite the Houses of Parliament, pointing along to his right at a line of three tents. “We are the Brian Haw Peace Campaign. We’ve been here ten years. They haven’t.”

The “they” to which he, who would not give his name, refers, are the remnants of Democracy Village, the peace camp set up after the May Day protests last year, which filled the square before it was forcibly closed down in July. In September Brian Haw was diagnosed with lung cancer and has since been absent from Westminster receiving treatment. Since his departure, tensions have worsened. So why can’t the two just get along?

“Everyone knows that lot, Democracy Village, was set up in there,” says the nameless gentlemen, this time pointing over the road to the Palace of Westminster, “to use as an excuse to clear us all out. They are establishment agents.”

If they are indeed spies, their day to day life is a long way from James Bond. Farid, a 62 year old Iranian with a pacemaker, sleeps in a tent which also serves as the workshop where he makes his peace-declaring banners from wooden palates and luminous paint. “All day, every day it is fighting, conflict, arguing,” he says. “They make up stories about us. When the Democracy Village was here tourists, journalists, film makers, TV crews, they all wanted to speak to us. They didn’t speak to Brian. They started to attack us. They said we were government, we were MI5, we were police. We are not.”

There is, for Farid, a further sub-plot to the row. He is anti-Ahmadinejad. The Brian Haw Peace Camp is Pro-Palestine. Ahmadinejad supports Hamas, who won the most recent Palestinian elections in 2006. But Middle Eastern politics are a relatively minor factor. In scenes reminiscent of Monty Python’s Life of Brian (“Judean People’s Front? Fuck off, we’re the People’s Front of Judea.”), until earlier this week a sign stood over the camp, with arrows pointing one way to the “Peace Campaign” and the other to the “Police Camp.”

Farid is not sure who took it down, but is not convinced its removal is an indication of goodwill. “We believe in dialogue. Talking and listening, with an open mind. You speak, I listen, and then I have a right to speak. They are against war. We are against war. They use the word dialogue, but they don’t know what it is. They will not have dialogue with us.”

At the peak of Democracy Village’s “occupation” of the square last summer, the protestors garnered considerable negative publicity. The camp became increasingly popular with alcoholics and drug-takers, as well as students and travellers attracted primarily by the opportunity of free accommodation in a rather desirable location.

In that context, it is not so surprising that Babs Tucker, Brian Haw’s number two, told television crews that “They are not our anti-war campaign.” But even with that element now long gone, it seems it is too late for a peaceful resolution. “He said we won’t engage in dialogue with them? Well that’s very true,” says the nameless gentlemen, emphatically. “That’s very true. We don’t engage with establishment agents.”

Does he really, really, really believe that Farid, with his pacemaker and box of paints, is a government spy? “Well he may not be himself, but his movement was inspired by one. He may or may not be aware.”

In any case, the situation will likely be resolved on Monday morning when the High Court will hear The Mayor of London on behalf of the Greater London Authority against Haw and Others, where Boris Johnson will again attempt to evict Mr Haw, who is not expected to attend. There is, of course, the small matter of a rather big wedding at Westminster Abbey fast approaching, and we can’t have that riff raff in the way, world peace or otherwise. The Beckhams are coming.

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