Talking Politics

Boris has disgraced himself by evicting Brian Haw

Politicians, judges and the mayor all stand in the shadow of this lonely and principled figure.

He wasn't pleasant to talk to. Snarling, bitter and angry, Brian Haw cut a lonely and isolated figure out in front of parliament. When young people started up a 'democracy village' in the square, inspired by his decade-long vigil, they were disarmed to find that he treated them with derision and contempt.

But in politics, pleasantry and charm are overrated concepts. Diligence, empathy and commitment are the meat of politics, of commendable politics, and Haw has that in spades.

It is a staggering commitment, one a man like Boris Johnson would not be able to comprehend, to give up your life for your principles, to spend ten years sat alone in front of parliament. He is a quiet, but ultimately towering, figure. Once upon a time he used to bark into a megaphone. Perhaps his voice gave out, or he lost the motivation, or there were health complications, but that stopped. In the end he merely sat there. Others shouted and screamed, waved placards and abused passing politicians. But not Haw. I always found his silent vigil more eloquent than any political speech.

He showed them commitment. He behaved as man behaves when he cares about an idea, when he devotes himself to a cause, whatever that cause may be. Tourists would gawk at him. Passing groups of beered-up men would shout that mantra of the dull and broken: 'Get a job'. MPs' researchers and political strategists, rushing to their next meeting, would sneer bitterly. He represented something they would never understand - the politics of principle, a million miles away from their workable compromises and day-to-day tactics. One needs both, in a decent society: the principle and the practicalities. Principles without practicalities are rudderless. Practicalities without principles are meaningless. Their adherents stand, uncomprehending, staring at each other across a busy road. But only one side ever gets outlawed.

I always felt a tremendous sense of pride when I saw him out there. That's the kind of country I want to live in, the kind of country where one man can stand up to the establishment without violence or permission, the kind of country where others, admiring his perseverance, offer him tea and food.

And for a while, that's what we were. The politicians passed laws to evict him, the full weight of the executive swung against him, but still the essential decency of the British judicial system protected him. Until today, when the high court ruled against him. But we're not done yet. In an enjoyable bit of British minutiae, there's still a process to be had over the pavement, which is run by Westminster council and is legally separate from Parliament Square Gardens, which the judgement related to. First Haw can appeal and then Westminster council will have to prove he's obstructing a public highway.

Everyone's got their eye on the time now. The London mayor, who brought the possession order, wants to clear up Parliament Square in time for the royal wedding.

If Britain means anything that might sustain us in a period of international decline, if we have something in us to be proud of, it's not pomp and ceremony, or ancient institutions, or neat streets and tidy buildings. It's about being the kind of country where one man can sit down and register his disapproval, in front of the mother of parliaments, a totem of resistance. The judges, the mayor and the politicians stand in his shadow, no matter how small, alone or irritable he may be.

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