#OccupyDemocracy: Boris Johnson Squanders Quarter of a Million Pounds Suppressing Peaceful Pro-Democracy Prostest in Parliament Square as Protesters Vow to Return Monthly until General Election

#OccupyDemocracy: Boris Johnson Squanders Quarter of a Million Pounds Suppressing Peaceful Pro-Democracy Protest in Parliament Square as Protesters Vow to Return Monthly until General Election

Freedom of Information requests to Boris Johnson’s Greater London Authority and Metropolitan Police reveal that the Mayor spent nearly £250,000 [1] in October trying to prevent peaceful pro-democracy protesters [2] from protesting in Parliament Square (dubbed “Tarpaulin Square” by the demonstrators).

The documents also revealed that at the height of Johnson’s efforts to prevent peaceful pro-democracy protesters sitting on tarpaulin placed on the grass, the Metropolitan Police had over 500 police on site.

Boris Johnson’s police operation – which was both disproportionate and heavy handed as well as farcical and surreal – seems to have been designed to crush this new peaceful movement for genuine democracy. At one point 140 officers were counted trying to confiscate a piece of tarpaulin that 30 people were sitting on.

#OccupyDemocracy supporter Donnachadh McCarthy, former Lib Dem Deputy Chair and author of ‘The Prostitute State’ [3], who submitted the FOI requests and has been arrested three times at #OccupyDemocracy protests said: 

“Boris Johnson spared no expense on shamefully imprisoning the statue of Nelson Mandela inside fences on Parliament Square and denying London’s peaceful pro-democracy protesters basic civil liberties. Farcical arrests included those for having a placard, playing a guitar, lying on a pizza box and possession of a folded ground-sheet. 

It is a chilling example of how a Johnson/Murdoch premiership would destroy our remaining basic democratic human rights. If we do not have free speech in front of our parliament, we do not have free speech.”

Other information released included:

  • 2,120 Police Duty days were spent in total preventing pro-democracy protests taking place on the grass – equivalent to 9 full-time police officers being on duty for an entire year
  • 44 peaceful protesters were arrested during the event
  • The GLA spent £16,000 on its private security corporation’s overtime bill and £3,000 on the fencing blocking public access to the grassed area of the square including the statue of Churchill, since extended to include the entire square including the statues of Madela and Lincoln.

Home Office Minister Lord Bates had previously failed to provide costs for policing the protest and for the number of police officers involved in the operation following a question laid down in the House of Lords. [4] In the same House of Lords debate Baroness Jenny Jones – who herself was arrested for supporting the protest [5] and is Deputy chair of London Assembly’s Police and Crime Committee – condemned the policing operation as “a terrible waste of time, energy and resources.”

#occupydemocracy vow to return to Parliament Square monthly until the general election

Supporters of #occupydemocracy will be returning to Parliament Square every month up until the general election to highlight the corruption of our democracy by the interests of the banks, corporations and super-rich – and to build a mass movement to reclaim democracy so that it works for the 99%. The next gathering is on Saturday January 24th – when #occupydemocracy supporters will be joining anti-nuclear campaigners to wrap Parliament and the Minstry of Defence in a peace scarf knitted by thousands of people [6].

Notes for editors:

[1] The figure of “nearly £250,000” breaks down as follows: 

  • The operation involved 17,120 police hours, 2,120 days police time (equivalent to 9 officers full-time for a year).
  • The basic police basic salary is £19,386 for 233 annual work days.
  • This gives a total of £176,000 before overtime. Adding in the premium for officers and overtime brings the policing cost to over £200,000 – NB. This is an estimate, likely an underestimate given the seniority of the police officers involved.
  • Mayor’s Office said GLA spent £15,814 on additional Heritage Wardens and security staff and £2,948 on fencing. 
  • The additional £35,000 (estimate) will be made up through the costs involved with police vans, processing 44 arrests, bringing protesters to trial, court costs, legal aid costs, helicopters, dogs and scaffolding erected temporarily around Churchill’s statue.

The numbers of police officers involved in policing the #OccupyDemocracy protest for the period 17/10/2014 to 27/10/2014, broken down into daily totals: 

  • 17 October 2014 – 141 
  • 18 October 2014 – 73 
  • 19 October 2014 – 142 
  • 20 October 2014 – 46 
  • 21 October 2014 – 92 
  • 22 October 2014 – 180 
  • 23 October 2014 – 509 
  • 24 October 2014  – 233 
  • 25 October 2014  – 236 
  • 26  October 2014- 233 
  • 27 October 2014 – 235 

[2] #OccupyDemocracy (https://occupydemocracy.org.uk/) was formed in March as a working group of Occupy London (http://occupylondon.org.uk/) to build a social movement for genuine democracy that is free from corporate influence. Working by consensus decision making, #occupydemocracy has a safer spaces policy and is dedicated to non-violence.

#OccupyDemocracy’s October occupation of Parliament Square attracted hundreds of people over the course of nine days –  including prominent figures such as Russell Brand, Ken Loach, Vivienne Westwood and Jolyon Rubinstein; politicians such as Caroline Lucas MP, John McDonnell MP, Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, Baroness Jenny Jones and Michael Meacher MP; and representatives of dozens of progressive civil society organisations, who in turn represent millions  of people, yet have little voice in our democracy.

Groups who sent speakers to to the first occupation in October included: Friends of the Earth, UK Uncut, World Development Movement, War on Want, Fuel Poverty Action, Disabled People Against the Cuts, Defend the Right to Protest, Stop the War, OurNHS, Stroud Against the  Cuts, New Economics Foundation, Robin Hood Tax, Green New Deal Group, Platform, Save Lewisham Hospital and One Million Climate Jobs.

At the end of the October occupation #occupydemocracy agreed a set of provisional demands: https://occupydemocracy.org.uk/2014/10/27/occupydemocracy-ends-occupation-agrees-to-re-occupy-parliament-sq-in-november-present-demands-to-mps-at-2pm-today

The callout for the 20-21 December occupation, is available at https://occupydemocracy.org.uk/2014/12/15/occupydemocracy-many-happy-returns-protestors-pledge-to-return-monthly-until-general-election-3rd-occupation-of-parliament-square-this-weekend-dec-20th-21st/

[3] Donnachadh McCarthy is the whistle-blowing former Deputy Chair of the Liberal Democrats, author of the new book The Prostitute State and an Occupy supporter. You can read more about Donnachadh at http://www.theprostitutestate.co.uk/. Donnachadh has also written an article for the Morning Star about how he became an “Accidental Occupier”: http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/a-92c1-Accidental-occupier

[4] Hansard, 28th October 2014:  http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201415/ldhansrd/text/141028-0001.htm#st_42 Video footage of the debate can be seen here: http://vimeo.com/111676478

[5] Footage of Jenny Jones’ widely-reported arrest (the first time she has ever been arrested) and the agressive way she is handled by the police can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Kz9zZOdxdQ 

[6] http://www.cnduk.org/get-involved/events/item/2034-wrap-up-trident-mass-demo-in-london

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