#OccupyDemocracy marks Demoracy Day by announcing details of their January Occupation and by taking Boris Johnson to court

#OccupyDemocracy marks Demoracy Day by announcing details of their January Occupation and by taking Boris Johnson to court

  • Protest to highlight corporate influence over government foreign policy including arms sales, war and nuclear weapons
  • January occupation links up with CND Wrap Up Trident action at the MoD

Occupy Democracy [1] celebrates the 750th anniversary of the first elected Parliament by filing a Judicial Review against the Mayor of London and announcing details of its return to Parliament Square on Saturday 24th January. Supporters will assemble to defend their right to protest and highlight the urgent need for a democracy that is free from corporate influence and that works for the 99%.

The Judicial Review filed today by Liberty challenges the legality of Johnson’s decision to fence off Parliament Square in attempts to quash the previous three Occupy Democracy protests [2]. Protesters are keen to see whether the Mayor will continue to deny them access to Parliament Square now that he’s been warned it’s likely to be illegal.

This month’s occupation will highlight the influence that corporations have on policies related to war and arms which result in a catastrophic disregard for human rights and come at a terrible human cost. Millions turn out to oppose wars in the Middle East and our politicians simply don’t listen. This is because we have a corrupt democracy answerable to arms dealers and oil traders rather than the people.

The protest (3-8pm) has been designed to directly follow on from CND’s Wrap Up Trident event (12-3pm) in which peace activists will wrap up the Ministry of Defence and MP’s offices in a peace scarf knitted by thousands of people [3].

The occupation will feature workshops by groups such as Campaign Against Arms Trade, and Stop the Arms Fair, as well as peaceful direct action and a general assembly. Occupy Democracy is committed to peaceful direct action as other forms of protest have been shown to be ineffective and our democratic crisis needs addressing urgently.

Occupy Democracy supporter Hasan said: “We are commemorating Democracy Day by seeking to protect our right to protest in court and by asking people to join us on Saturday in front of Parliament to take direct action and to build the movement for democracy free from corporate control.”

Arming the world

As the fifth biggest arms-exporting country [4] the UK helps to fuel conflicts around the globe and props up repressive regimes with appalling human rights records. In 2014 the UK sold £11.9 billion worth of arms to countries it had identified as being “of concern” in terms of human rights and democracy including Saudi Arabia, Syria, Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Iraq, Iran and Israel [5]. 

Two recent examples include tear gas used to repress protesters in Hong Kong having been licensed for export in the UK [6] and UK arms likely to have been used by the Israeli Defence Forces during their raids on Gaza last summer [7]. The UK is also complicit in the corruption of foreign governments as bribery is commonplace in major arms deals [8]. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Labour or Conservatives in power, history shows that the UK government prioritises selling arms over our supposed support for human rights [9]. This is due in large part to the privileged access that CEOs of arms companies have to government ministers [10] and the “revolving door” between the two: between 1996-2012, 3,572 former MoD officials and senior military officers went into jobs in arms companies [11].

This de facto capture of government by arms companies results in a disproportionate level of government support for their trade. Despite accounting for just 1.4% of total export sales [12], UK arms companies have a dedicated sales team inside government [13] which has more staff than all the other export sectors combined [14]. In addition, the British government spends £700 million in subsidising the arms trade every year [15].

War – what is it good for?

There is a disconnect between the Westminster’s hunger for war and miliatary intervention and the population’s. The most obvious case in point is the 2003 invasion of Iraq where 81% of Britons were against the war without a fresh UN resolution [16] BP and Shell on the other hand secretly lobbied government ministers for the war on Iraq with the minutes of one meeting recording: “Iraq is the big oil prospect. BP are desperate to get in there. Both companies were awarded lucrative (though legally dubious) contracts after the war from Iraq’s newly privatised oil sector [17].

Despite millions marching on the streets, around 650,000 Iraqis are estimated to have paid with their lives [18]the blowback has been predictable and, with no lessons learned, disastrous interventions have continued apace.

Last year, only 37% of those polled supported UK airstrikes on Iraq in 2014 [19] yet MPs voted overwhelmingly in favour by 524-43 last September [20].

Trident: expensive, unwanted, unnecessary and undemocratic

Another clear disconnect between Westminster’s military appetite and the demands of the UK population is the commitment from the Conservative, Labour, Liberal and UKIP parties to keep or replace Trident – the UK’s Cold War nuclear weapons system – despite polls showing up to 79% of the public wanting to scrap it [21].

In the same week that A&E departments recorded the worst waiting times on record, the government announced £261 million of new funding – not for the NHS – but for for new nuclear weapons [22] The £100 billion cost of replacing Trident could fully fund all our NHS A&E services for the next 40 years [23].

Nuclear weapons are fundamentally incompatible with democracy. Not only was Britain’s bomb developed in secrecy without the consent of people or Parliament, but there has never been a referendum, or a free vote in Parliament, on Britain’s retention of nuclear weapons. Moreover, nuclear weapons gives unrestrained power to the Prime Minister to commit a major act of war without any democratic consent.

After the 2015 general election, MPs will vote to make a final decision on replacing the Trident. But by excluding parties with policies supporting nuclear disarmament from the election debate, the media, and the British establishment, have decided that any debate on nuclear question must remain off limits.

Occupy Democracy supporters will join in with CND’s Wrap up Trident action, march and rally on January 24th prior to their own occupation [24].

Notes:

[1] #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. #OccupyDemocracy’s three occupations of Parliament Square to date have attracted hundreds of people 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 civil society organisations who, in turn represent millions of people who have little voice in our democracy, including: Friends of the Earth, UK Uncut, World Development Movement, War on Want, Fuel Poverty Action and numerous others. Working by consensus decision making, #occupydemocracy has a safer spaces policy and is dedicated to non-violence. Our draft “demands” list can be read here: https://occupydemocracy.org.uk/2014/10/28/occupy-democracy-current-demands-list/

[2] Liberty’s press release circulated 9am 21st January Mayor of London told: Parliament Square is not your private backyard. 

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

[4] http://armstrade.sipri.org/armstrade/page/toplist.php

[5] http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmselect/cmquad/186/18605.htm#a92

[6] http://deceptioninhighplaces.com/hong-kong-tear-gas/

[7] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-announces-findings-of-review-of-licensed-exports-to-israel

[8] Nicholas Gilby Deception in High Places: A history of corruption in Britain’s arms trade, (Pluto Press 2014)

[9] “…with few exceptions, Labour and Conservative governments have followed arms sales policies of remarkable similarity” – Mark Phythian in The Politics of British Arms Sales Since 1964 (Manchester University Press, 2000), p.317

[10] https://www.caat.org.uk/issues/influence/advisory-bodies

[11] http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2012/oct/15/mod-military-arms-firms

[12] https://www.caat.org.uk/issues/jobs-economy/figures#refs

[13] https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/uk-trade-and-investment-defence-and-security-organisation/about

[14] https://www.caat.org.uk/issues/ukti

[15] https://www.caat.org.uk/issues/jobs-economy/subsidies

[16] http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2003/jan/21/uk.iraq2

[17] http://www.fuelonthefire.com/index.php?page=documents 

[18] http://brusselstribunal.org/pdf/lancet111006.pdf

[19] https://yougov.co.uk/news/2014/08/12/british-public-approve-american-air-strikes-iraq/

[20] http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2014/09/iraq-vote-43-rebel-mps

[21] http://www.cnduk.org/campaigns/no-to-trident/opinion-polls

[22] http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2015/01/crisis-priorities-nhs-versus-trident 

[23] http://www.cnduk.org/campaigns/no-to-trident/scrap-trident-petition

[24] https://www.facebook.com/events/921179157892738/?ref_dashboard_filter=upcoming

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