We set the scene. London has been buffeted by terrorist incidents and people wonder if their civil liberties will be curtailed this summer. Will the authorities ban the right to march or assemble. Or, perhaps they will ban the right to strike? So, into this mix strides the yellow-vested figure of Inspector Josie Harris from the Metropolitan Police. London's finest. And her announcement? It's a speaker's corner ban on ladders and public speaking platforms in Hyde Park.
Yes, you did hear that right. A speaker's corner ban on the use of ladders and platforms by speakers doing their thing at Hyde Park. Fortunately, the ban seems not to be the result of a heightened terrorist threat.
Instead, the Police tell us that the Speaker's Corner ban is for our own good. Our health and safety. Absolutely unreal, you couldn't make it up.
You are not allowed to stand on anything other than your two feet.
Now, I don't wish to be disingenuous. But, I can already see a problem, here. What if a speaker only has one leg. Or, one foot. Or, perhaps no legs or nor feet. What then? It's not that clear, really. London's finest also added:
If officers believe it's unsafe due to crowd numbers they can make an operational decision to ask speakers to come down.
Operational decision. Chilling.
So, there you have it. More than 150 years of London heritage can be overturned by over-zealous police officers with very little else to do than cause a nuisance with a speaker's corner ban. You might compare this with their passivity for an earlier Julian Assange speech. But, I'd suggest that they have better things to do elsewhere. And so does Peter Bradley, head of the Speakers' Corner Trust.
At a time when we are concerned about our security and the threat from terrorists, we have to keep in the forefront of our minds the rights we are seeking to protect. Police meddle at their peril.
Ugly scenes, indeed. We hope that Inspector Harris can quickly overturn her operational decisions. Then we trust the Speaker's Corner ban is quietly binned for the folly it is.
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