Without question, Steve Bray is deeply annoying. He is incredibly irritating. And, ironically, for all his claims of democratic rights, he spent quite a lot of time actively protesting against a clear and democratic vote to leave the EU. For all those reasons, there are people who don’t like him much. In fact, even people sympathetic to his particular cause can find him a bit much. A little like if you’re sympathetic to green concerns and would like more people to insulate their lofts, but you find it difficult to back people gluing themselves to motorways even if they are doing it in the name of a cause you support. Steve Bray is the pro-EU equivalent of that for many.
But he has been posting on the internet today concerning his treatment at the hands of police outside Westminster. Bray’s protests are not new. They are not especially different to lots of others protests that take place. They aren’t violent, even if they are a bit annoying for lots of people. Such is life. There is (or at least should be) no law against being irritating. Yet, new laws have permitted the police to seize his amplification system and limit his protest because he is basically annoying parliament too much. Which, to be honest, is something of a problem.
Robert Peston has highlighted the issue this way:
This is reminiscent of when Tony Blair ejected a peaceful protestor – using newly enacted anti-terror legislation no less – from the Labour Party conference. Only, even if you feel it legitimate to remove peaceful protestors from private venues for their protest, this is a step up curtailing somebody’s right to protest in a public space.
The new law concerns ‘noisy protest’. Here he is having the police, crime sentencing and courts bill (that has now passed into law) being interpreted to him by police, insisting his right to protest has been superseded by a new law:
You don’t need to like Steve Bray to see the problem with this. You don’t have to agree with Steve Bray to see the issues with this. You don’t have to like his form of protest to see the problem with this. Freedom means nothing if it doesn’t include the right to protest and to be a colossally obnoxious public irritant.
You may wonder what this has got to do with you? You may (like me) have voted for Brexit and maintain it was the right choice for working class people. You might be a left-winger (like me) who stands in the Bennite, and traditional position held overwhelming within the Labour Party, of Euro-criticism. You might well find yourself holding the same view as Mick Lynch and the RMT, who encouraged their members to vote out too. You may well find Steve Bray’s incessant noise and the grounds of his cause to be entirely unappealing. If so, we are as one. But if you cannot see that his right to peacefully (if noisily) protest over whatever issue he wants does not constitute a fundamental democratic right, you may find yourself in schtuck should you ever feel so strongly about an issue that you wish to protest over it yourself or support those who do.
The right and freedom to protest is a basic democratic right. It is only under totalitarian regimes where such things are brazenly disregarded. And it should be of particular interest to anybody who happens to hold views that the government find heterodox, that are culturally non-mainstream or that some people frankly just find quite annoying.
It has been well documented that freedom of religion is the freedom that underpins most of our others. The freedom to dissent – which you would think nonconformist dissenters would well understand – was forged in the face of both Anglican and monarchical persecution. The freedom to practice your religion entailed the right to say what you want, assemble with whom you want and express yourself how you see fit. Because they are all vital to the ability to, for example, not baptise children in favour of professing believers, not attend the local Anglican church but meet in a Baptist chapel, assemble with other professing baptised believers, say what you understand the Bible teaches without a license and to worship God in accordance with what you understand the Bible says. Nonconformity always understood these things clearly enough because dissenters were usually on the receiving end of the very thing these freedoms were designed to stop from happening.
Many of these issues have already started to affect Christians again. Street preachers are routinely targeted by unjust curtailments on their freedom of speech. Very often, other Christians bury their head in the sand over these things sympathising with the message but feeling a little embarrassed about the means. Rarely to they recognise that the issue is not so much the medium – even if that appears to be the grounds of action – but the message itself. And what is deemed a problem in public on the street will soon be considered a problem in what are considered to be public meetings too. You don’t have to be a street preacher, or even like street preaching, to see the problem of street preachers being arrested for preaching on the street.
In exactly the same way, you don’t have to like Steve Bray, enjoy his means of protest nor agree with his message to see the problem with all this. If we cannot support the right of Steve Bray to protest, even noisily, then we cannot be surprised when the undemocratic creep inhibiting what we can say, where we can say it and the means by which we communicate it comes closer and closer to home too. Only, at that point, we’ll have no support because everybody kind of agreed in principle that protesting and public speaking was bit too annoying. If the right to say what you want matters at all, no matter how irritating he may be, we all ought to support Steve Bray.