HomeWorld NewsLondon Gaza rally: Commemoration, protest, freedom of speech – and yes, politics – BBC
London Gaza rally: Commemoration, protest, freedom of speech – and yes, politics – BBC
November 9, 2023
By Chris Mason
Political editor, BBC News
3 hours ago
And it’s cranked up further, again, with yet another intervention from the home secretary, this time accusing the police of bias.
It is quite the claim. And it is there in black and white in Suella Braverman’s article in The Times.
“Unfortunately, there is a perception that senior police officers play favourites when it comes to protesters,” she writes.
So did Downing Street sign off these words?
A No 10 source wouldn’t comment on “internal processes” when asked if they had seen the home secretary’s article before it was published. Those around Mrs Braverman claimed Downing Street had seen the full text in advance.
I note those two positions don’t tessellate as neatly as they could.
And the beginnings of what might become an almighty row within the Conservative Party are brewing.
One senior figure told me: “These latest comments are unhinged.”
Another party source said her remarks on Northern Ireland were “wholly offensive and ignorant”.
In her article, Mrs Braverman writes: “I do not believe that these marches are merely a cry for help for Gaza. They are an assertion of primacy by certain groups – particularly Islamists – of the kind we are more used to seeing in Northern Ireland. Also disturbingly reminiscent of Ulster are the reports that some of Saturday’s march group organisers have links to terrorist groups, including Hamas.”
For the last four Saturdays, parts of central London have been full of pro-Palestinian marchers.
Another demonstration and march is planned this Saturday.
But this Saturday is Armistice Day, and so a question: should a march go ahead on a day of commemoration?
There is what politicians might say about this.
There is what demonstrators might say about this.
And there is what the law says about this.
It spells out that if the “Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis” or, to use more everyday language, the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, concludes there is a risk of “serious public disorder” they can ask the home secretary to ban the march.
(Incidentally, there is no mechanism to ban a static protest, as opposed to a moving one, a march).
Crucially, in this case, the Commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley, says there isn’t intelligence suggesting there will be serious public disorder, and so he believes he doesn’t need to ask the home secretary to ban it.
The prime minister said he thought the demonstration was “disrespectful”.
The Metropolitan Police say since the horrific attacks on Israel a month ago, it has made a total of 188 arrests involving “hate crimes and acts such as violence” linked to protests in the capital.
Hundreds of thousands have protested.
What is notable here is plenty of rows within and between public bodies happen every day – many out of public sight.
But the prime minister and home secretary are actively choosing to publicise this one – and continue to lean into it.
Rishi Sunak stressed it was the commissioner’s decision and “my job is to hold him accountable for that”.
This involved Sir Mark being called into Downing Street.
For his part, he had already said: “Matters of taste and decency, whilst I understand them, aren’t for us. The reason we have an independent police service is my concern and our concern is two things. It is the law. And the facts as they are today.”
And those facts, he claims, don’t point to serious public disorder.
That could change, but it hasn’t yet.
Ben Jamal of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, the march organisers, told me “there was something askew with an argument that says a protest calling for a ceasefire is somehow inappropriate on Armistice Day”.
He concludes the government has manufactured this row.
But perhaps the most memorable conversation I’ve had about all this was with the Western Front Association.
They are the organisers of the Armistice Day commemorations at the Cenotaph on Whitehall.
In other words, the organisers of the very event the prime minister and home secretary are seeking to defend.
And yet they were at pains to try to avoid being dragged into all this.
After the meeting between the commissioner and the prime minister, Rishi Sunak confirmed that the march was going ahead.
The route, as had been known for some time, isn’t going very close to the Cenotaph.
And it isn’t starting until midday, in Hyde Park, an hour after the two-minute silence in Westminster.
He added that “there remains the risk of those who seek to divide society using this weekend as a platform to do so”, and – rather archly – described the Metropolitan Police’s judgement as a “posture”.
There are highly political roles in public life that don’t involve being a capital P politician.
Being the Metropolitan Police commissioner is one of them.
Sources at Scotland Yard said they wouldn’t respond to the home secretary’s remarks and their focus was on planning for events this weekend.