There are no crowds of banner-waving citizens at Parliament Square. There's only Brian Haw, a handful of loyal supporters, a couple of placards and a small cluster of tents. This is probably because it's now illegal to protest within a kilometer of Parliament house.
The art gallery Tate Britain is exactly one kilometer from Parliament House. When the Serious Organised Crime Act was passed, they did the only rational thing, which was to paint a line all the way through the gallery, showing where protest is legal and where it isn't.
Brian Haw used to have a display fifty meters wide, until it was destroyed in a midnight raid by British police. Artist Mark Wallinger rebuilt the entire display, right down to the camp stove, and it's now on display in Tate Britain, where it gets a lot more promotion than it did in Parliament Square.
The thing that gives me hope is that Tate Britain is government funded.
I wish I really believed that this means that trying to kill us only makes us stronger.
The next stop on our walk obviously has to be Number 10, Downing St. I'm staring at the TomTom mapper as we walk, so I'm quite startled when I glance up and see:
- Three armed guards.
- Two enormous black iron fences, one inside the other.
- A building prominently labeled "Search Point".
- A crash barrier designed to stop charging vehicles.
The fence in particular is intimidating. It's huge, and it blocks off the entire street. This doesn't belong here. This belongs in Half-Life.
There's a small crowd of onlookers trying to take pictures through the bars, and a skinhead pacing back and forth, hands behind his back, eyes concealed behind dark glasses, scraggly orange beard standing out against all-black clothes. He seems to be paying more attention to the security than to the historic location behind it.
A worried voice gets his attention.
"Gwyn, could you please stop pacing?"
fn1. I mean really armed, with the sort of gun that's too big to holster, so you have to swagger around with it in both hands. I'm seeing a lot of them here - there was a group with automatic rifles moving through Stansted when we arrived on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Nobody but me gives them a second glance. It's amazing what you can get used to.
fn2. The Palm now has street-level maps of all of Western Europe, plus a full-text copy of the Wikipedia. Don't Panic.
fn3. I wish I was joking. This is its actual title. Doubleplusungood.