None of us can be expected to be right all the time, but in political terms Dr Caroline Lucas MP whose face appears on the banner photo above this blog has made a number of very good public judgements since her election in May 2010. No doubt this explains her award as ‘MP of the Year’ in the Scottish Widows & Dods Women in Public Life Awards which comes in the same week as she has exposed two of the exhibitors at the Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEi 2011) trade show for promoting the sale of cluster bombs (http://tinyurl.com/67jfhgb).
Many people find whole idea of an arms-fair in a world which already has sufficient causes of strife as undesirable. Some like Caroline believe that the whole event should be closed down. This is clearly unrealistic in a nation that derives a great deal of economic benefit from the Defence and Security Industry. Nevertheless what is unbelievable in this story is the totally inadequate level of scrutiny being exercised by the organisers (including the UKTI Government agency) in vetting exhibitors to discover if there were any illegal activities going on, and the apparent failure to act appropriately. If a nightclub in any of our high streets was revealed to be allowing individuals to openly sell illegal substances, local residents would understandably expect that the club itself be punished as well as those caught breaking the law. We would certainly want the perpetrators to be prosecuted. Yet these two exhibitors have apparently simply been asked to leave DSEi with no further action and the show itself is operating as before. Full marks then to Dr Lucas who spotted a blatant problem in one brief visit to the show which appears to have been missed by the vast resources of the entire British Government.
With this in the background it is a great disappointment that at the same time Dr Lucas has made such an error of judgement in another matter of law breaking. On 4th December 2010 a group of protestors entered Top Shop on Western Road Brighton and eight of them super glued their hands to the inside of the shop window, a ninth was arrested with glue on their hands. Subsequently the nine protesters were charged and their trial began earlier this month at Brighton Magistrates Court. Three of them live in Caroline’s constituency and she told The Argus (http://tinyurl.com/6bt9m4a) that she will appear in court as a witness for all of the demonstrators. She was not present in the shop on the day and it is clear that these people are not claiming that there has been a miscarriage of justice in any way. They were arrested in situ. The MPs intervention seems to be based on her view that ordinary people should be free to protest against the Governments failure to address the tax loopholes that people such as Philip Green of Top Shop are taking advantage of.
It is vital that ordinary people are able to protest peacefully in our society and where they feel the case dictates, to be free to deviate from the usual rules of law. However the decision to cross this line must carry usual penalties or else we simply invite passionate people to break any law that they disagree with. The history of peaceful protest is littered with the stories of people who have sacrificed their freedom or even their lives for a cause they believe in. To argue that this prosecution should fail because of the Governments own failures is to misunderstand what the court case represents for the UK-uncut campaign. However the real failure here is that Caroline is elected to represent her entire constituency. This includes the constituents who work at Top Shop and whose Saturday Afternoon ‘at the office’ was so thoroughly disrupted as a consequence of the so-called Brighton 9. Her responsibility also extends to the many police officers who live and work in the city and who followed their training so effectively. Then there are those whose lives were impacted as they attempted to do their Christmas shopping that day including a friend of mine who was arrested (but not charged) simply because she was caught up in the chaos. Finally Caroline risks setting a precedent for all those constituents who appear in front of the Brighton bench of magistrates and who would like their MP to speak up on their behalf.
I like many others believe that the Government is in error regarding the tax rules of corporations, but each of us must consider how we respond to such policy. Caroline’s voice needs to be heard by a much wider audience than 9 defendants, 3 magistrates and other assorted court personnel involved in this court case. The place for her to speak is not Brighton magistrates court, and by speaking in the wrong place she dilutes the strength of her own words as well as sending the other actors in this event an unhelpful message. She is one of our law makers and should allow the magistracy to carry out their responsibilities, just as she must carry out hers.