Sunday, 19 June 2011

Peace campaigner Brian Haw dies

Inspirational peace campaigner Brian Haw died today aged 62.

Haw is famous for his determined and courageous efforts to lead his protest in Parliament Square against military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, in spite of vigorous and legally questionable attempts to remove his "peace camp".

Whatever one's views of Mr Haw, no reasonable person could possibly question his commitment to civil liberties, his personal bravery or the role he played in reminding Parliament that actions have consequences. For many years he was a constant presence outside Westminster: while some considered his peace camp an "eyesore" or complained about the condition of the Square, I was always more concerned with the pertinent issues Haw was raising both directly and indirectly through his resolute commitment to protest. Surely the right to protest is of greater importance to the public than aesthetic considerations?

Haw's peace camp led to Parliament passing the Serious Crime and Police Act - an Act deliberately designed to remove Haw from Parliament Square. Presumably some MPs didn't care to be reminded of their roles in approving the Iraq conflict. Fortunately a judge ruled that it was illegal to apply laws retrospectively and so Haw remained in place, in spite of the Act containing such affronts to civil liberties as making any protest within a mile radius of parliament illegal. What this showed was the extent to which Haw's campaign was proving effective - to put in bliuntly, he got under Parliament's skin.

I met Brian Haw in 2005. He was an impressive, if eccentric, person. He was the kind of man it is impossible to spend five minutes with without him making a lasting impression. I remember coming away thinking society had to do so much more to stand up for civil liberties, and joined Liberty.

His methods might have been unorthodox, but Brian Haw is someone I will never - can never - forget. He inspired many people, while being derided by others. Most importantly, he showed character, courage and commitment in his campaign for peace at a time when politicians were making anti-terror laws and destroying our civil liberties. We need more people like Haw - people of principle and conscience. His passing should be mourned by anyone who values freedom.


Anonymous said...

I wonder if Brian Haw and the rest of the "Peace Camp" ever noticed the irony of protesting against all kinds of wars under the amused eyes of Winston Churchill:

Nonetheless, may Mr Haw rest in peace.

Andrew said...

Thanks for the link Andreas. I did notice the contrast between Haw and Churchill. I didn't always agree with Haw; while I was opposed to the action in both Iraq and Afghanistan it was for reasons other than those behind Haw's opposition to them. However, he was absolutely right in regards the need to protect civil liberties, and it was this that was at the heart of his message.

Whatever anyone thinks of Haw, there is no escaping he was a man of steely determination and principle. It is for this reason I argue there should be more Brian Haws in politics.