PROTESTERS attempted to storm the Houses of Parliament last night, and a compliant media duly provided the coverage that such a cunning stunt was intended to achieve for the organizers.
Some of them, apparently, were dressed as suffragettes (the protesters, not the media, though who knows these days?). But why? Undoubtedly these women (and they were all women) believe their cause – opposition to airport expansion – is justification enough for civil disobedience, in the same way their forebears had a moral authority by virtue of their cause.
The suffragettes took direct action because they had few alternatives: they could hardly register their unhappines at the ballot box, could they? They fought for the right for every adult, on an equal basis, to have the same say in how the country is run. They weren’t fighting for special or privileged treatment; they didn’t want more of a say than anyone else – they simply wanted to move from “one man, one vote” to “one person, one vote”.
I doubt if those brave, self-sacrificing pioneers of democracy would be very impressed with what we saw yesterday. The attempt to break the law was self-indulgent and it was elitist – the very antithesis of what the suffragettes were hoping to achieve. Believing that your own cause is so much more important than anyone else’s doesn’t give you the right to try to subvert the law – a law constructed by a government elected through universal suffrage and accountable to the whole electorate, not simply to those privileged to have enough time on their hands to spend the whole of Monday in Parliament Square.
By all means protest. But don’t try to convince yourself that your cause is so great that it uniquely justifies breaking the law. Because somewhere there’s a fascist with a grudge who may well choose to follow your example.