Parliament Square review
Parliament Square is full of metal fences and scaffolding today -- it's looks like they're trying to spruce it up a bit. It's the same with the surrounding buildings: the Houses of Parliament are covered in a mesh of poles and Big Ben is disappearing behind a rapidly rising ring of steel will hide it until 2021 -- that's four years away! So a bit of rust and dust and restoration work has managed to do what Hitler's Luftwaffe couldn't, and silence the country's clock. I feel a bit sorry for the tourists to be honest, because they've come all this way and we've hidden our most famous landmarks behind impenetrable metal fences.
Ah well. If you want to protest about the building works then you've come to the right place, because this is where we do our protesting. This is where the anarchic marches end up. This is where the protesters erect their tents and wave their placards and banners with 'I hate this' and 'I hate that' scrawled all over them. Most of the genuine protests seem to be infiltrated by students these days: skinny little kids in black hoods who shout at the police from a very safe distance. They might chuck a Coke can at them if they're feeling brave, or put a bit of turf on Churchill's head, but more often than not they'll just stand back and pretend to be angry on behalf of the someone else. They'll rage against capitalism without having a clue what it is. They'll support the nurses by creating a few more patients. They'll smash windows and start street fights to promote peace. They'll bash a bus stop. Kick over a rubbish bin. Then they'll go home to their mums. That is protesting in 21st-century Britain.
Let me give you a quick crash course in British politics so you can understand the slogans. We have two panto villains in this country: Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair. Margaret Thatcher gets blamed for absolutely everything even though she left Downing Street a quarter of a century ago. If intergalactic spaceships invade Earth five thousand years from now then I bet you £500 quid there will be a load of students in Parliament Square blaming her for that. Tony Blair gets called a war criminal a lot and is blamed for screwing up the Middle East (which, to be fair, he did). That's pretty much all you need to know about UK politics to fit in at a protest. If you pretend to agree with those two things then you will be made welcome.
We do have a few political heroes, but you'd never know it from visiting Parliament Square. This is supposed to be our Mount Rushmore, our Les Invalides, but the only Prime Minister we seem comfortable celebrating is Churchill. We don't get tribal over Churchill -- everyone loves him regardless of which party they vote for. But where's Walpole? And Pitt? Or even Atlee? I'm surprised they haven't honoured Atlee yet because even the Tories will get behind him for fear of appearing anti-NHS.
We're too modest, that's our problem (just like Atlee). We don't like blowing our own trumpet so we've given some plum positions to foreigners. Nelson Mandela is doing a Fonzie pose next to Gandhi. Abraham Lincoln is over the road by the Supreme Court. And why has Jan Smuts got one? He might have a distinguished CV but none of it was in Parliament. The only other British PMs on show are the ones you've probably forgotten about (or the ones you never remembered in the first place): Palmerston, Derby, Canning and Peel. Lloyd George and Disraeli are a bit more well known.
P.S.: They're supposed to be erecting a new statue for one of the champions of women's suffrage, but probably not the one that most people remember: Dame Millicent Fawcett. If you want to see a statue of Emmeline Pankhurst then you need to go round the corner to Victoria Tower Gardens.
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