Syria Vote: die-in outside Parliament

As MPs debated whether to drop bombs on Syria, people gathered again in Parliament Square to protest against military action. The Stop the War Coalition had a small stage and PA and a crowd began to form on the grass as speeches got underway.

Meanwhile, an activist from Peace Strike ran onto the road outside Parliament and put herself under a large truck. This caused a roadblock for some time until she was eventually coaxed out by police and arrested.

Apart from this brief interruption, it was clear that StWC had some sort of arrangement with the Met, as senior police were overheard asking the organisers to stall for as long as possible before taking over the road.

So the speeches rumbled on for over an hour, with mostly the usual StWC glitterati, among them George Galloway who, whatever you think of him, is a decent orator, enthralling the crowd.

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Once the rush-hour traffic was finished, the die-in was announced, and in a carefully staged action of mock civil disobedience, around a thousand people took to the road and started their die-in.

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Police told the few motorists, mainly taxi drivers, caught in the action, that they should switch off their engines as they may be there some time.

However, after about quarter of an hour, officers moved in, and with a mixture of encouragement and a little brute force (without arrest), channels were cleared to allow the trapped vehicles to leave.

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Pre-organised diversions were in place to close off most of the square, but police also moved in to clear a single carriageway on the Abbey side to allow Millbank traffic to pass through towards Victoria and and St James.

The Stop the War Coalition then packed up their stage and PA and as far as I could tell, the organisers all left, leaving the crowd to carry on shouting and chanting outside parliament for the next couple of hours.

A little after 9pm, Natalie Bennett (Green leader) came out of Parliament to address the protest. Unfortunately, as StWC had gone home, she had to use a megaphone, but her short speech of encouragement was warmly welcomed, as she described how the demonstration could be clearly heard in the House.

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The noise built up and reached a massive peak as Big Ben tolled out the 10pm deadline for debate. There was some confusion over the news around the amendment vote blocking military action, and for a moment cheers rang out as some people thought it was a good result, but that soon changed to a resumption of anti-war chants until the 10.30 final vote.

As the news came through 397 MPs had voted FOR military action and 223 against, the mood turned from immediate rage, to sadness, and then stunned silence. In fact, an eerie one minute’s silence was called, respected by all – the only noise in the square coming from police radios for a short poignant moment.

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After that, chants resumed louder than ever – “Tories out, refugees in” and “You were wrong then, you are wrong now”. Gradually people began to stand and leave, but a small group made their way down to the media village at St.Stephen’s and chanted loudly as MPs were interviewed. This certainly came over loud and clear on Sky TV, though many of the other broadcasters were already packing up their gear.

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I was struck by two advertisements I saw at Westminster station for arms companies – their shares guaranteed to rise quickly as a result of the vote.

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Reaching home I heard that two bombers had already left an airbase in Cyprus bound for Syria with their promise of collateral damage and fuel for terror, less than an hour after the parliamentary result was in.