Word reaches me that plans are afoot to start a campaign to erect a statue to London peace campaigner Brian Haw, whose peace camp was a fixture at Parliament Square for many years.
I interviewed Brian in June 2005 for Time Out, by which time his shanty town and placards had been housed opposite the Houses of Parliament for several years. His arrival predated the Iraq invasion of 2003 but grew and grew, drawing much more attention after the conflict started. It’s worth remembering that the current Conservative government’s illiberal approach to protest was very much previewed by the way New Labour reacted to Haw, changing the law multiple times in an authoritarian attempt to erase what they saw as an embarrassing protest. And in some ways, Haw was a trendsetter for the kind of high-visibility permanent protests seen over Brexit, although now the protesters are permanently armed with camera phones to ensure they get that attention-grabbing soundbite for a tweet that might go viral. Haw could be noisy, but was generally more stoic in his approach to protest – sitting opposite Parliament like a human scowl, a permanent blight on the house’s collective conscience.
When I interview Haw in 2005, we ended up talking for two hours. Or rather he talked, while I listened.
His life was extraordinary and seems to have been defined by his strong Christian belief and the unresolved trauma of his father’s experience as a WWII sniper who liberated Belsen and later took his own life.
What I most remember was his utter, almost frightening, determination – there was an almost messianic steel behind the eyes that reminded me in a strange way of the manner in which his nemesis Tony Blair was depicted by cartoonist Steve Bell. I’m sure neither man would like the comparison.
Haw sadly died in 2011 having defied several attempts to remove him – indeed his, peace camp was at one point famously recreated at the Tate by Mark Wallinger, winning the Turner prize.
Is a permanent statue likely to follow? News of the campaign will soon emerge.
In the meantime, here’s my interview with Brian from 2005.