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The security of the House of Commons in London was breached again on Wednesday in a spectacular manner by the environmental protest group Plane Stupid, who scaled the roof of the parliament building and unfurled banners proclaiming “NO THIRD RUNWAY’. They were protesting about plans to build a third runway and sixth terminal at London’s Heathrow Airport, already the world’s busiest international airport. Earlier in the week a team of Greenpeace activists penetrated the security of the airport itself and draped a banner around the tail fin of an aircraft.
Of the Parliament roof protest, a spokesman for Plane Stupid said: “This is all about no third runway. The direct action movement knows we have got to take these protests to another level to get the government to listen.”
Good luck to them, and it’s interesting to see that despite all the intense tightening of security in Britain today that it is still possible to pull off such a spectacular non-violent stunt.
It reminded me of a day back in the early 1980’s when I went to bomb the House of Commons.
Chaining my bicycle to the railings of Saint Mary’s Church, I crossed the road to join the queue waiting to gain admittance to the Houses of Parliament. It was long. I cursed myself for not getting there earlier. Perhaps the gallery would be too packed.
I might have known that the debate in progress would have attracted a big crowd.
It was an important sitting–a discussion on the American bombing of Libya, which would result in either the support or condemnation of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher for allowing US bombers to take off from American bases in Britain to carry out a raid on Libya.
I joined the end of the line and began to wait as patiently as possible, erasing thoughts of what I was about to do as they came into my head. It was no good thinking about it–or what they would do with me afterwards. I must just do it. A totally premeditated act–and I was the agent to carry it out.
Besides, if I worried too much about it I might get nervous and arouse suspicion by my expression. There were plenty of police around, shepherding groups in through the portals and patrolling the queue with watchful eyes.
Assuming the innocent mien of a mere tourist eager to see a sitting of Parliament in progress, I began a vacuous chat with a young English couple ahead of me. They’d been promising themselves a visit to the Houses of Parliament for a long time, they said, but found it unfortunate that they’d chosen this particular day for it.
The brown suit and tie I wore added to the innocuous image I had assumed. The bombs were in a cigarette packet in my inner breast pocket.
To strengthen my resolve to commit the deed–just in case I should chicken out at the last moment–I began to think of the events that had brought me there, standing in line, waiting to bomb the House of Commons.
A few days earlier I had woken up, turned on my bedside radio, and been angered by the news I heard.
While I was sleeping, American planes had taken off from bases in England, flown half-way across the world, and bombed the city of Tripoli, with the full knowledge and permission of the British Prime Minister.
Civilian areas had been hit, including a hospital, and many people had been killed and injured – Colonel Gadaffi’s adopted daughter among the casualties.
As I listened to the new all morning torpor had vanished in a flash, and I lay there burning with anger at the outrage and hypocrisy – a blatant terrorist act against innocent civilians – sanctioned by a government which loudly decried the terrorism of others.
Jumping out of bed, I pulled on my clothes and cycled across town to the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square.
The police had already erected barricades along the pavement, and I took my place with a small handful of people who had already arrived. The crowd grew throughout the day and there were chants and shouts, but it wasn’t enough to cause more than an inconvenience to the staff and visitors who entered and left the embassy building.
One pretty young secretary, who flaunted out on her lunch break, disdainfully ignoring the demonstrators, had her blonde hair parted in the middle, one side falling down in a curvy wave over one eye.
“Oh look! It’s Veronica Lake!” I shouted. She suddenly stopped, turned and smiled–her secret identity recognized, but then frowned and flounced off away from these agitating enemies of America.
It didn’t seem enough to stand bawling insults from behind the barriers at embassy clerks, none of whom had had any say in the atrocity. There had to be a more explicit, more dramatic gesture of protest.
A couple of days later, when it was announced that Parliament was to hold a special debate on the bombing, the idea came to me.
I passed through the newly erected metal detector at the entrance to the House of Commons quite easily. The body-search by the copper revealed just a half empty packet of cigarettes. (Although he looked in the packet, he didn’t see the bombs, which were small and hidden underneath.)
Going upstairs to the Visitors Gallery, the young couple I’d befriended “oohed and ahhed” at the statues and murals that decorate the interior of the building.
Ushered into our seats along with the other visitors in the packed gallery, we gazed down at the chamber below where the politicians who ruled our country and made the decisions for us were (mostly) congratulating themselves and justifying the strike by the American warplanes. Mrs. Thatcher had vindicated herself and left a little earlier, unfortunately. I would have particularly liked her to have been there to witness my own particular revenge attack.
One old right-wing fart was on his feet waffling on about how the British Army should have stepped in to restore the King of Libya when he was deposed in the 1969 coup. I decided to waste no time. Reaching into my pocket I took out the cigarette packet, extracted the three bombs and threw them with all my might over balustrade into the chamber of politicians below, then sat back as if nothing at happened.
Almost immediately an usher strode down the aisle to our row; and mistaking the young couple for the perpetrators, gestured at them to follow him. Shocked and dumbstruck, they pointed at me, and the usher ordered me to come out.
I stalled, saying I was listening to the proceedings, but a threatening policeman appeared by the usher’s side, and I decided to go without more ado. I had done what I came for.
All heads in the packed gallery turned and stared as I was led away. Just as we exited, I had the pleasure of smelling a very nasty aroma wafting up from the floor of the Speaker’s Chamber.
“Why did you do it?” the copper asked. “I suppose you just wanted to cause a stink, right?” He escorted me to a room full of officers who wanted to know if I was a terrorist, but they soon realized I wasn’t dangerous.
I was informed that due to the recently laid carpet on the chamber floor, only one of my bombs had exploded, but that if any of the politicians had been hit by a missile, or their suits stained by the liquid, I should be prepared to face charges.
I was taken away and had the privilege of being held in the only tiny cell in the House of Commons for several hours while they decided what to do with me. A previous occupant, obviously another protester with a cause, had secretly stuck a ‘SUPPORT THE MINERS STRIKE!’ sticker on the inner doorframe, so undetected by the cops.
I was bored, but not particularly worried; because I was sure no charges would be brought against me. The embarrassment of the government at the defence of my action in court would have been too great–my own little stink-bombs an answer to their real ones, a protest at their unprovoked murder of innocent civilians in a foreign country.
I was released after midnight, when the sitting had finished and the politicians gone home, and officially informed by an officer that I was henceforth banned from visiting the House of Commons.
“So you won’t be back for a while?” enquired the copper who escorted me out of the building.
“Not until I return as President.” I replied.
“D’you mean it?” he asked gravely.
I walked across the road, unchained my bike from the railings, and cycled away in the dark.
When I got home my flat mates asked why I was so late, and I told them.
“Whaat? Was that you?” My bombing mission had been briefly mentioned on the ten o’clock TV news.
And this appeared in one of the national papers next day–
“Police detained a man after two stink bombs were thrown from the public gallery of the Commons on to the floor of the chamber during the debate, despite tightened security at Westminster.”
MICHAEL DICKINSON, whose artwork graces the covers of Dime’s Worth of Difference, Serpents in the Garden and Grand Theft Pentagon, lives in Istanbul. He can be contacted via his website http://yabanji.tripod.com/ or at: firstname.lastname@example.org