Author: By Jerome Taylor
?I don?t do talk about the weather,? he grumbled, stirring a fifth spoonful of
sugar into a milky cup of coffee which had just been boiled on a small gas
burner behind his tent. ?I hate it when people ask me all those silly
questions, like ?How?s it going? Did you sleep well?? or ?How long are you
staying here?? It?s meaningless.?
And he is equally nonplussed at the thought that tomorrow will mark the
3,000th day of a world-famous protest that defied an entire government and
remains the most permanent symbol of free speech in a country which has
suffered increasingly autocratic legislation curbing the right to free
?I?m not into this Guinness Book of Records rubbish,? he says, tipping back
his pin-badge littered helmet to reveal a weathered face and two piercing
blue eyes. ?Three thousand bloody days, sleeping here and watching the
politicians lie while children continue to die and people walk by. And each
one of us is responsible. Each one of us, responsible.?
Eight years of living in a tent opposite the Houses of Parliament, railing
against the country?s political elite through two bitterly controversial
wars, has made Mr Haw an irritable man. Any of the friends, passers by,
tourists and journalists who have come across him will be more than aware
the deep seated anger he feels towards the British government, which he
accuses of anything from ?murder, to torture and genocide?.
When the former carpenter-turned-peace-activist first appeared outside the
Houses of Parliament on the 2 June 2001 to begin his one man protest few
could have guessed that he would stay there for what has already the best
part of a decade. He began by demonstrating against Britain?s support for
the UN sanctions in Iraq, but the ongoing wars in that country and
Afghanistan have since given him plenty more opportunity to consolidate his
contempt for British foreign policy.
Since then council chiefs, police and the Government have all tried and failed
to evict him. Tired of his non-stop megaphone vigils, MPs even passed a
specific piece of legislation aimed at ridding Parliament Square of his
presence which – for the first time in over 350 years – effectively made it
illegal to protest outside the Houses of Parliament without permission (a
promise by Gordon Brown to repeal that law has so far failed to
materialise). Undeterred, Mr Haw has fought and eventually won every attempt
to have him removed.
The sheer logistics of his continued protest are remarkable. For the past
3,000 days Mr Haw has called the pavement opposite the Houses of Parliament
his home. His bed is nestled under a leaking and weather beaten tent whilst
the few possessions he has beyond the limited remaining placards he is
allowed to display by Westminster City Council lie under a tarpaulin sheet
which crawls with mice.
A modern day ascetic, he survives purely on the kindness of strangers and a
small contingent of sympathisers who donate food and tobacco, which has lent
him a thick bronchial cough that splutters throughout much of his sentences.
Daily washes, meanwhile, are made in a bucket but once a week he has the
luxury of being able to take a shower at the home of an anonymous supporter.
To stay in contact with the outside world he beckons all and sundry to his
makeshift shrine or calls friends on his mobile phone, which is charged by a
sympathetic toilet attendant in Westminster tube station.
But eight years of living on the streets have clearly taken their toll. Mr
Haw?s weathered skin and viciously tanned arms are testament to the days on
end spent out in the elements and his frame is visibly skeletal.
Leaning forward on two crutches and sporting a t-shirt emblazoned with
anti-war slogans, Mr Haw cuts a lonely figure among the thronging crowds of
scantily clad tourists who stop to take pictures of Parliament?s most
A year into his protest, his wife Kay filed for divorce and he rarely sees any
of their seven children who now range from 16-30-years-old. Although he has
previously insisted his family support his vigil, births, weddings and
birthdays have all gone by leaving the father of seven deeply embittered.
?My kids are an off limit topic,”?he says, angered by the question
of whether they still stay in touch with him. ?But I have effectively lost
my family because our nation doesn?t care enough. I love my wife and
children so much. But I blame the Government for losing them because I
shouldn?t have been here eight years. I didn?t want to be here eight bloody
years but while the killing and murder continues, I?m staying.?
Despite living his life so publicly, Mr Haw remains a deeply private person.
Personal questions inevitably receive replies that wind their way back to
his raison d?etre ? the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan or the war in Iraq.
For instance, in answer to a question about whether he prays (Mr Haw is an
evangelical Christian) he replies: ?People get so organised don?t they? They
think that prayer is something you do on your knees. Well I bet there are a
few soldiers praying on the other side of the world right now. And who is
going to answer their prayers? I would suggest that you are the answer to
your own prayers, if you get off your arse and do something.?
One of the few times he breaks into a smile is remembering how he was voted
Most Inspiring Political Figure at the 2007 Channel 4 Political Awards.
?Yeah, that felt damn good,? he recalls. ?Ordinary Joe Bloggs on the street
being voted ahead of Blair, Cameron and General ?Donut? Dannatt. That felt
But while Mr Haw remains an angry individual who feels he is a long way from
achieving his goal of ?peace, love and justice for all?, his days of
fighting the law over his pitch are largely over.
If anything, his peace campaign has grown. There are now anywhere between
three and five regular campaigners who join Mr Haw in Parliament Square and
local officials appear to have largely abandoned trying to evict them.
Barbara Tucker ? or ?Babs? as she is known among the campers ? is the square?s
longest squatting resident after Mr Haw. Barring her 33 arrests, the half
Australian half English protestor, who is campaigning for peace in the
Middle East, has herself camped out for more than 1,000 days now.
“?t was Brian that inspired me,? she says. ?I had the complete capitalist
lifestyle before all this but I gave it up when my two sons reached
adulthood. Brian showed me that a single man can make a difference. Everyday
we meet so many people from around the world who have heard what he has done
and want to meet him when they are in London, it’s amazing.?
As a busload of tourists pass by and all shout out ?Hi Brian!? at the behest
of a tour operator with a microphone, it is clear that Mr Haw?s
protest is now as much part of Parliament?s landscape as Churchill or
Cromwell?s statue. And it?s clear he?s not going anywhere fast.
?I?m not leaving because we haven?t finished the job,? he says. ?We are all
responsible for what our Government does in our name. When our country does
good we can be proud of that, and when it does wrong we must hold the liars
to account. And we have to keep doing that.?
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