Friday, September 07, 2007

Breaking the law - ever justifiable? If so, when?

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Is it ever justifiable to break the law when campaigning? This is a topical question given for example recent campaigns against climate change/flying at Heathrow.

Few people, if any, would argue that law breaking is never justifiable - think of prominent examples of law breaking to achieve positive social change like Vaclav Havel and the 'Velvet Revolution' in 1989, perhaps inspired by people like Mahatma Gandhi to gain independence in India and Martin Luther King Jr campaigning for civil rights in the USA.

I do belong to a radical party that has this core value: 'Electoral politics is only one way to achieve change in society, and we will use a variety of methods to help effect change, providing those methods do not conflict with our other core principles.'

It is justifiable to break the law when campaigning and in fact some may feel compelled or duty-bound to do so, often inspired by people like Gandhi (who in turn was influenced by Henry David Thoreau) . However, if the law is broken it must, in my view, generally: appeal directly to the sense of justice of the majority; not reject the rule of law; be non-violent; accept lawful punishment that results; be a shrewd tactical move (why do it otherwise?); be consistent with core green values.

Mansions: more 19th than 21st century...

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Personally I'm never going to be comfortable with Bristol’s Lord Mayors living in a luxurious Mansion. This is supposed to be an age of much greater equality and fairness not the 19th Century. Anyone else feel this way?? An article in today’s Bristol Evening Post relating to this caught my eye…

'David Clarke, the Lord Mayor's secretary and Sword Bearer, gives a brief history about the Mansion House to the guests' (‘Tea time at the Lord Mayor’s show’, Bristol Evening Post, 7 Sept) but does he give the full history and context surrounding the Mansion House or does he start, as the article suggests, in 1874? I may be wrong but I just cant see him outlining the 1831 Bristol Riots!

Just in case he doesn't, the extract below from the Bristol City Council website makes
the picture a bit more complete and if you want more detail see the extract below ** from the Bristol Radical History site (see the very good Guardian article too):

'It is in fact the third Mansion House, the original building in Queen Square was destroyed in the Bristol Riots of 1831. [Note: ‘A popular revolt for the vote which led to the first Reform Act’, The Guardian]. Although replaced by a second house in Great George Street, this was closed in 1835 under the drastic economies forced on the City Council by the Municipal Corporations Act. For many years the Mansion House was not only the home of the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress, but also the lodgings of the High Court Judges.'

**1831 was a period of significant unrest in Britain centred in the political arena around issues of parliamentary reform[3] and the abolition of slavery. In France in 1830 suffrage issues had caused a revolution that had brought people to the barricades and forced the King to abdicate. The warning signs were there for the corrupt and tiny minority that controlled political power in Britain. As a pacifying reform, a bill that would extend suffrage to a small section of the middle class was introduced and then defeated in the House of Lords in September of that year. Public anger was widespread, there were riots in the Midlands against anti-Reform aristocrats, the effigies of Bishops who were against reform were burned and there was widespread sabotage in factories and mines.
In Bristol the magistrate, Sir Charles Weatherall, a notorious opponent of reform arrived in the city to open the hated assizes and decided to celebrate the defeat of the reform bill with the Bishop and other notaries. A protest by pro-reformists was joined by an angry mob who then attacked the Mansion house where Weatherall tried to take shelter after his carriage was stoned. After a cavalry charge by the Light Dragoons cleared the crowd from Queen’s Square the wealthy merchants who made up the notoriously corrupt Bristol Corporation must of thought the unrest was over. How wrong they were! The next day the mob returned with greater numbers and with a determination to burn, loot and destroy those institutions that they despised, the prisons, the houses of the rich (Queen’s Square, the Mansion House) and the houses of the corrupt (the Bishop’s Palace, the Cathedral). Some middle class pro-reformists attempted to halt the actions of the crowd by trying to convince them that Weatherall had left the city and in so doing had completely missed the point. This wasn’t about parliamentary reform
[4] any more this was an explosion of class anger…(