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ANDREW MARR: Arresting people for criticizing the monarchy will only harm the monarchy itself

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There is strict police work; and there are idiotic police. On Sunday afternoon, a history teacher living in Oxford named Symon Hill was handcuffed for yelling ‘who chose him?’ during the proclamation of King Charles III in the city.

The next morning, outside parliament, a woman with a placard that had written “not my king” on one side and “abolition of the monarchy” on the other was rushed through a troop of police.

In Scotland, a 22-year-old man who harassed Prince Andrew while working behind the Queen’s coffin along Edinburgh’s Royal Mile on Monday afternoon was grabbed by members of the mob and police, and later charged with a public order offence.

Idiot

Another woman, also 22, was arrested Monday and charged in Scotland’s capital for holding a sign that read ‘f*** imperialism, abolish the monarchy’ before the accession proclamation outside St Giles’ Cathedral.

There are also a few other similar cases making headlines.

Now each of these events is different. The Oxford teacher, for example, may have been provocative and irritating to monarchists around him when he asked, “Who chose him?” But it was – in this freedom-loving nation – a question he was perfectly entitled to ask.

As for the man in Edinburgh who yelled insults at the Duke of York, I thought he was grotesque, given the solemnity of the moment. He was, frankly, an asshole. “There is a time and a place,” as my parents would have said.

But when you add all this up, it can seem like people who don’t want the monarchy or a new king — and are willing to say so publicly — are being targeted by the police. And that is democratically unacceptable, writes Andrew Marr

In Scotland, a 22-year-old man who harassed Prince Andrew while working behind the Queen's coffin along Edinburgh's Royal Mile on Monday afternoon was grabbed by members of the mob and police, and later charged with a public order offence.

In Scotland, a 22-year-old man who harassed Prince Andrew while working behind the Queen’s coffin along Edinburgh’s Royal Mile on Monday afternoon was grabbed by members of the mob and police, and later charged with a public order offence.

But when you add all this up, it can seem like people who don’t want the monarchy or a new king — and are willing to say so publicly — are being targeted by the police. And that is democratically unacceptable.

The most bizarre example of all came on Monday — outside parliament again — echoing a form of protest first seen in Russia during the early days of Putin’s barbaric war in Ukraine.

A lawyer and environmentalist named Paul Powlesland held up a blank sheet of paper. When he later moved to Downing Street, a police officer asked him for his details and told him that if he wrote ‘not my king’ on the paper, he would be arrested under the Public Order Act.

Videos have gone viral online of brave Russians similarly holding up blank scraps of paper and being bundled into Black Marias by Putin’s guys.

When I interviewed Powlesland for my LBC radio show, he was stunned and amused, calling the experience “ridiculous.” But his style of protest seems to be catching on: yesterday in Edinburgh a group gathered outside St Giles’ Cathedral – where the Queen lay at rest – and held up blank sheets of paper and a plain white banner. They appeared to be protesting in support of Powlesland – and free speech in general.

But if you intentionally say things that infuriate others, provoke them at a time of heightened public emotion, and end up being spanked, surely it's no one's fault but your own? This is called personal responsibility

But if you intentionally say things that infuriate others, provoke them at a time of heightened public emotion, and end up being spanked, surely it’s no one’s fault but your own? This is called personal responsibility

Conservative MP David Davis is not the only one in the kingdom to suffer from this heavy-handed police force.

“In a time of national mourning, we must all ensure that we behave with respect,” he tweeted yesterday. “But we must not sacrifice the principle of freedom of speech on which modern Britain is built.”

On Monday, Davis wrote to Scotland’s chief of police expressing concern that the female protester holding the ‘f*** imperialism’ placard outside St Giles’ cathedral had been charged. Davis wrote: ‘If the person involved had committed violence, or if the police had reason to believe that they would, then of course action would have to be taken. But if the individual were simply expressing an opinion, I assume you would agree that a liberal approach would be desirable.”

Quite like that. In any case, however, the police’s excuse seems the same: that someone else might have been offended by the protest. They could then retaliate and commit a breach of the peace – so to prevent that, the protester must be removed.

But if you intentionally say things that infuriate others, provoke them at a time of heightened public emotion, and end up being spanked, surely it’s no one’s fault but your own? This is called personal responsibility.

And if the police still insist on arresting someone, maybe it should be the thumper, rather than the possible crook.

On Monday, Davis wrote to Scotland's chief of police expressing concern that the female protester holding the 'f*** imperialism' placard outside St Giles' cathedral had been charged.

On Monday, Davis wrote to Scotland’s chief of police expressing concern that the female protester holding the ‘f*** imperialism’ placard outside St Giles’ cathedral had been charged.

heavy handed

In any case, holding up a politely worded placard is so harmless that the public order argument implodes. Some of the posts were rude, I admit, but “not my king” or even “abolition of the monarchy” is certainly within the bounds of civil discord. And since when is swearing a crime?

There is a bigger point here. We are a robust democracy based on freedom of expression. And that means we have no right not to be offended, whatever the issue. There are safeguards against speech that is deliberately intended to incite hatred or violence – but otherwise it is, or should be, open season. How else are ideas challenged and tested?

One such idea is the monarchy itself. But, perhaps ironically, overzealous policing is dangerous to monarchism.

For centuries, kings and queens have been booed and cheered as they clatter by on their horses and in their graceful carriages.

At the time of the Union of Scotland and England in 1707, that same Royal Mile reverberated with the extremely insulting anti-English and anti-royal hoots of a Scottish patriotic mob (we have Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe and sometimes English spy, to thank for an eyewitness account).

Some of the posts were rude, I admit, but

Some of the posts were rude, I admit, but “not my king” or even “abolition of the monarchy” is certainly within the bounds of civil discord. And since when is swearing a crime?

Responsibility

The monarchy has always been unpopular with some. Even Queen Victoria faced a rise in Republicanism towards the end of her reign, when she retired from public life as the ‘Widow of Windsor’.

Before her, the Hanoverian monarchs faced some of the rudest cartoons ever drawn by human hands. But somehow the cavalcade continued.

Is the modern British monarchy really such a fragile, insecure thing that it is threatened by a history teacher asking a question, a woman holding up a small handmade sign, or a young man yelling in the street? What a ridiculous, insulting thought.

It’s overwhelming that this country is praising its monarchy, especially at times like these: Polls suggest King Charles’ approval ratings have risen this month. But we value our freedoms and our freedom of expression, I would say, even more so.

The state would do well to never, ever suggest that we might have to choose between them. And I’d bet a hefty pile of money the king would agree.

n Andrew Marr presents Tonight With Andrew Marr on LBC.

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