Is it against the law to protest against Anna Soubry?

A woman has been convicted of ‘harassing’ Soubry by protesting against her. This is deeply troubling.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
Editor

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Is it against the law to protest against Anna Soubry? It looks like it is. A court has found a woman guilty of causing Ms Soubry to feel ‘alarm and distress’ by interrupting her public meetings and calling her a traitor during a live TV interview. In the words of the judge, the woman was ‘driven by anger at Ms Soubry’s political views on Brexit’ and that anger made Ms Soubry feel harassed. This is a deeply disturbing verdict. It should worry everyone who believes in the political right to challenge MPs and the broader elite.

The individual in question is Amy Dalla Mura, a somewhat eccentric member of the nationalist party, the English Democrats. She is known to lurk close to live TV interviews and interrupt politicians. What’s more, she is standing for the English Democrats in Broxtowe, Soubry’s seat. So Soubry has taken to court and successfully convicted one of her challengers in the General Election. That feels wrong and anti-democratic. Worse, the judge, finding Dalla Mura guilty of harassment, decided to ban Dalla Mura from the constituency of Broxtowe. Graciously, she is still allowed to contest the seat of Broxtowe, but she is not allowed to visit it and she is not allowed to mention Soubry – the incumbent MP – in any of her campaigning literature. This feels like an intolerable judicial intervention into the sphere of politics.

The truth is that Dalla Mura’s actions would strike a great many people as political activity, not harassment. Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard that she turned up to a meeting Ms Soubry was speaking at in parliament and ‘repeatedly interrupted her’. She filmed and live-streamed the event and her own interruptions. She also stood behind Ms Soubry during a live TV interview for Newsnight and called her a traitor. The judge said this kind of behaviour was ‘oppressive and unacceptable’.

Anyone who has ever spoken at a meeting that is disrupted by protesters will know how irritating it is. Having myself faced hostile protesters at Oxford, Cambridge and elsewhere, I know it isn’t pleasant. Having also taken part in media debates in which I’ve been shouted down – including by Soubry! – I know how annoying that can be too. But oppressive? Alarming? A matter for the courts? That is way over the top. Dalla Mura may, in the words of one of the witnesses, be a ‘troubled’ person, and she may, as the judge said, be ‘angry’ over the betrayal of Brexit, but she did things which would previously have been accepted as part of the rough and tumble of democratic politics.

Left-wing people frequently invade public meetings and shout down Tory speakers. Filming oneself confronting a politician is now par for the course in public life. Shouting things at politicians as they give live TV interviews has become perfectly normal in recent years. Consider the Stop Brexit man, Steve Bray, who has been standing outside Westminster for ages and barking stupid slogans at every pro-Brexit politician who is speaking to the TV cameras. Is that harassment too? Is that oppressive and unacceptable?

Protest, confrontation and, yes, anger are all a key part of politics. Citizens must have the right to engage with representatives, including angrily. That a magistrate is passing judgement on an individual’s ‘anger at Ms Soubry’s political views on Brexit’ is what is truly alarming in this case. People have a right to be angry about what Soubry and other politicians have done to the vote for Brexit – they have betrayed it, blocked it and demeaned it, and in the process they have caused immeasurable harm to democracy in this country. People must have the right to express anger about it in a peaceful way.

This is a very worrying case. It potentially sets a dangerous precedent. When anger at MPs can be refashioned as harassment, the right to protest itself is called into question. When judges can instruct candidates in an election to stay away from the constituency they are contesting, the independence of the political sphere is called into question. Dalla Mura may have caused Ms Soubry to feel alarmed – the rest of us will feel alarmed by the seriously anti-democratic and illiberal consequences that this verdict could have.

Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy

Picture by: Getty

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Comments

Hugo van der Meer

26th November 2019 at 2:03 pm

Addendum: ‘there’ should read ‘their’…spell check got it worng again.

Mike Ellwood

22nd November 2019 at 7:38 pm

QUOTE: ” Filming oneself confronting a politician is now par for the course in public life. ”

Indeed. Not so long ago, we saw a video of a Labour MP (forget his name…he was very forgettable) haranguing Dominic Cummings who appeared to be in the middle of a private conversation). I loved Dom’s (probably honest and unconscious) put-down of this nobody when he said “I’m sorrry, I don’t know who you are…”.

(I looked like it was being filmed by a friend of the nobody M.P.)

Stew Green

22nd November 2019 at 10:10 pm

It was Karl Turner the Hull MP who was being trailed by a young video maker.
He saw Cummings in the HoC lobby and thought he would let lose at him.
After he posted his video, people pointed out that at the end he seemed to say he ‘d like to see Cummings’s dead in a ditch.
Turner has form , in an old tweet he gives a thumbs up to milkshaking UKIP people.

Stew Green

22nd November 2019 at 12:37 pm

There is news : The magistrates’s husband was a long term colleague of Soubry.
(UnityNews have the story)
It’s not a big case so why did they use the Chief magistrate in London ?
The magistrate was Judge Emma Arbuthnot, or formally as The Baroness Arbuthnot of Edrom.
Since she is Chief magistrate it is not unusual for her to be involved in a case like Assange’s
But the case of a protester disrupting a former Tory MP is different.
… Now what does the magistrates husband do ?
.. By sheer coincidence Lord James Arbuthnot is a Conservative peer and was a Tory MP for 15 years including being defence minister.
So Soubry was a colleague of him. She even recently tweeted respect for him.

Sure try a disruptive protester, but how can it be OK for the judge to be connected to the complainant by way of the judge’s husband being a recent POLITICAL colleague of the complainant ?

Mike Ellwood

22nd November 2019 at 7:30 pm

Should be grounds for an appeal, at least.

Don Bennett

22nd November 2019 at 11:17 am

Does that mean you cant boo at football matches incase it upsets the luvvies

Davy Hayes

22nd November 2019 at 8:42 am

I feel alarmed and distressed every time La Soubry opens her mouth….

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