SINGING TRIDENT OUT IN THE HOUSE OF COMMONS by Angie Zelter, 11th March, 2015.
Camilla Cancantata updated her ‘Trident is a War Crime Oratorio’ for singers with Action AWE to lobby their MPs in the House of Commons, Westminster, today. 14 singers from England and Wales gathered in the House of Commons calling their MPs to the central lobby hall and were accompanied by 6 others who supported them by negotiating with the security police as well as taking pictures.
Small groups of singers entered the lobby hall around 10am and approaching the information desk called their MPs to come and meet them. Some of them had already arranged to meet their MPs at 10am and others, who had not arranged an appointment, filled out a green card which they were told would be submitted around 11.30 much later when MPs came down to the house.
At 10.05 the singing began with a compelling sustained chord which gathered the singers together in a semi-circle with Camilla conducting us all. Andy Sawford MP (from Corby) had come down to be lobbied by Paula who in the midst of her talk suddenly joined the singers. He stood and listened to the whole of the oratorio which lasted around 15 minutes. He was joined by the secretary of Joan Ruddock MP and later by Mark Williams MP for Ceredigion.
Police officers were called and one strode up to the singers and shouted at them to ‘STOP SINGING’. The singers continued with their tuneful questions, such as ‘Who is the Criminal,What is the Law, Who decides..?’
Our three supporters explained to various groups of police, who started gathering in force, that the singers were merely using their right to lobby, by singing rather than speaking, and that the oratorio would only last 15 minutes and then we would be speaking to our MPs, some of whom had already gathered. Some of the police were heard saying that the singing was very good. Another said, ‘It’s the f…ing cradle of democracy – let them sing’. One said it was the best protest she had ever been to.
The lobby was very powerful and innovative. We hoped to move by song what words on their own did not seem to be able to do. The acoustics were great. The words of the songs can be found on the actionawe.org website. There is also a short video of the protest. This was taken despite the police trying to prevent pictures being taken and forcing out one of the video makers and asking her to delete the film she had taken. We are not sure why taking pictures of protests is so wrong!
Marie saw her MP (Chris Evans – of Islwyn) afterwards. He is a Labour MP and was sorry to have missed the performance but will be interested if we sing it again. Although he was pro-nuclear when he entered Parliament he has been considering defence policies as a whole and told Marie that he no longer believes that we should maintain nuclear weapons and that the money could be much better spent.
Lotte, Gromette, Vole and Jo met with Mark Williams (MP for Ceredigion) who was also sorry to have arrived late for the performance. He wants to arrange for it to be performed in the House with the permission of the Speaker. Mark is against nuclear weapons and has consistently voted against them.
Morag met her MP (Andy Slaughter for Hammersmith). He took the briefings we had prepared and although he is against ‘unilateral’ disarmament (yes, that tired, old-fashioned and outdated response was heard several times!) he did acknowledge that Trident is being questioned, even by Tories.
Angie and Hilary went up to the office of their MP (Roger Williams from Brecon and Radnor) who had a bad cold and was not able to come to the lobby. He kept to the Liberal Democrat line of a ‘minimum deterrent’ and although he keeps listening seems not to take to heart the problems of breaking international humanitarian law and encouraging terrorism by threatening mass murder.
Paula later told us that her MP, Andy Sawford has already mentioned it on his community page and
commented to Paula,” What your choir did today was unique and powerful!”
Several school groups were being shown round Parliament and the children looked at the singers open-mouthed. Our supporters, Carol, Heena and Sue gave them leaflets and talked to the teachers and children explaining that our protest was ‘democracy in action’.
There were lots of comments about how beautiful and moving the music was and how professional it sounded. Some listeners assumed that we were an established choir, rather than an ad hoc group formed specially for the event. Although we had all practised in smaller groups in Wales and London, we only had one rehearsal with everyone together the previous evening.
The one policeman who had shouted at us to stop and was getting rather excited and bothered about us later explained that he had had to shout because otherwise he would not be seen to be doing his job. He actually thought we did have a right to protest and it sounded really good!
The singing was a very powerful experience for those who took part and for many who listened to it. At the end we all took a bow and were applauded. We retired to the cafe along with the Ceredigion MP and over the next hour took the opportunity to go to see those of our MPs who had not turned up.
The Sergeant at Arms told us that we could possibly get official permission to perform the Oratorio in the Houses of Parliament and she gave us her card. This along with supportive messages from MPs is encouraging us to take this idea forward and try to arrange a performance sometime in June after the election. Sue has taken this on. We are thinking about other possibilities of singing protests, so militarists everywhere beware. The power of song can disarm you.
This action was part of Action AWE’s month of action.