Here is one of the capital’s great vistas – the twin-towered west front of Westminster Abbey rising up with the Houses of Parliament behind them.
Not that there are many tourists pausing to take a snap of the view as I wander past. Because stretched right across the road in front of me, blocking any traffic, is a huge yellow banner embossed with the slogan: ‘We’re F*****’.
I had imagined this might be a short-lived stunt when I first saw it yesterday lunchtime. Naively, perhaps, I assumed there might be some sort of by-law prohibiting the defacing of our greatest national landmarks with profanities.
Extinction Rebellion activists are seen at their make-shift camp outside Westminster Abbey
Yet come 6pm it was still there, surrounded by a tented village on the junction of Victoria Street and Tothill Street. The police seemed to have no inclination to remove it.
And the protesters who proudly put it there simply cannot fathom why this might not be the best way of winning over the wider world to their apocalyptic cult of self-denial. ‘Tough situations demand tough language,’ said one.
There were two sorts of people in central London yesterday. There were those who went about their business as normal, moving around via the Underground or on foot.
The other, high on unimpeachable self-righteousness, were Extinction Rebellion set on bringing the heart of the capital to a halt.
By last night, I could not find a single person who had switched camps. All agreed, however, this simply cannot last for a fortnight without some sort of showdown.
London proved to be wearily long-suffering. We have seen this umpteen times with assorted Brexit demonstrations plus all the anti-Trump stuff in June.
This Extinction Rebellion operation is on a different scale. Targeting key landmarks and bridges over the Thames, they seem very well-organised while having no one in overall charge. To make things harder for the authorities, they are all assiduously polite to divide and overwhelm police resources while being as non-confrontational as possible.
On the Thames, human barriers erected themselves at either end of Westminster Bridge while a camp set up shop around a white van in the middle. Within hours, it was staging a makeshift wedding ceremony as two women took their vows. Who says romance is dead?
Another group attempted to disrupt Changing the Guard as the Household Cavalry made their way up the Mall. I suspect they won’t be trying that sort of stunt next Monday when the whole regiment turns out to accompany the Queen to the State Opening of Parliament.
In Trafalgar Square, I found the most bizarre protest of the lot. A hearse had parked across the junction with Whitehall carrying a coffin labelled ‘Our Future’ while the driver had padlocked his neck to the headrest. Five hours later, he was still there, surrounded by police and clearly in discomfort.
In Trafalgar Square, I found the most bizarre protest of the lot. A hearse had parked across the junction with Whitehall carrying a coffin labelled ‘Our Future’, writes ROBERT HARDMAN
Through his steamed-up window, he told me he was Al, a 69-year-old Londoner who had nothing to do with the funeral industry.
‘We are just acting as undertakers for the planet,’ said his sidekick.
I found Northumberland Avenue blocked by a band of students performing energetic Maypole-style dances. Nearby, a rather more elderly dance troupe – plenty of cagoules and grey beards – tried to look as if they were having fun in the drizzle, gyrating gently to a band of drummers.
By yesterday evening, tents and marquees had gone up in St James’s Park alongside Buckingham Palace. In one, I came across off-duty medical staff listening attentively to a lecture on the medical impact of climate change.
Normally, the police move in at the first sign of a bivouac or sleeping bag. The Royal Parks are, emphatically, not a campsite.
By yesterday evening, tents and marquees had gone up in St James’s Park alongside Buckingham Palace
Having allowed all this to take root, however, the police are going to find it harder to evict this lot.
Local patience was already wearing thin. In Parliament Square, an altercation was taking place between a protester and tourist guide Fabrizio Gallozzi as he persisted in showing a party of Italians the great statue of Churchill.
‘Why the hell are you protesting outside this great Parliament?’ he asked. The demonstrator mumbled something about climate change but Mr Gallozzi replied: ‘I don’t give a monkey’s. Just let people get on with their jobs.’
There were upsides for Parliament, however. The anti-Brexit megaphone mob realised they had met their match so they went down the road to spend the day shouting at Tory Central Office instead.