The Conservative Party leader, David Cameron, has suggested that a Tory government would forcibly remove the Christian peace activist Brian Haw from Parliament Square, where he has staged a continuous peaceful protest since 2001.
Haw has survived several attempts to evict him, including legislation in which the government accidentally left a loophole which allowed him to stay. In 2007, the tents of Haw's supporters were raided and removed by police.
But the Tory leader yesterday told Sky News that Haw and the peaceful camp should be removed, implying that a Tory government would introduce legislation to make this happen.
“I am all in favour of free speech and the right to demonstrate and the right to protest” said Cameron, “But I think there are moments when our Parliament Square does look like a pretty poor place, with shanty town tents and the rest of it”.
He added that “I am all for demonstrations but my argument is 'enough is enough'”.
His comments are likely to attract criticism from civil liberties campaigners at a time when the Conservatives are seeking to present themselves as the party of civil liberties in contrast to Labour's commitment to identity cards.
Haw, an active Christian and former carpenter, began his protest in 2001 in opposition to sanctions on Iraq. He has since campaigned against the invasion of both Iraq and Afghanistan. He won the Channel 4 award for Most Inspiring Political Figure in 2007.
A number of MPs have recently argued that protests in Parliament Square make it visually unappealing and give a bad impression to tourists.
Others suggest that the presence of protests outside Parliament sends a positive message, telling tourists that Britain is a country that welcomes free speech and open debate.