Buying lunch today, I couldn't resist getting a copy of the Independent just for the nice picture of Brian Haw on the front cover. There were decent appreciations inside as well for the peace campaigner who died on Saturday, aged 62, from lung cancer.
I understand that Brian's peace camp and its satellites descended into bitching and paranoia, and that Brian himself could be irascible, not always the easiest political hero to like. But who could deny that his heart was in the right place and that he was a brave man.
David Cameron's Father's Day speech in the Telegraph on Sunday made me think of Brian Haw, as he spoke scathingly about absent fathers:
we need to make Britain a genuinely hostile place for fathers who go AWOL. It’s high time runaway dads were stigmatised, and the full force of shame was heaped upon them. They should be looked at like drink drivers, people who are beyond the pale. They need the message rammed home to them, from every part of our culture, that what they’re doing is wrong – that leaving single mothers, who do a heroic job against all odds, to fend for themselves simply isn’t acceptable.Because, of course, Brian left his own seven children when he went to live in Parliament Square on 2 June 2001.
The thing is, Brian did this because he cared about children very much - other people's children. He initially established his camp to protest against the sanctions on Iraq that were causing so much hardship to the ordinary people there, while Saddam and his cronies were unscathed. It was soon afterwards, with 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, that Haw's protest became a peace protest.
Brian's own father had symbolically left his children by killing himself when Brian was aged 13. Brian's father had been among the first British soldiers to enter Bergen-Belsen concentration camp at the end of the Second World War. I don't think it's far-feteched to imagine that upset at the suffering of other people's children led Brian's father to leave his own children. Brian did the same thing, but in order to do something, yes, eccentric, but political and far more constructive.
All of us to some extent are pulled one way by the outside world and pushed another by personal pressures. To care about the world in general and to put time into trying to change it one has to some extent to harm oneself and sometimes one's loved ones; to put them second. This can be infuriating to friends and relations, who can end up seeing you as eccentric, neglectful, selfish, even egotistical. I rather suspect, however, that, whatever Brian's wife and children thought of him, Brian Haw's dad would have been proud of his son.
On the weekend that David Cameron made what might usually be reasonable criticisms of absent fathers, but in a completely infuriating way, Brian Haw reminds us that real life, people and their relationships are more complicated. I also think that Brian was justified in thinking, as he went off to do what he thought was the right thing, that 21st-century British society can afford to guarantee a decent living to any child whether or not there is a man in the house.