20 years since Tony Blair was hit with a condom filled with purple flour- how has political protesting changed?

Many forms of political protest have taken shape in the UK – but what is its future? (Picture: Reuters/Getty Images)

It has been 20 years since condoms full of purple flour were thrown at the then Prime Minister Tony Blair – a political protest by a father’s rights group who wanted justice for divorced dads.

Just weeks earlier a £600,000 security screen was installed in the House of Commons to deter such action –  but to no avail as dads Ron Davies and Guy Harrison made their voices heard.

At the time such action was deemed rather weird and wacky – but fast forward two decades and such acts of protest have arguably formed the foundations of modern day political activism.

So much so that the right to protest in the UK today is under jeopardy thanks to a UK bill specifically aimed at stopping people using the right to protest as a defence for committing criminal offences.

But this has not deterred modern day political protest groups – if anything it has emboldened their vision and cause to create a better world.

Metro.co.uk has looked at a number of political protest events since that famous day in 2004 and how they have shaped our modern day political landscape.

September 2004: Parliament suspended after five pro-hunting protesters storm the House of Commons

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Pro-hunting protesters broke into the House of Commons on September 15 2004 (Picture: Shutterstock)

Just five months after purple flour was hurled over Mr Blair, another political protest rocked the heart of Westminster.

Five protesters burst into the House of Commons on September 15 2004 while MPs debated whether to ban hunting with dogs, prompting parliament to be suspended.

Among the protesters was Otis Ferry, the son of rock star Bryan Ferry.

Once parliament resumed again, MPs voted to back a ban on hunting with dogs by 339 to 155 votes.

It emerged that the intruders were let in by somebody with a Commons pass.

September 2005: Fathers4Justice activist spends five hours on roof of Westminster Hall

Fathers4Justice campaigner Guy Harrison protesting on the Houses of Parliament (Picture: Reuters)

More than a year after the previous Fathers4Justice stunt throwing condoms full of purple flour at Mr Blair, the group were back in action.

This time Guy Harrison decided to scale the Houses of Parliament on September 27 2005 holding a banner that read: ‘Does Blair care?’

He eventually climbed down after five hours but was arrested by police on suspicion of aggravated trespass.

As he was driven away from the scene, supporters who had gathered to watch him on the roof cheered.

His protest at the time was timed to coincide with Mr Blair’s speech at Labour Party conference in Brighton in 2005.

February 2007: Plane Stupid protesters climb roof of Parliament over Heathrow third runway plans

Protesters demonstrating against plans for a third Heathrow runway scaled the roof of Parliament.

The breach at the time came as an embarrassment because security was supposedly tightened over terrorist threats and security breaches.

Plane Stupid formed in September 2005 when a group of activists decided to disrupt an international aviation conference held in a central London hotel. 

They released helium balloons with personal alarms up to the ceiling during the keynote speech by a senior British Airways executive.

September 2011: Occupy Movement

A placard is pictured on a fence beside a protesters camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral on October 17, 2011, during a third day of demonstrations against corporate greed and state spending cutbacks (Picture: AFP via Getty Images)

The Occupy Movement formed an encampment in Finsbury Square, just north of the city, in September 2011 in protest over the financial crash in 2007 and the Great Recession.

An encampment was initially formed in New York and quickly spread to the UK with its support from tax avoidance groups.

In November, a third site was then opened in a disused office complex owned by UBS. Named by protesters as the Bank of Ideas, the site was located in Hackney, east London, and was evicted in late January 2012.

A fourth site was then set up in late December, at the disused premises of Old Street Magistrates Court in east London. 

The site’s owners objected to its proposed long-term use by occupiers, and agreement was reached for the building to be vacated by the end of January 2012.

Finally in February 2012, occupiers were evicted from their main camp at St Paul’s, and from the Bank of Ideas, leaving Finsbury Square as the last London site to remain occupied. The Finsbury Square camp was cleared by authorities in June 2012.

June 2020: Black Lives Matter protests

Protesters gathering at Hyde Park march towards Parliament Square during a Black Lives Matter protest (Picture: Getty Images)

As we head into a new decade, huge marches have become the norm of main political protest in response to social and political injustice.

One of the most famous in recent times is the Black Lives Matter movement which formed in response to the unlawful killing of George Floyd.

In London, many of the streets were filled up once news of his killing broke in June 2020.

Many took to the streets, particularly around the American Embassy in Nine Elms, south London.

September 2022: Extinction Rebellion

A man drops a banner as Extinction Rebellion protesters target the Palace of Westminster (Picture: Getty Images)

The climate crisis has become a central issue for many to protest about due to perceived lack of government action.

On September 2 2022, Extinction Rebellion activists glued themselves around the Speaker’s chair when Parliament was not in session, which resulted in eight arrests.

Three women stood hand-in-hand in front of the Speaker’s chair, while two men stood either side holding banners

The protest happened in Parliament in support of a ‘citizens assembly’ to help tackle the climate crisis.

2022: Just Stop Oil

Just Stop Oil protesters march from New Scotland Yard to the Supreme Court (Picture: Getty Images)

The climate crisis is still a major talking point and the impact of oil on our environment is a central talking point for protest movement Just Stop Oil.

Just Stop Oil calls on the government to stop all future consents and licensing agreements related to the development, exploration, and production of fossil fuels in the country.

Metro.co.uk spoke with members of the group about its aims after the group exploded onto the scene when Louis McKechnie, 21, ran onto Goodison Park during an Everton game and zip-tied his neck to a goalpost.

Since then, they have been involved in protests up and down the country which have become synonymous with civil resistance, non-violent protest, and expletive-ridden outbursts from drivers.

October 2023: Glitter hurled at Sir Keir Starmer

A protester attacks Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour Party, with glitter as he tries delivers his keynote speech on day three of the UK Labour Party annual conference in Liverpool (Picture: Getty Images)

In October 2023, a man hurled glitter over Sir Keir Starmer during his major speech at the Labour Party conference held in Liverpool.

The protester was from a group called People Demand Democracy, which is calling for electoral reform.

Sir Keir looked shaken after the protester ran on stage in a huge security breach before throwing green glitter over the Labour leader.

The protest raised questions about the effectiveness of the security arrangements for Sir Keir, who has close protection as leader of the opposition.

What is in place now to stop protesters?

The right to protest all changed in the UK in 2022.

This is because the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act (PCSC) passed in 2022, and this enables the police to impose new conditions on a protest beyond its location, timing and the numbers involved, as laid out in the 1986 Public Order Act. 

An unjustifiably noisy protest that causes harm to others can also be shut down. 

People taking part in a protest no longer have the defence of being ignorant of the conditions that have been imposed upon a protest. 

The maximum prison sentence for someone who has damaged a statue has been raised to 10 years. 

A new statutory offence of ‘intentionally or recklessly causing public nuisance’, which previously existed, in common law was introduced. It also carries a sentence up to 10 years in prison.

How have political protests changed over the years?

What is certain is that a move towards mass protest movements has become increasingly common since 2020 in response to political and social factors.

The unlawful killing of George Floyd sparked the first global protest movement in a generation, while the climate crisis and ongoing wars in Ukraine, Israel and Palestine, paint a world that is far more unsettled even in comparison to a decade ago.

What’s more this decade, political protest is far more common on our streets – With pro-Palestinian marches held almost every Saturday across major cities in the UK and across the globe.

While the government attempts to clamp down on protests right now and in the future, these groups continue to grow in force, as they grapple with the many problems and issues which impact our world right now.

Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at webnews@metro.co.uk.

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