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The Village Green - from Blair to Brexit

Over several years, photographer Steve Forrest has documented the hustle and bustle of College Green, an area of grass outside the Houses of Parliament that regularly plays host to television interviews with politicians. From the premiership of Tony Blair to the vote for Brexit and its aftermath, he recalls how life on the green has changed over the years.

When I moved to London in the late 1990s, I used to wander over to College Green, across the road from The Houses of Parliament, and photograph the comings and going of the UK’s leading politicians and broadcasters as they met for live interviews. These wanderings turned into a photographic project looking at the relationship between the Press and politicians during the Blair/Brown era.

Through general elections, hung parliaments and leadership bids, emotions often ran high on College Green, with the public increasingly getting involved. There were the occasional small demonstrations and the inevitable heckler, but generally they were good-natured and rarely warranted police intervention. I felt quite proud of our democratic traditions. Here was a place in the heart of the capital where the media, politicians and the demos still mixed - a ‘Westminster Bubble’ maybe, but a penetrable one at that.

During these periods of prolonged constitutional ‘crises’ the press would set up tents in scenes reminiscent of medieval encampments - journalists, politicians and camera crews engaged with the art of verbal jousting from dawn to dusk. Once the public and bewildered tourists were thrown in to the mix, this area became live political theatre and, I for one, loved being in the thick of it.

I initially ended the project in 2010 before taking it up again after the 2016 EU Referendum. By then, College Green was an altogether different place. As the Brexit negotiations dragged on, I sensed a very different atmosphere developing. Fewer politicians were seen on the Green and those that were, were quickly whisked upstairs, behind black curtains, for their interviews. The public were now excluded from College Green altogether. Former army paratroopers patrolled the interior while police now patrol the exterior.

An area of inclusion had turned in to an area of exclusion and the green felt like a place under siege. Flags fought for space around the perimeter, together with increasingly vocal support for the differing positions on Brexit.

Today, the ‘Westminster Bubble’ seems alive and well to me but more impenetrable to those left outside it.
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