Mary Wakefield Mary Wakefield

Clean up the MoD graffiti!

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Mary Wakefield has narrated this article for you to listen to.

When I first saw the Ministry of Defence building splattered in blood-red paint, I assumed that it had only just happened. There were no police or protestors about but the damage was so extensive and so shocking, I felt sure it was recent. No decent government would put up with that for long. I was east-bound in a car at the time and as we drove past I craned out of the window for a last look. The Whitehall clean-up crew would arrive soon, I assumed, and I gawped because I wouldn’t see it again.

I cannot for the life of me understand why it’s all right to leave the MoD looking like an abattoir

But I did. The next day, there it still was, and the day after that, and the one following. I’ve been back every day since just to check. Whoever monitors the MoD CCTV will be alert after repeat appearances of a dishevelled woman in a black anorak standing staring at the building looking haunted and confused.

I am confused. We’re now right at the culmination of Operation Steadfast Defender, an exercise specifically designed to show the world that Nato forces are not to be trifled with. We’ve been told repeatedly about the vital importance of showing our enemies how proud and well organised we are. I cannot for the life of me understand why it’s all right to leave the MoD Main Building looking like an abattoir; as if some giant bleeding carcass had been slapped repeatedly against its side.

The incident itself happened on 10 April and it was embarrassingly easy for the protestors. The video that’s doing the rounds shows four or five wan eco-toffs (Youth Demand) vaulting the railing in front of the building and then using fire extinguishers filled with house paint to spray the walls. They vault in unison (great for TikTok!) and no one scarpers when the police appear because to get arrested is half the point – also great for social media. There’s a banner: ‘Youth demand an end to genocide.’ And chanting: ‘We’re people united, we’ll never be defeated. Oil is murder.’

It doesn’t seem to matter what you chant these days. Max Jeffery, bravely embedded with Youth Demand on the next page, tells me that the group is short of cash. I don’t see why next time they shouldn’t tack a few little paid ads on to the chants, in the manner of a YouTube video: ‘Silence is Violence. Wear AirPods.’ Could be lucrative.

Youth Demand are a model of coherence in comparison with the statement given by our ferret-faced Defence Secretary, Grant Shapps, directly after the protest: ‘The Armed Forces can’t and won’t be intimidated. Those inside Defence HQ stand up to dictators and terrorists every day – patriots, many of whom put their lives at risk to protect us all.’ What’s he on about? Did he see the protestors? I feel like Grant’s mum. No more highfalutin patriotic nonsense from you, Grant, till you clean up your room. Look at the state of it! Covered in red paint.

At a recent MoD press briefing, a colleague kindly enquired for me as to why the MoD graffiti had not yet been removed. He was told: ‘The MoD Main Building is Grade-I listed and specialist equipment is required to avoid damage. The work is expected to be completed in the coming weeks.’

‘Coming weeks’ is brilliantly vague. My bet’s on late autumn. I watch as the coach-loads of European tourists tip out on to the Embankment and blink in surprise at the state of the MoD. Sometimes they take photos of the Fleet Air Arm memorial against its Insta-friendly backdrop of blood. Others have figured out that if you crouch down, you can get a shot of the bronze soldiers commemorating the Battle of Britain running towards the mess.

Come summer the Chinese wedding parties will appear again and pose along the Embankment with their professional photographer crews. The British State in shameful disarray makes a charming backdrop for any bride and group affiliated with the CCP. On my last stand-and-stare expedition I noticed that the immense windows of the raised ground floor were also slathered with red paint. When the morning sun shines in from the east, those civil servants in the desirable river-facing desks must be bathed in a crimson glow.

‘Oh no – I got hideously drunk and posted something moderate and inoffensive!’

On Tuesday lunchtime an old punk with spikes of silver hair came to stand beside me. ‘Makes the building look sad, doesn’t it?’ he said. Then: ‘I expect they’re going to make the kids who did it clean it off.’ I’m not sure there’s much chance of that. The MoD spends tens of millions a year on lawyers. The thought of sending a teenager up a ladder with solvents would give them palpitations. I asked a pair of passing policemen why no one had yet cleaned the building. ‘These things take their time, don’t they? It’s all about the stone. It’s a very delicate sort of stone. Can’t be rushed.’

But that’s the opposite of the truth. Now that I’m a graffiti-removal expert I can tell you that the more delicate the stone, the more important it is to act quickly. A very capable-sounding company cleaned up just the same sort of paint from just the same sort of porous Portland stone at the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin a few weeks ago. The longer you leave it, they said, the more the paint penetrates and the more likely the mark is to be permanent.

Maybe, on my lunchtime visit today, I’ll explain this to patrolling policemen. They’d like that. Or perhaps I’ll turn up next week, with any Spectator readers who would like to join me, and begin slowly wiping off some of the more reachable stains. My bet is we’d be arrested with far greater speed and urgency than Youth Demand ever were.

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