By Jack Pearce
You could be forgiven for not noticing that Britain is sleepwalking into a totalitarian nightmare in the form of the Crime and Policing Bill. Yet it is not even the slightest exaggeration to say that this proposed legislation is a complete assault on human rights, namely the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.
In Parts 3 & 4 of this bill, draconian restrictions are placed upon peacefully protesting; if you are deemed to have caused a ‘serious annoyance’, ‘inconvenience’ or ‘disruption’ you are liable to go to prison. If you deface a statue, you are liable to spend 10 years there. As #ReclaimTheNight has noted, this is a longer sentence than is given for many acts of violence against women.
The horrendous scenes at Clapham Common where the Metropolitan Police violently attacked women attending a vigil for Sarah Everard, the Durham alumnus allegedly murdered by a Met officer, show very clearly that the police do not need more powers. If anything, the racial discrimination, spying, union attacking and general abuses of station clearly demonstrate that in several respects, the police need to have their powers curtailed.
In Bristol, a peaceful protest against this unbelievable legislation was met with this sort of heavy-handed treatment, inevitably creating scenes of violence. Predictably senior Labour and Conservative politicians then rushed to the cameras offering crocodile tears for injured coppers. This is particularly sickening considering that had the Government not tried to pass an authoritarian bill to stop peaceful protest, using the police as a fist to beat civilians who disagree, these officers would not have been harmed.
The reality is this Government cares about police officers as much as they care about anyone else who isn’t a party donor. When you make peaceful protest as punishable as violent protest, what do you realistically expect to happen?
Why would a government want to pass such legislation? Ultimately it is designed to be the latest development in the culture war that ‘the Right’ wants to force upon us. They say you must be afraid of any movements that seek justice for others – whether they are Pride marches or BLM rallies. It’s a convenient distraction from the sheer incompetence of this government which has led to one of the highest death rates from Covid-19 in the world or the fact that our economy is rigged in the interests of the rich. It’s no surprise then that Travellers are being racially scapegoated and criminalised by this bill, which effectively outlaws their centuries-old ways of life. They are yet another convenient target for a vile and morally bankrupt strategy of divide and conquer that the Conservative party are operating in absence of capable governance.
Whilst the Tories whip up fears about the death of free speech at our universities, they legislate to end free speech across our entire country.
All of our collective and individual rights in this country have come about in one way or another through protesting. The Chartists and Suffragettes who fought for our rights to decide who governs us, the anti-racism and LGBT movements that fought and still fight discrimination and prejudice, the Trade Union movement that gave us rights at work. Sadly, these protests have all been met with state violence, so have had to defend themselves, ultimately for the good of our country.
We are living in the afterglow of historic protest movements and if this bill becomes law, Britain may be consumed by a new shroud of divisive, authoritarian darkness. Protest is needed now more than ever before, so is there any wonder they wish to stop it?
Image: Alisdare Hickson via Creative Commons