“Draconian legislation is needed when a Government feels threatened. This Government fears peaceful popular protest.”Diane Abbott MP
By Sam Browse, Streatham CLP & Arise Volunteer
On Wednesday. leading Left parliamentarians led an Arise discussion on ‘Our right to resist – the Tory attacks on our civil liberties & human rights.’ Over 2000 people tuned-in directly to listen to Apsana Begum MP, Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP, Diane Abbot MP and Baroness Shami Chakrabarti set out the urgent need to oppose the Government’s attacks on the right to protest in the Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Bill. 10,000s more saw the event across multiple social media platforms.
Chairing the meeting, Apsana Begum pointed to the context in which the discussion came – the shocking police crackdown on women organising a vigil for Sarah Everard, and protests against the draconian powers of the PCSC Bill – and introduced Shami Chakrabarti, a Labour peer, the former Shadow Attorney General and the Director of Liberty.
Chakrabarti detailed the legislative context of the Government’s proposals and the attacks on human rights not only in this latest Bill, but the Overseas Operations Bill and the Covert Human Intelligence Sources Bill.
She pointed to the hypocrisy in Ministers’ “culture war” approach, which defended the freedom of speech to attack minorities and vulnerable communities in newspaper columns, but not the rights of people to protest against the Government.
She said, ‘it’s Barnard Castle hypocrisy… writing your Telegraph columns – even offensive ones – but shutting down peaceful dissent on the street’.
‘If we can put up with some of the slings and arrows that we sustain, not least as black and brown women in public life, we can ask some of these privileged people in the Tory Government to do the same.’
The next speaker, Diane Abbott, criticised the language in the Bill which states that protesters can be arrested if they are ‘annoying’. She argued that pickets and protests are supposed to be annoying: ‘Black Lives Matter protests were undoubtedly annoying to racists’. If the right to protest is conditional and can be withdrawn, it is not a right.
Importantly, she emphasised that the PCSC Bill was not simply about criminalising opponents. The Government has presided over more than 120,000 deaths and the worst economic crises in Europe. Pay has been slashed, unemployment is rising and that looks set to continue. She said ‘no wonder the government wants to clamp down on protest’.
‘Draconian legislation is needed when a Government feels threatened. This Government fears peaceful popular protest’.
The final speaker, Bell Ribeiro-Addy, is the MP for Streatham, the constituency in which the Clapham Common vigil was held, and tabled the amendments against the PCSC Bill at its second reading.
She explained that she had questioned police officers about the vigil, and reported that, worryingly, they had intervened because ‘a left wing political speech was being given’. She said ‘the police are there to keep us safe, not decide what we can say’.
Ribeiro-Addy insisted that the safety concerns of her constituents were valid and that it was understandable that they would want to come together to show solidarity and oppose the victim shaming of women.
‘The police had every opportunity to strike the right balance’ and allow the vigil to take place, ‘but they repeatedly refused to do so’.
Pointing to both the recent events on Clapham Common and the selfies – taken by police officers – with two murdered black women, she argued that ‘the answer to gendered violence is not simply more police’.
‘This is the latest in a long string of incidents that raise serious concerns about institutional forms of discrimination within the metropolitan police’.
Diane Abbott offered sound advice to everyone tuning into the call: ‘ordinary Labour Party members need to keep up the pressure. I’m very clear where I stand on these issues but others are not so sure. So, where your local MP is not being clear on these issues, you should write and contact them to make your voice heard’.