“This legislation is designed to crack down on our rights to take action against injustice. Workers who take industrial action, Black Lives Matter activists, football fans protesting the Super League, environmentalists and the women’s movement are all under attack.”Jon Trickett MP
The draconian Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill returns to the House of Commons today. The Bill continues the authoritarian drift of this Government.
The reason behind this oppressive tendency is simple. The Government and its elite friends are behaving in increasingly brazen ways whilst the bulk of the population have to struggle to get by. Dissent is growing. It frightens the Establishment, so they take steps to crush it.
First the Government introduced the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill. This gave immunity to British service personnel who commit crimes whilst on active military duty and protects the Ministry of Defence from civil claims for breaking the law abroad. This includes soldiers who have commited torture.
Then the Government introduced the Covert Human Intelligence Sources Bill. This gave immunity to state agents who commit crimes in this country, including rape.
We have seen that Spy Cops have been used to infiltrate the labour movement and other peaceful movements for justice. In some cases these undercover agents fathered children with activists.
Both Bills undermine the fundamental democratic principle of equality before the law and set a dangerous new precedent. Myself and a number of others in the Socialist Campaign Group voted against both, despite the Labour leadership’s decision to abstain.
Now we have the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which represents the biggest attack on our right to protest in a generation. If it passes it will essentially outlaw meaningful and effective protest.
Proposed changes to the Public Order Act would mean a Senior Police Officer could ban any public protest. Changes to the law on trespass would restrict the right to set up protest camps or to protest overnight.
Most shocking is Clause 59 of the Bill, which proposes a 10-year jail sentence for causing the risk of “serious annoyance”.
Note that is not even for causing “annoyance”, but for causing the risk that there may be annoyance. There are many things with which we might risk causing annoyance every day, but it is only in dictatorships or repressive regimes that such actions are subject to a police crackdown and drastic sentencing.
The Bill also contains discriminatory proposals that target Gypsies, Roma and Traveller (GRT) communities. A new criminal offence will be introduced for people living on roadside camps which could result in fines, seizure of homes and even imprisonment.
GRT communities are nomadic minority ethnic groups who have been part of British society for centuries. They are some of the poorest communities in our country.
A shortage of sites means they are sometimes forced to stay on unauthorised land. This problem could be solved by creating more sites. Instead the Bill is an attempt to make their whole way of life illegal.
The Conservative Government claims to have its roots in libertarianism. But they only champion the liberty of the powerful and the wealthy.
Their freedoms allow them to cause all kinds of annoyance, like firing decent, hard-working employees and then rehiring them on new contracts with worse pay and conditions.
The right to exploit people without repercussions may make the lives of the elite a little easier, but it restricts the freedom of the rest of us. The freedom to exploit others is no freedom at all.
The Conservatives have set their sights on the great British tradition of working class dissent. Throughout history when working people have been faced with unscrupulous employers, slum landlords, ruthless property developers and authoritarian governments, they have resisted.
Protest, in its many different forms, is a weapon of the oppressed. That is why we must always fight to protect it.
This legislation is designed to crack down on our rights to take action against injustice. Workers who take industrial action, Black Lives Matter activists, football fans protesting the Super League, environmentalists and the women’s movement are all under attack.
By clamping down on the democratic rights of citizens to protest they have united people from different walks of life.
Communities struggling against injustice are often isolated from each other and fighting their own individual battles. But in recent months we’ve seen a wave of protests across the country that have brought together previously disparate groups.
It is vital that in the coming weeks we ramp up our opposition to the Policing Bill both inside and outside of Parliament, as it has dreadful consequences for us all.
And if it does pass into law, our resistance to the Bill must continue until it is wiped from the statute book.
- Jon Trickett is MP for Hemsworth in West Yorkshire and a member of the socialist Campaign Group of MPs.