“We need a strong movement on the streets to bolster our strength in Parliament – together, united in defence of our rights we can kill this draconian bill.”Kim Johnson MP
By Kim Johnson MP
Thought we had managed to keep some of the worst of the notorious Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill out of law? Think again.
The Tories are bringing many of the most draconian measures that they failed to get over the line back to Parliament Monday, as part of their new Public Order Bill.
Threatened by dissent over the cost-of-living crisis – instead of providing support for struggling communities, this government has chosen instead to undermine our power to hold it to account.
This is a government that has waged class war on its people for over a decade. It knows only too well the power of the people protesting against it.
Now – instead of facing the consequences – they are clamping down on the ability of people to organise and defend our hard won rights.
I grew up in Liverpool in the 1980s. Thatcher the milk snatcher was pursuing her policy of ‘managed decline,’ leaving our great city suffering some of the highest levels of unemployment in the country. Race relations with the police were at an all time low, with an increase use of SUS (today known as Stop and Search) and increasing brutality towards the Black community.
It was the time of the great miners strike. Of the Black power movement in the UK and globally. In Liverpool, these movements were sharpened by our unique history. Once the slaving capital of the world with the largest docks in Britain, with the longest established Black community in Europe dating back hundreds of years. The so-called ‘Toxteth riots’ of 1981 – known locally as an ‘uprising’ in the Liverpool 8 area I called home – were sparked by police brutality but fundamentally driven by the economic degradation and class war being waged by Thatcher.
It was during this time I became to understand the power of protest, the power to fight back against a tyrannical government bent on destroying our communities.
The power of the people on the streets of Liverpool at that time was such that the Chief Constable of Merseyside, Kenneth Oxford authorised the use of CS gas against the protestors for first time ever in mainland Britain. Before that, it had been used by the British paramilitary to suppress uprisings on the streets of Northern Ireland.
It was these events that ingrained in me the necessity of defending the right to protest. It is fundamental and the foundation of many of our hard-won rights and freedoms. From Orgreave to Black Lives Matter, the dockers’ strike to the climate emergency – and every issue in between – we must be free to speak truth to power.
Protest is a right, not a gift from the state. But this bill is intended to stack the balance of power yet further in the governments favour – and prevent ordinary people from having a say in how our lives are governed.
Votes for women, legalisation of trade unions, the decriminalisation of same-sex relationships, and let’s not forget our win against the hated poll tax, would all not have happened without the type of protest the government is about to outlaw. Instead of focusing their attention on tackling grave injustices and threats such as the climate crisis – this government is criminalising those seeking to highlight these issues. Rather than tackling injustice, they suppress dissent. This tells you everything you need to know about this Government’s priorities.
The bill’s provisions for Serious Disruption Prevention Orders effectively ban people from participating in protests if they have been convicted twice before of protest-related crimes – even if someone has caused ‘serious disruption’ without any conviction. Amnesty and other human rights organisations have raised serious concerns that these provisions will violate rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of movement.
It also threatens to extend powers of stop and search, expanding racist police tactics which even the College of Policing and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate have declared to be an overused and ineffective tool that erodes trust with communities targeted.
These measures will have a chilling effect on protests, as people will become routinely threatened by over-policing and even arrest, detention or serious fines. All this at a time when the cost-of-living crisis is biting, and communities and trade unions are organising to fight back against government indifference to our struggles. This includes the huge TUC demonstration, planned in just a few weeks on the 18 June, and further action to be taken by others including rail unions, universities, airports and council staff, letting the government know enough is enough.
With the heroic support of the Lords, some of the most dangerous parts of the PCSC Bill were blocked just a few months ago. With the government on the attack again, we must once more step up the fight. We need a strong movement on the streets to bolster our strength in Parliament – together, united in defence of our rights we can kill this draconian bill.
- Kim Johnson is the Labour MP for Liverpool Riverside. You can follow her on Twitter here and Facebook.
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