Words like draconian and Orwellian are often bandied about when Tory politicians propose new laws, but they’re perfectly apt to describe the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill currently being rushed through Parliament.
Its defenders choose to focus on some of the more positive elements. Indeed UNISON has campaigned for parts of the Bill such as tougher punishments for people assaulting frontline emergency workers, while it’s hard to argue with harsher penalties for child killers.
But at its core, this is a vicious piece of legislation aimed criminalising protest. And it’s not heard to see why Boris Johnson might want to curtail this basic democratic right.
As lockdown restrictions ease more and more people will want to hit the streets demanding justice for the dead and inquiries into why the government was so woefully unprepared.
Once it’s safer, we’ll see the number of people coming out onto the streets to demand racial justice grow. More will want to protest against sexual violence. More and more will want to march and shout about pitiful pay offers in the public sector.
The Bill gives the police new powers to shut down any demonstration that may cause “serious unease.” It criminalises protesters who cause “serious annoyance.” (Any politicians causing serious annoyance will presumably be left to run the country.)
That strikes at the very heart of why we protest. It is to make those in power uneasy. It is to show we’re annoyed at the decisions being made.
If the Chartists hadn’t caused a nuisance in the 19th century, working class Britons wouldn’t have the vote – it was only extended to women because the suffragettes caused a nuisance in the 20th century.
This authoritarian legislation shows that this government is just as driven as its forebears in wanting to stop any social progress.
Labour MPs have also pointed out that this Bill does nothing to address continuing racial bias and discrimination in the police. Instead, it presents a racist attack on travellers’ way of life, seeking to further limit roadside camps and moving trespass from a civil to a criminal offence.
This law is a direct assault on the values of free speech that every trade unionist should hold dear. We must all oppose this attack on our liberties.