We must stop this arrogant government’s attack on our rights

Just because ministers are embroiled in a scandal over their covid duplicity, doesn’t mean they’ve stopped their harsh legislative agenda

Every time I’ve watched the news in recent weeks I am struck by the absolute arrogance of power and sense of entitlement shown by the Conservative government.

First the Prime Minister lies about whether a party happened, then he lies that only one party happened, then he lies that he didn’t realise that he was at a party then multiple ministers argue that the Covid regulations that they set were actually unclear or excessive.

Can you imagine if a group of our members held a bring your own booze party at the end of their shift at the back of a hospital, care home or school? Not only would the police have bene called but they would be disciplined and probably dismissed.

But while this has been the focus of much media attention, we cannot allow it to divert us from proper scrutiny of their ongoing legislative programme.

We have the misfortune of having a government that is attempting to use their parliamentary majority to give them the right to retrospectively change electoral law, strip British people of their citizenship, erode the power of the courts, make noisy protest a criminal offence and punish those who damage statues of racists more severely that rapists.

It’s hard to know which is the most sinister, most concerning most oppressive of their new laws. If you believe in human rights you need to fight them all. Yes, it’s exhausting but what choice do we have?

Tim and UNISON colleagues hold a banner on a demonstration

The Police & Crime Bill is particularly worrying as it will hand police and government unprecedented powers — and seriously harm our right to protest and hold the government to account.

The Home Secretary will have the power to ban marches and demonstrations because they might be “seriously disruptive” including being too noisy. Police would have more control over where and when demonstrations take place and have a literally unlimited right to stop and search anyone at a protest; or even those they suspect are on their way to one.

If that wasn’t enough, trespass will be turned from a civil law to a criminal offence, allowing police to arrest members of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community and confiscate their homes if they stop in undesignated places.

An attack on the right to protest — particularly in an overmighty centralised political system like we have in the UK — is a fundamental attack on our democracy. As trade unionists we need to understand how this legislation will affect our activities.

I was one of the million people that marched in London in February 2003 against invading Iraq. I also marched with 150,000 other trade unionists against austerity in March 2011.

These protests (and every other one I’ve been on!) were noisy — and were supposed to be. Quiet protest has never achieved anything.

UNISON is calling on all members to write to their MP about this Bill, most of us in the region have the misfortune of having a Tory MP. We need them to be left that their constituents don’t want this Bill.