Stop the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

Painting of Peterloo Massacre
Richard Carlile — Manchester Libraries, Public Domain

People have long suffered under kings and queens, feudal lords, dictators, slave owners and others. For those of us who are not sociopaths, this is felt to be wrong. The sociopaths often seek to suppress any protest — the status quo suits them very well and the happiness of the people is no concern of theirs. Boris Johnson’s government has chosen to suppress with the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill currently making its way through parliament. This is an outrage.

When people feel that their government is ignoring them, some resort to protest, whether peaceful or violent, particularly if they feel the voting system is rigged against them, or it is too long until the next election. Governments can choose whether to listen, ignore or suppress. This government is headed by people who do not listen, and their instinct is to suppress.

British people have protested many times before. It’s in our DNA. Some protests were successful. Others were not, and some were met with lethal force. Examples include the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 when Wat Tyler was executed; the Peterloo Massacre of 1819 (18 dead and at least 400 injured); the Bristol riot of Queen’s Square, 1831; the suffragettes in the early 1900s; the Tonypandy riots of 1910–11 and the battle of George Square 1919; the miners’ strike (1984–85), as well as protests by such organisations as CND and the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp.

Many of these protests would be illegal under the new law, and participants banned from ever protesting again.

Some more recent protests have focused on the environment, such as Extinction Rebellion and the school strikes made famous by Greta Thunberg.

And now we have a government that wants to go back to the bad old days, effectively prohibiting protest, and make greater use of the military (so far they are only proposing using them against immigrants.

Among those protesting loudly against this bill are Guy Singh-Watson, who protested the introduction of GMOs into the UK, and Jenny Jones, Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb.

So, what’s in this bill, and who does it affect? You can be jailed for 51 weeks just for being at a protest and attaching yourself to something or obstructing or resisting stop and search (which can be done without cause) or carrying anything to use at the protest, or being on a list of people banned from protesting (for having got into trouble protesting in the past, or for encouraging others to protest on social media), or simply for being noisy. So it affects protesters.

It also — by turning trespass from a civil into a criminal offence — affects Gypsies, Roma and Travellers. They have long been the target of government hostility, as have non-whites who are the ones usually stopped and searched.

Eighteen pages of the most draconian amendments were added to the bill by Home Secretary Priti Patel only after MPs in the House had debated the bill, another sign that this government is not interested in the democratic process. This leaves both the Lords and the House very little time to debate the amendments.

The police will also gain wider powers to access private education and health care records.

Protests by their very nature aim to cause disruption of one kind or another — how can they be affective otherwise? This bill basically outlaws disruption. The government does not want its progress to absolute power disrupted by pesky people.

Britain is fast becoming an authoritarian police state, and we need all hands on deck to prevent this from happening. Lobby MPs and members of the House of Lords.

The bill is currently in the House of Lords where it will continue its report stage on Monday 17 January.

The Labour Lords have said they will “be opposing protest clauses added late on & narrowing scope of highways clause to ‘strategic roads network’”. Green Lords are against the bill. Lib Dems oppose the parts of the law concerning protests.

Not only is democracy at stake, but also other issues, such as global warming which is an enormous threat to our future — we need to be able to protest wrong or insufficient action on that score. Spread the word on social media. Call in to your radio and TV stations. Write to local and national newspapers. Make sure everyone knows that this is happening, and that you object. If it is safe for you to do so, protest! You may not be able to do it much longer.

In a democracy, protest is not a crime. Don’t let this Tory government make it one.

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