It’s been coming for a long time now, with klaxon warnings from scholars and activists all over the world. But today the United Kingdom truly embraced its role as an authoritarian state as the house of lords voted for the police, crime, courts and sentencing bill to effectively curtail our human right to protest. Those who endorse the bill will tell you that it is not stopping protest, only engendering co-operation with the police and asking that protests- mass gatherings of people- do not “disturb the peace”.
There is no peace, there is no, there is no democracy- in a country who throttles the voice of its citizens.
It’s hard to know where to start with the bill which Priti Patel has fought so hard to implement and my problems with it. Firstly a Home Secretary who was forced to resign for attending unauthorised meetings with foreign powers making decisions on legalities seems a far stretch: secondly, legislation written by a woman who erroneously said the death penalty is effective even in spite of evidence it is not.
The met police have voiced their own displeasure of Patel’s draconian oversight of their duties- but the met hardly have room to comment on poor leadership, or indeed of behaviours beyond the pale, including current accusations of a cover-up around partygate.
Patel has long disparaged actual champions of what right wing figures like herself so often champion as free speech- she is yet to apologise for speaking out against “lefty lawyers” which led to a knife attack against legal experts who work for human rights campaigns. And here is the strongest evidence yet in the damning indictment in the public eye that Patel does not seek to defend free speech, only speech she condones: the effective strangulation of protest rights in the United Kingdom.
Many of those who will clap like seals for this bill have spent time in the press decrying the restrictive regimes of China or Russia- we have watched, agog, footage of Russian people being arrested under similar laws for holding up blank pieces of paper. Once this law passes, the people of China would technically have an easier time of protesting than Britain- because even one man protests can now be punished with a custodial sentence.
It appears that protest will only be acceptable if the local police assent to a demonstration- and protests can be dismantled, including using police violence and arrests for protests which “disturb the public” or people “find intimidating”: and this, we can fairly conclude, proves that every single person who voted for this bill has never had to protest for their own rights or the rights of those they love- that they do not understand the essence of protest is to foreshadow civil upheaval should the voices of those protesting not be heard in peace.
Additionally, those who do attend protests face arrest with custodial sentences lasting years- for protesting against what they see as unfair, undue or dangerous legislative or public moves by the UK government.
The highest irony in all of this comes in many different flavours: the indifferent silence of the anti lockdown protestors who proudly marched gormlessly around London propagating a virus that is still killing over 1000 people a week. The confused smiles of people vox popped in the streets who didn’t even know this was happening and are entitled enough to know they will never NEED the right to protest because they are unaware that their lot in life could be better should they simply rise up- or the ever increasing frustration of activists who have worked increasingly hard to highlight the undue, unfair- unnecessary bill in its entirety. The entire UK seems to have entered into some collective malaise, with only the enraged detritus of we few, the minorities working hard to retain their own rights and safety or the few politically savvy people who are aware of the appalling nature of this bill fighting against it.
Violence was, more than once, used against peaceful protestors in Bristol, London, Manchester who simply wanted to ensure we retain our human right- it is a human right- to protest: yet swathes of football fans wrecked town centres and businesses, broke into stadiums with seeming impunity from police- because in the United Kingdom now it is seen as more dangerous to stand peacefully with signs of protest than it is to throw security staff to the floor and barge, unchecked into a stadium to watch a sports game. During the BLM protests, police hovered at the edges of the protests, hands on batons threateningly as though those desperate to be heard about civil injustices caused by the police themselves would be as great of a danger as angry ignorant people desperate to protect statues over human life and liberty.
The United Kingdom will continue its decline under fascist-leaning leadership like Patel and Johnson, under the baleful glare of politicians like Dominic Raab who wish to scrap the human rights act, along with institutionally corrupt pillars of societal maintenance like the met or the media who hide their collaboration with anti trans screeds, allow lesbian rapists to suggest murdering trans people and who have set us on course to continue to see our rights, our quality of living and indeed out liberty continue to dissipate in favour of a society only extant to keep the rich in money as we squabble- now quietly in fear of upsetting the peace- for what little dignity the tories care to afford us.
Ultimately the passing of this bill into law is a mistake which will cost not only the British public greatly, but the authoritarians in chief.
When you functionally illegalise peaceful protest, you take that avenue away yes- but not the need for it. People still want to, need to, are forced to protest for their liberties and against their injustices. Making peaceful protest as harshly punishable as violent protest leaves those of us who need protest as an avenue to start to make decisions we did not need before: firstly, can we be heard outside of protesting – and if so, how?
Secondly if protesting is our only means of being heard and it is now as harshly punished to be heard peacefully as it is to be more radical, do we choose the peaceful option and face punishment- or do we choose violence knowing that it may be the only way to be heard? This isn’t a decision any activist wants to make and the idea of having to harness violence to enact public change is truly a move for the desperate- but is that not where we are now under a government who blanket refuses to listen to the will of the people they so often expound upon?
Patel, Johnson, Raab- the tories continue to bind our hands and expect us to remain compliant but as our streams of expression for our displeasure evaporate before us the time is at hand to ask: if we can’t be heard peacefully, are our options truly as limited now as compliance, silence… or violence?
Daviemoo is a 34 year old independent writer, radicalised into blogging about the political state of the world by Brexit and the election of serial failures like Trump and Johnson. Please check out the rest of the blog, check out Politically Enraged, the podcast available on all streaming platforms and share with your like minded friends! Also check him out on ko-fi where you can keep him caffeinated whilst he writes.