The government’s new public order bill has passed through the commons – that illustrious ‘mother of parliaments’ which has given us such hits as The clown’s nightmare before Christmas and How to tank an economy in 80 minutes.
It is now at the committee stage in the House of Lords. Quite how it has managed to progress so far with so little coverage is a mystery to even the most cynical political enthusiasts; a casual perusal of the main points of this bill should engender a sense of horror and disgust in all who read it. It only applies to our English and Welsh neighbours, so here in Scotland it’s reassuring to know that we have a government that will protect our rights. However, this is a worrying sign from a government that is intent on stripping away the powers and protections of devolution.
This bill is being pushed through to make it harder to protest and to crack down on disruption caused by protesters. However, it employs exceedingly vague language and treats those who may engage in an ‘illegal protest’ much the same as those who’ve already been proven to be involved in ‘illegal protests’. This is before we get on to the sheer absurdity of the concept of an ‘illegal protest’ – if all protests were legal, women still wouldn’t have the right to vote.
Every right we have today as workers, as citizens, as people were hard fought and hard-won. The very idea that there is anything to be gained from arresting more protesters (many of whom use arrests as a form of publicity) is utterly counter-productive at best and brain-dead at worst.
And now the government of the day is bringing in sweeping and blatantly authoritarian legislation that will allow them to jail, fine and/or electronically tag anyone they don’t like. All spurred on by the latest round of Just Stop Oil protests and RMT strikes (keep an eye out for union-busting legislation coming soon to a fascist-lite party near you!). Sunak and the dregs he’s fished out of the gutters of the Tory party have decided that the hill they want their government to die on is that of basic human rights. And die it must.
The right to protest: against conditions, the government, against injustice is a codified and internationally recognised one. It is sacrosanct. And yet, in the UK in 2023, our government is taking its cues from the utterly backwards United States, seeking out regressive and unjust policies in order to try and stymy change and protect the ruling class. The idea that we should simply allow these vile and reprehensible Tories to start stripping away our human rights is absurd.
Furthermore, this legislation will vastly increase stop and search powers to include looking for ‘lock on’ equipment like bike locks which may be used to fasten a person to a building or railing. It also introduces SDPOs, Serious Disruption Prevention Orders, which can prevent people from being able to go to certain public places, be in the company of certain people or have certain items on their person. Nice and vague. It also has a provision for forcing those with SDPOs to wear an electronic tag. And anyone found breaching one of these orders faces six months imprisonment and an unlimited fine.
But this is a bill that will pass. In part, because of the Tories vast parliamentary majority but also because an opposition amendment creates 150 m boundaries around abortion clinics where interference with people accessing or providing abortions services will be an offence. Both parties have something to gain from this bill.
Make no mistake, this government will not call it quits with just deregulation and a race to the bottom in standards. Your rights and mine are being put on the chopping block as we speak, and if they get away with this, then what’s next? If we’re not allowed to protest the removal of basic human rights, what can we do?