Socialist Worker

Tories’ draconian police bill will ensure many more repeats of Clapham Common

by Charlie Kimber
Issue No. 2746

Police clamp down on the Reclaim These Streets vigil on Clapham Common

Police clamp down on the Reclaim These Streets vigil on Clapham Common (Pic: Socialist Worker)


What happened on Clapham Common on Saturday evening will be repeated, but more often and with more brutality if a new bill goes through parliament.

The Tories want the police to have more powers to harass and jail black people and Muslims, target Gypsies and Travellers and to silence protesters.

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is being rushed through parliament this week.

It is a threat to crucial rights. And it strips away much of the threadbare democratic control over how the cops are allowed to operate.

It includes a new trespass offence that will be used to jail Gypsy, Roma and Traveller groups. Instead of providing adequate sites, the government wants to move trespass from a civil law offence to a criminal offence.

For the first time, we can guarantee that trespassers will indeed be prosecuted.

Other clauses against “unauthorised encampments” will mainly be used against Gypsy, Roma and Traveller groups. But they could also hit homeless people making makeshift shelters and protesters.

Police will be able to stop and search people previously convicted of knife crime offences without a reason or any suspicion. This will create a class of permanent criminals who are continually harassed.

And because of the way knife crime laws are used, many of them will be young black people.

Much of the bill focuses on ramping up sentences for people the government can easily demonise.

Proposes 

It proposes, for example, the end of automatic release halfway through prison terms for violent and sexual offenders.

Yet, as Prison Reform Trust director Peter Dawson says, “Sentences for serious crime have been getting much longer for two decades now, turning our prisons into places of despair.

“But there is not a shred of evidence to show that this runaway inflation in punishment reduces crime.”

And we can guarantee that those who are deemed a danger to the public and won’t be released early will include many Muslims and black people.

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Some of the worst clauses seek to smash the right to protest effectively.

Under the Public Order Act 1986—passed after the great miners' strike— police can impose restrictions. Cops can do so if they say a demonstration risks “serious public disorder, serious damage to property or serious disruption to the life of the community”.

That already gives them huge repressive control.

But this week’s policing bill adds that restrictions can be imposed if the noise of a protest “may result in serious disruption to the activities of an organisation”.

Shouting outside a workplace, or a bosses' office or parliament would be enough

Another clause targets protest noise that could have “a relevant impact on persons in the vicinity of the procession”. Just a couple of complaints by passers-by would be enough.

And a further clause seeks to criminalise protests causing “serious annoyance”, a claim every boss and reactionary could use.

In numerous clauses the new law seeks to give police more powers to crackdown on protests that have “impact”. As the liberal author Ian Dunt comments, “It aims its sights at the entire purpose of protest.

“The government is effectively sticking duct tape over the mouths of protesters.

“They are silencing them. The inability to be heard is now a precondition for being able to protest.”

Previous laws have criminalised protesters who “knowingly” failed to comply with police instructions. The new law says it will be enough that they “ought to know” what the cops have decreed.

The bill even gives police the powers they would have over normal demonstrations for “one-person protests”. Standing outside a workplace or taking a lone stand in Parliament Square would be enough to face the full force of the law.

Extinction 

In the accompanying factsheet on police protest powers, Met police commissioner Cressida Dick mentions Extinction Rebellion (XR) as an example of those who will be hit.

Dick says “ever since the first large-scale Extinction Rebellion protest” she has been talking to the government about more powers.

She says the powers in the bill aim to deal with “protests where people are not primarily violent or seriously disorderly”. But as with XR “had an avowed intent to bring policing to its knees and the city to a halt”.

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Effective protests must stop.

Abandoning all pretence of balance, a Home Office source told the Daily Mail newspaper about the need to tackle protests by “crusty eco-crusaders”. They said, “Disruption caused by some lefty protests has exposed an emerging threat to our way of life, our economy and the livelihoods of the hard working majority.”

The Tories and the rich, who are the real threat to ordinary people, are repressing those who stand against their failed system.

There is an even more chilling element. 

The 1986 Act hinges on the phrase “serious disruption”. The new bill allows the home secretary to “make provision about the meaning” of the phrase.

Priti Patel won’t have to debate this in parliament. She can use “statutory instruments” which have virtually no scrutiny.

The government can decide who is repressed and how. It can decide for itself who disrupts ministers, bosses, cops and racists.

John Vorster, the South African minister for justice under apartheid, made a famous comment while introducing a vicious Coercion Bill in 1963. He said he “would be willing to exchange all the legislation of that sort for one clause of the Northern Ireland Special Powers Act” in Britain.

Tyrants and dictators across the world will feel the same about the powers the Tories want now.

Already many civil liberties groups, trade unions, anti-racist campaigners and even outdoor sport organisations have spoken out against the bill.

And Labour? Keir Starmer was reported to be telling his MPs to abstain on the vote on Tuesday.

After the police assault at Clapham, Labour has been forced to say it will vote against. 

But the key arena will be in the streets.

Join the protests. 4pm at New Scotland Yard and 6pm at Trafalgar Square on Sunday 14 March.
5pm, Parliament Square, Monday 15 March

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