Socialist Worker

Tories’ new clampdowns go beyond threat to protests

The easing of lockdown measures will be met with the Tories ramping up repression. Home secretary Priti Patel is ready to unleash a raft of measures that scapegoat the most oppressed and clampdown on opposition. Isabel Ringrose looks at their plans

Issue No. 2748

Protesters take to the streets against the police bill in London earlier this month

Protesters take to the streets against the police bill in London earlier this month (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Police, law and order

Employing more police and handing them increased powers and is at the top of the Tories’ plans.

They say this will make the streets safer, especially for women.

But the answer to violence against women is not more police or undercover cops in nightclubs.

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That’s because the police are a vital part of the system that acts as a threat to women, black people and minorities.

Institutional sexism and racism are entrenched in the police.

It’s no accident that police systematically disbelieve women and regularly dismiss claims of assault and harassment.

Since the killing of Sarah Everard, allegedly by a serving police officer, furious protests against sexism, racism, the police and the system have spread.

And they have linked with the movement against the Tories’ new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.

The response of cops to these protests shows why increased police powers must be resisted.

We have seen a vicious and violent crackdown by the state—and now politicians dare to blame protesters themselves for violence. They say demonstrations show the need for tougher laws.

But the real “violent thugs” aren’t those with placards, it those with riot shields and clubs.

After two nights of protests and police attack in Bristol last week, the cops first claim that many officers were severely injured.

Yet, they’ve since admitted that no cops suffered “broken bones”.

Black people know only too well what happens when you give the police more powers.

Search

Already, black people are nine times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people—and five times more likely to have force used on them.

According to home secretary Priti Patel, police “stop and search works” to keep people safe.

But even police figures show that most people stopped are not convicted of any violent crime.

The new bill will give police the “automatic right to search those who pose the greatest risk” and allows for “known criminals to be stopped at any time”.

That can only mean one thing—more police racism.


The right to protest attacked

Our rulers fear the power of movements, such as Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion. And they remember times when mass protests have forced governments in shuddering U-turns.

That’s why the Tories proposed law specifically targets those who fight back.

They are desperately worried about the environmental protests that targeted Britain’s polluting industries, and those that highlight the racist roots of Britain’s colonial past.

But the Tories’ bill will hit a far wider range of targets than that. In fact, even small protests that make a lot of noise could be dubbed “criminal”.

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Priti Patel hates most protests. She labels Extinction Rebellion as an “emerging threat” and “criminals who disrupt our free society”.

And, she called the Black Lives Matter movement that erupted last summer “dreadful”.

This week elements of the Tories’ ban on protests under Covid-19 legislation was lifted. As lockdown eases Patel worries that a wave of pent up anger in society could be unleashed. Her police bill will specifically target the very types of protest that have in the past proved effective.

It will create a new offence of “intentionally or recklessly causing public nuisance”.

You may well commit an offence by “causing harm through annoyance” or “inconvenience”.

Failure to end a protest could see organisers landed in jail.

Bystanders

The bill also gives police the power to control protests deemed by bystanders to be too noisy. “Controlled areas” around parliament will ban protests to prevent disruption to MPs.

Cops will be able to implement limitations to prevent “disorder, damage, disruption, impact or intimidation”.

And defence of statues depicting the establishment’s “great and good” is also a top priority.

The new punishment for attacking such an inanimate object could be a ten year jail sentence.


Sentencing and terrorism

The bill protects the police—with the maximum sentence for assaults against emergency service workers doubled to two years.

And it looks to toughen sentences for “serious criminals”.

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But the threat of locking people up for long periods does not deter crime and it does not make society safer.

To do that would mean digging up the system that drives people into crime.

That means reducing poverty and inequality, but it also means overturning the racism and sexism buried deep into capitalism.

Life sentences could for the first time be handed to 18 to 20 year olds for acts of terrorism that result in mass loss of life.

And, that could include people who have posted supportive messages, as well as those convicted of attacks.

Deciding that a teenager should spend the rest of their lives in jail for something they did when young will only feed the bitterness that leads to terror attacks.

The bill creates additional powers to more closely monitor offenders released from prison.

Both of these will likely be used to unfairly target and scapegoat Muslims, rather than white racists.


The government’s new racist backlash against Travellers

Gypsies, Travellers and Roma people will be among those that feel the full force of the Tories’ planned repression.

The police bill creates a new offence of “residing on land without consent in or with a vehicle”.

It amends existing police powers to be able to remove “unauthorised encampments”.

The bill will also change trespass from a civil offence to a criminal one—meaning that police can immediately make arrests and courts can dish out heavy jail sentences.

And the new definition of Gypsy or Traveller requires proof of travelling in order to access any legal provisions.

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Without proof, permission to be granted a pitch will not be given.

But acquiring proof of travel will be made harder as the bill severely restricts travelling.

The bill also gives the police powers to seize vehicles and homes.

Priti Patel’s hostility towards Gypsy and Traveller communities reflects the Tory preference of protecting private property over people’s lives.

Her drive to demonise communities that don’t fit in with the permanently-settled model serves to reinforce capitalism’s claim that this is the only “normal” way to live.

Discriminate

At the end of 2019, Patel announced a consultation on creating the new offences.

“The public wants their communities protected and for the police to crack down on trespassers,” Patel claimed.

She said that Traveller camps cause “a great deal of chaos and harm across our communities”.

This racist myth is used to discriminate against Gypsies and Travellers. Nevertheless, the majority of those who responded to Patel’s consultation were opposed to more powers.

The charity Friends, Families and Travellers said, “The case for action is flawed.

“An enforcement approach to addressing the number of unauthorised encampments overlooks the issue of the lack of site provision—there is an absence of places where Gypsies and Travellers are permitted to stop or reside.”

Since the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 councils no longer need to provide sites for travellers.

A report from January showed there are 1,696 households on waiting lists for pitches—with only 59 available on permanent sites and 42 on transit sites in England.

The new laws will turn those who travel across Britain nomadically into criminals.


Asylum seekers are in the Tories’ firing line yet again

Asylum seekers are yet more victims of the Tories’ proposed new laws.

From dumping people in camps to slamming the borders shut for undocumented migrants, Patel has ramped up Britain’s racist treatment of refugees.

Under her command refugees awaiting a decision on their asylum application have been forced into squalid, disused army camps in places such as Penally, in west Wales and Napier, Kent.

Nearly 200 of 400 residents at the barracks in Napier caught coronavirus due to the terrible conditions, inability to socially isolate and a lack of protection.

When a protest against this treatment led to a fire, Patel callously said, “This site has previously accommodated our brave soldiers. It is an insult to say it is not enough for these individuals.”

But inspections show that the barracks were not designed for long term living. And a planned refurbishment had not taken place before reopening last year.

The resistance of refugees and their supporters to the Home Office has seen the Penally camp shut—but the fight is not over.

Patel’s new immigration plans will mean that the way a refugee enters the country will automatically determine the success of their application.

Refugees forced to travel “illegally” into Britain, such as those crossing the Channel in dinghies, will be removed.

This sanction also applies if they travelled through a “safe country” to get here.

If removal isn’t possible immediately, claimants will be given a temporary status with limited rights and continually assessed for removal.

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Patel’s plans are rooted in fear-mongering about crowds of refugees pouring into the country. But this is a fabrication.

One refugee who recently moved out of Penally thinks the government tells lies “because of its own problems.”

Applications

“It doesn’t want to be guilty for all the misery it’s caused, so it blames refugees,” he explained.

Asylum applications fell by 20 percent last year. Nearly 50,000 asylum seekers have been waiting for over six months for an application decision—up from 11,500 three years ago.

Those who now arrive through “legal resettlement routes” will be given indefinite leave to remain.

Only 3,560 people were given refugee status through these routes in the year ending June 2020. But there were 31,752 asylum applications in the year ending September 2020.

Claiming asylum is a legal right enshrined in a United Nations convention that Britain has signed.

Patel and the Tories are seeking to create a divide between supposed “good” and “bad” refugees. This only reinforces racism against all refugees.


Repressive laws are coming in everywhere

It’s not just the Tories who fear mass movements on the streets—and the power they have to rock the system.

In France laws have been brought in that ban filming and recording acts of police violence.

And more controls on Muslims’ lives are being pushed through.

This week in Athens, Greece, protesters took to the streets again against new laws that require permission before holding protests.

Ruling classes across the world are aware of a brewing anger in society, heightened by the pandemic.

Those at the top of society have only one response—and that’s more repression.

But often their action then fans the flames of people’s anger.


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