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Key issues in the fight against the police bill

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With protests growing around Britain, Isabel Ringrose looks at what’s at stake—and what we can do
Issue 2748
Thousands continue to protest across many British cities
Thousands continue to protest across many British cities

Who is involved with the protests?

The protests bring together a broad range of activists who are targets for the bill and know that defending the right to protest is vital against the attacks to come.

The movement started in defence of women’s rights after the death of Sarah Everard.

Feminist groups such as Sisters Uncut called for action on the streets. And other groups across Britain called similar demonstrations.

The timing of the outcry over Sarah Everard’s murder coincided with the second reading of the Tories’ policing bill—and so the movements fused.

Anger at how the police reacted generated more outrage—both because Sarah Everard’s alleged killer is a cop and because the bill gives police powers to crackdown on protests and attack minorities.

Defending the right to protest and protecting minorities who are already victims of police violence opened up questions about the role of the police and the state.

Kill the Bill took to the streets not only against systematic sexism—an idea that was becoming the focus of the protests—but to link with other groups also affected by the bill.

The climate movement, the anti-racist movement—including Gypsy and Travellers—and Black Lives Matter (BLM) are now frequently on the streets together.

Snide comments about “middle class protest” from some people miss out the way that young workers, students and others have been hit hard by job cuts and poverty during the pandemic.

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

What’s happening with the bill?

New laws go through various stages in parliament that generally take months to complete.

A key stage is the second reading where MPs vote on a measure. It is generally seen as the crucial vote on the general principles of a bill.

The police bill passed its second reading on 16 March by 359 votes to 263.

Labour had been intending to abstain on it. But it was pushed to vote against following the police attack on the vigil for Sarah Everard in Clapham and the protests that followed.

The bill now goes to the committee stage, where there is a close examination of each clause.

Once the committee stage is finished, the bill returns to the Commons for its report stage, where the amended bill can be debated and amendments proposed.

As of Monday this week there were only two amendments to the bill.

Both were for a group of Labour, Tory, Lib Dem and Green MPs proposing extra offences which could be added.

They claim to give women more protection against sexual harassment. But they also give the police more powers.

Many more amendments will certainly be proposed.

There is then a final vote for the bill’s third reading. This is expected in June or July.

All of these parliamentary events will offer opportunities for protests.

There may be changes to some elements of the bill.

But the bill must be opposed and defeated as a whole, not with just some of its most outrageous elements weakened.

And that won’t come through parliament where the Tories have a large majority.

The key arena remains in the streets.

Why doesn’t Labour support the protesters?

A minority of Labour politicians have criticised police brutality in Bristol.

Left wing Claudia Webbe—currently suspended as a Labour MP—said on Twitter, “Bristol. Police brutality is the boot of a capitalist state established to keep us all in order.”

She added, “There are clear acts of police brutality & violence targeting journalists & protesters; none of this should be ignored. This is not policing by consent and falls well short of acceptable standards; police are acting with impunity, this must be condemned.”

Labour MP Apsana Begum said that the footage of violence and evidence of injuries revealed “the extent of totally unacceptable force used by the police.”

But leading Labour politicians joined in with blaming protesters for violence. Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said, “let me be clear that the scenes of violence that we’ve seen in Bristol, from a minority of protesters are totally and utterly unacceptable.

How have the Tories survived all this?
How have the Tories survived all this?
  Read More

“That shouldn’t be happening and they’re not helping the cause, the legitimate cause of arguing against the protest provisions in the policing bill.”

Labour shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds said protesters should use “other ways of expressing whatever dissatisfaction they have.” In other words—shut up and go home.

Labour is desperate to show that it is “responsible”—and that means backing cops and talking down protests. The party has chosen this week to show it is “tough on crime,” calling for more convictions and powers for police.

In an interview on Sunday Thomas-Symonds said, “We need more police out there on the streets.”

How do we win?

Protests by ordinary people have won all the rights and gains that we have—from abortion rights to the right to vote to defeating the Tories’ poll tax in 1990.

More protests are crucial.

But resistance will be strongest if it involves more, organised working class people. The threat to profit is what forces change.

A demonstration by 5,000 people is good. A militant protest by 5,000 that takes over the streets and refuses to surrender to police threats is better. A strike by 5,000 workers can be even more challenging.

It’s not a matter of setting off one form of protest against another. We need them all.

So workers should be on the demonstrations now and should argue for unions to join them.

It was good to see striking bus workers on the protest over the bill in Manchester last weekend.

Arguing for workers’ involvement isn’t about reducing the movement to the blandness and hesitations of the union leaders. It’s about taking the radicalism of the movement into the workplace and using workers power to add to the movement.

In France, some of the most militant strikes in 2019-20 followed the interaction of workers and the Yellow Vest movement.

Why is the movement a ‘lightning rod’?

Debates about women’s rights, why the police don’t keep anyone safe and what the bill means have led to rage against the system—and those who run it.

Thousands protest across Britain after third night of police violence in Bristol
Thousands protest across Britain after third night of police violence in Bristol
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Fury at the police for their treatment of protesters in Clapham Common and Bristol means many now understand the role of the police and who they protect. The bill only looks to encourage this violence.

The bill isn’t just about protest and the police either. It looks to criminalise Gypsy and Travellers and extend prison sentences. This opens further debates about why certain groups are under attack and whose purpose it serves.

So the conversation has moved on from just being about the bill—as just one symptom of the Tories’ repressive state—to the wider forces.

Fury against the bill is rage at the system for the chaos it causes. It’s the Tories who are bringing the bill in, so it’s the Tories who are a focus of the anger on the protests.

The Tories push backwards ideas into society to divide us—but it’s now clear from their actions that the real cause of issues in society comes from the top.

And giving the police powers to attack protests and minorities is the final straw.

The climate movement, women’s movement, LGBT+ movement and anti-racist movement must continue to unite against the system.

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