Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2860

Starmer’s Labour refuses to vote against Tory anti-protest law

The Labour leadership wants to prove that it won’t threaten the interests of the rich and powerful
Issue 2860
Kier Starmer, head of the Labour Party, sitting in chamber room of parliament

No room for the left in Keir Starmer’s Labour Party (Picture: Uk Parliament/Flickr)

Keir Starmer’s Labour Party continues to get its betrayals in early. It’s determined to prove to the bosses and the right wing media that it can be trusted to be a safe pair of hands for the ruling class.

On Tuesday night Labour’s members in the House of Lords refused to back a motion to block the Tories’ assault on the right to protest.

The Green’s Jenny Jones had put forward a “fatal motion” against the Public Order Bill, which will gut protest rights. It’s a rare parliamentary procedure which can effectively kill off the passage of the law.

Specifically, the changes that Jones wanted to stop would give police “near total discretion” as to which protests are made subject to restrictions. Anything that the cops think causes more than minor inconvenience could be deemed illegal (see below).

Speaking for Labour, Lord Vernon Coaker said, “We will abstain on the fatal motion. We will not block this legislation. So let me be clear to those who keep asking me whether the official Labour position is to block the bill.

“We will not do that. I understand why some people wish that to be otherwise but as His Majesty’s opposition, we will respect convention. We will respect tradition. We will respect the right way of doing politics in our country.”

His Majesty’s loyal opposition indeed. Labour lord Prem Sikka tweeted, “Lords voted 154-68 to let the Tory government change the Public Order Act through the back door. Unprecedented. 

“Our freedoms to protest are gone; police have carte blanche, no accountability. Labour peers were told to abstain on Jenny Jones’ motion. I voted for it.”

Coaker had also rammed home the message earlier saying, “Let me spell out from the beginning that I do not defend the actions of Just Stop Oil for one minute and neither does my party.”

“I agree with the chief constable of Greater Manchester, who said in the media a couple of weeks ago, ‘We have the power to act and we should do so quickly’.”

Labour also seems to have dumped another pledge to offer universal free childcare for children over nine months old. Instead, it is considering a means-tested offer that will rule out many working class parents, sources have told the Guardian newspaper.

Bridget Phillipson, the shadow education secretary, told the Sunday Times earlier this year that Labour would guarantee childcare from the end of parental leave until the end of primary school, saying her reforms would resemble the “birth of the NHS”.

But shadow ministers are now exploring options that offer childcare to only a few, not the many.

A couple of days earlier Labour jettisoned yet another promise. During his Labour leadership campaign in 2020, Starmer said a Labour government would “end indefinite detention and call for the closure of centres such as Yarl’s Wood”.

But “party sources”—code for the leader’s coterie—say this is no longer the case. Starmer is a pro-boss, pro-imperialist leader of a party that in government will act to boost business. It’s time to leave it and build an alternative based on the struggle from below.

What changed on protest laws, and how it was done

The government has now added new powers to its repressive armoury, and it did it through highly unusual anti-democratic means.

Police will now be able to limit or end a protest if they believe it could cause “more than minor disruption to the life of the community”. They have more powers to arrest anyone involved in a protest, or anyone encouraging others to take part.

Shouting, “Let’s get in the road” at a demo could have you seized. That’s not an argument for being passive or abandoning militant tactics. It should be a spur to defy the law collectively, deliberately and in large numbers.

Cops are also meant to consider “cumulative disruption” from protests.

The police will now have even more weapons against Just Stop Oil and similar groups. But the measures are also available to be used against pickets and strike rallies.

Home secretary Suella Braverman wanted these new powers to be part of the Public Order Act, which passed earlier this year and came into effect just before the coronation.

She added them as last-minute amendments to the bill in the House of Lords, after MPs had already voted on it. The Lords rejected them, although they approved the broader new bill.

So Braverman came up with a special constitutional trick. Proposals to change the law — known as “primary legislation”—have to go through line-by-line scrutiny in both houses of parliament. This doesn’t provide much protection, but the Tories decided to abandon even this pretence of democracy.

Ministers have powers to make small changes using “secondary legislation” and secondary legislation doesn’t get nearly as much scrutiny. It’s what Braverman used to bring in the new restrictions on protests.

The home secretary said another act passed last year—the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act—gave her the power to make these changes via secondary legislation.

A parliamentary group committee has recently said this is the first time the government has made changes to the law through secondary legislation that have already been rejected by parliament when introduced in primary legislation.

The secondary legislation passed through the Commons, and then Labour helped it through the Lords.

Human rights organisation Liberty has started legal action against Braverman. Katy Watts, Lawyer at Liberty, said, “The home secretary has sidelined parliament to sneak in new legislation via the back door.

“This is yet another power grab from the government, as well as the latest in a long line of attacks on our right to protest. In essence, this gives the police almost unlimited powers to stop any protest the government doesn’t agree with.”

The Tories’ new laws are ominous and are combined with the extra restrictions on strikes that will soon go through parliament. It’s an outrage that Labour lets this happen—and the union leaders are so silent.

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