politics

‘Oppressive and wrong’: green activists urge Labour to vote against policing bill


Climate activist groups are urging the Labour party to oppose a policing bill they say will undermine the right to protest at a critical moment in the fight to avoid climate breakdown.

Youth campaigners have joined other environment and climate justice groups, from Greenpeace to Extinction Rebellion, to call on the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, to whip his MPs and peers to vote against the police and crime bill, which they say is a “devastating attack on our democratic right to be heard on the issues that matter most to us”.

Fatima Ibrahim, from the youth climate movement Green New Deal Rising, said young people worried about the climate crisis “desperately need to be able to protest … to hold our leaders to account. Instead, this bill aims to put limits on public campaigning, pulling power away from people and further concentrating in the hands of a few.”

Freya Tischkowitz, 18, one of the organisers of the UK school strike movement, in which hundreds of thousands of young climate protesters took to the streets before the Covid pandemic, described the bill as “absolutely terrifying”.

“The absurdity of this situation never fails to hit me – how, instead of deciding to listen to what we and the scientists are saying about how we need to radically change course to avert climate catastrophe, the British government decides the best thing to do is to lock us all up to avoid us ruining its image as a ‘global climate leader’.”

Lords began voting on amendments to some of the most controversial aspects of the bill on Monday, with more debate on Wednesday. Next Monday, peers will vote on last-minute government amendments that human rights activists have described as “a dangerous power grab”. With the amendments likely to fail if the lords vote them down, the stage is set for a potential showdown with the government – if Labour also opposes them.

Meanwhile, activist pressure against the bill has been building. The Kill the Bill coalition, which is supported by activist groups, trade unions and civil rights organisations, has called a “national day of action” on Saturday, with protests expected in London and elsewhere.

On Monday, when the crucial votes take place on government amendments, the comedian Mark Thomas and others have called for a “really annoying demonstration”, poking fun at measures that would introduce 10-year sentences for causing “serious annoyance” to the public.

“As the House of Lords debates the bill, bring banjos, Piers Morgan masks, crying children, vuvuzelas, cancelled buses and slow-walking tourists,” the call to protest said. “Anything that is annoying and/or loud!”

The bill has been widely opposed by human rights activists, racial justice groups, former home secretaries and parliament’s joint committee on human rights, which said the proposals were “oppressive and wrong”.

Critics say it is an unprecedented power grab by the state and a reaction, in part, to increasing civil disobedience by climate groups such as Extinction Rebellion and Insulate Britain.

In the bill’s current form experts say there are a raft of measures that would make many forms of protest difficult or impossible. They include:

New powers for the home secretary to ban marches and demonstrations because the authorities believe they may be “seriously disruptive”, including being too noisy.

A new criminal offence of obstructing key national infrastructure, such as roads, railways, seaports, airports, oil refineries and printing presses, carrying a maximum penalty of 12 months in prison.

Sentences of up to 51-weeks for protesters who attach themselves, or lock on to, another person or to an object.

“Serious disruption prevention orders” that would allow authorities to ban named individuals, including those without any convictions, from participating in demonstrations or even using the internet to encourage others to do so.

New police stop-and-search powers allowing officers tostop people or vehicles if they suspect they may be carrying any article that could be used in protests.

A new offence of damage to memorials or statues that could lead to up to 10 years in prison.

John Sauven, executive director at Greenpeace, said: “As it stands, this bill gives the government unprecedented sweeping powers to restrict everyone’s right to stand up for what they believe in. If ministers can dictate where and when you can assemble, who’s allowed to attend and how much noise they can make, your right to protest becomes a sham … We might as well have the home secretary write the placards herself.”

A joint petition opposing the bill organised by a coalition of charities has been signed by more than 750,000 people.

But activists say Labour has the chance to vote down some of the most controversial aspects of the bill, contained in the amendments, when the legislation comes before the Lords this month. That is because, unlike the rest of the legislation, where peers can merely send amendments back to the Commons to be reconsidered, the amendments were introduced in the Lords, so they will “fall” if peers vote against them.

Sauven said: “The opposition now has the perfect opportunity to block the worst parts of it in the Lords. The Labour leadership should seize this chance and whip their peers to vote against it.”

Ibrahim agreed that opposition parties must unite to challenge the bill. “All opposition parties, and especially the Labour party, should be speaking out strongly against this bill, whipping representatives in both houses to vote against it now.”

Zoë Blackler, from Extinction Rebellion, which has staged a series of high-profile disruptive civil disobedience actions in the past two and a half years, said its protests would continue, whatever new measures the government introduced.

She said Labour had a choice to make. “How Labour votes on this bill will be a test of Starmer’s leadership. He can look away and enable Johnson and Patel’s shameless power grab. Or he can stand firm against an incompetent government trying to silence its critics.”

The Labour party and the Home Office did not respond to requests for comment.



READ SOURCE

Leave a Reply

This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.  Learn more