Opinion: Before parties, there were protests. The UK government is trying to silence queer Britain.
I don’t really understand the UK.
I’ve lived here for nearly 20 years but, as time passes, I feel that I’m understanding less and less about my adopted home.
In my Twitter echo-chamber, everyone seems to agree that it’s pretty self-evident – the Tory government has completely ballsed-up the response to the Covid-19 pandemic. If you were being generous, you’d put it down to negligent incompetence, but – if you follow the money – it looks worse than that.
However, opinion polls suggest that if an election was held now, the Tory government would be voted back in. A result like that would be totally implausible except that it defied belief that the Tories increased their majority in the 2019 election. This country has a track record.
It leaves you wondering, is this what people in the UK want?
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill
While resisting calls for a public inquiry into the the UK’s response to Covid-19, the government is pushing forward with the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.
It’s a big piece of legislation, making changes to key areas of the UK’s criminal justice framework.
The bit that’s caught everyone’s attention is around protests. The changes detailed in the legislation will give police sweeping powers to shut down protests.
The legislation empowers the police to set a start and finish time on protests, and to set noise limits. To round it all up, there’s a handy catch-all provision – the police can charge anyone protesting with an offence of “intentionally or recklessly causing public nuisance”.
In the early days of Covid-19, theme-park operators in Japan – seeking to minimise transmission of the virus – asked thrill-seekers riding the roller-coasters to – “Please scream inside your heart.” This now appears to be the Tory government’s preferred form of protest, but I’m not sure how much more screaming my heart can take.
Before parties, there were protests
It’s hard to think of any advancement in equality that didn’t include disruptive protests as a key part of the campaign.
Women campaigning for the right to vote? The suffragettes intentionally caused a public nuisance.
The Race Relations Act of 1965? It didn’t happen because it seemed like the right thing to do. It took riots in Notting Hill. It took a boycott of buses in Bristol. The Race Relations Act happened because black and brown people intentionally caused a public nuisance.
What happened when Section 28 was introduced – prohibiting the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality? Our community protested. There were marches, people abseiled down the House of Lords, a group of women stormed the BBC. Our community intentionally caused a public nuisance.
How did we raise awareness about the impact that AIDS was having on us? We protested.
We have Pride marches today because things kicked off with a riot.
What would our lives be like today if the generations that came before us weren’t allowed to protest?
Will the government be able to implement its plans to restrict protests?
The legislation has been presented to parliament and has passed the stage known as the Second Reading.
The Second Reading is the first opportunity that members of parliament get to vote on a piece of legislation. Despite all other political parties voting against it, the government has a sufficient majority that it was able to approve the legislation at this stage.
The legislation now goes into the Committee stage. This bill will be reviewed by the Joint Committee on Human Rights.
It’s expected that the Committee will recommend a number of changes to the proposed legislation. These will then be brought back to the House of Commons to be debated and voted on through the Third Reading stage.
Given that the government has a sizeable majority in the House of Commons, it could theoretically push the legislation through unchanged. It would then pass to the House of Lords where the same process is followed.
The House of Lords is a bit more unpredictable, but it’s likely that they would require changes to the proposed legislation. It’s possible that a number of the more contentious provisions will have to be removed or amended by the government if it wants to get the broader piece of legislation through parliament.
Who’s winning the culture war?
If you were being cynical, you could see the furore surrounding the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill as a useful distraction for the government.
If everyone is debating whether a statue is of greater value than a woman’s safety – which, according to the proposed legislation, it is – then we’re not trying to figure out what went wrong with the country’s response to Covid-19.
While that cynical analysis seems to make a lot of sense, it only works if you’ve got a large proportion of the country who are looking at what the government is planning to do in relation to restricting the right to protest, and deciding that they’re totally fine with it.
We probably don’t need to spend too much time working on the Venn Diagram to realise that there’s a pretty clear correlation between the people who are really passionate about statues and the people who are quite keen to be ruled forever by the Tories.
Who are these people? Where are these people? Why are there so many of them?
Every day, I understand this country a little less.
I just want to scream inside my heart.