Diane Abbott MP: The Tories are introducing second class citizenship with authoritarian legislation

The government’s own track record and ministers’ recent statements should ring alarm bells for all trades unionists.

Boris Johnson

Diane Abbott is the Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington

This is a government which claims to be the ‘party of law and order’. But the truth is somewhat different.  It is a government which itself has a disregard for the law, and which deliberately confuses draconian legislation with upholding the law and defending justice.

These are Ministers who were responsible for attempting to prorogue parliament in breach of the law.  They also introduced a disgraceful refugee policy which is almost certainly in breach of international law on the rights of the refugee.

They also embarked on a course where they intend to abrogate an international Treaty by ripping up the Northern Ireland Protocol. They have scandalised high office with 126 fixed penalty notices that have been issued to Downing Street staff and ministers, including the Prime Minister for breaching their lockdown rules.

The Public Order Bill being pushed through parliament is yet another draconian measure from an increasingly authoritarian government. A government that presumes to be able to lecture the rest of the world on democracy and human rights, with more authoritarian legislation than most. 

In effect, the Bill makes second class citizens of anyone with a criminal conviction by curbing their right to protest. It also makes second class citizens of protestors in general, who would be subject to sweeping police powers. It also reinforces the second-class status of young Black and Asian men who are subject to discriminatory and counter-productive stop and search. Finally, the Bill can be used to threaten the rights of workers in relation to transport.

The detail of the Bill contains provisions for Serious Disruption Prevention Orders for people with two convictions for public order offences, or even for those who have been convicted of no offence, but who are deemed to have caused ‘serious disruption.’

This is an egregious infringement of everyone’s civil liberties. It is also the type of legislation that marks authoritarian governments everywhere. Even if no court or judge or magistrate has found someone guilty of any criminal offence, they are treated as if they are guilty simply on the say-so of some state functionary, probably the police.

In the recent past, there have been huge demonstrations in this country, including the enormous demonstration against the Iraq war, the huge anti-Apartheid demos of the 1980s, or marches in support of the miners. These were exceptionally large crowds, acting entirely peacefully, yet causing massive disruption simply by the sheer weight of their numbers.

When a large section of the population is exercised enough about an issue to go on a march, they will cause huge disruption.  But that is their right, which is now under threat.

On stop and search, this Bill proposes to give free rein to some of the worst policing practices. The overwhelming majority of the stop and search operations in this country are conducted by the Metropolitan Police. The Met imposes stop and search on one section of one community, which is young Black men.

According to the Home Office’s own data, 6 white people from every thousand are subject to stop and search.  This compares to 54 among Black people and rises to 157 people designated ‘Black Other’ in Home Office categorisations. This is wholly unacceptable and flagrantly discriminatory.

Both Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Policing and the College of Policing have criticised this use of random stop and search and argued that it is counter-productive.

There is too the issue of the Bill’s provisions on the prohibition of obstruction of major transport works, which the government claims is aimed at Extinction Rebellion.  But legislation has a habit of being adapted to suit the needs of government, especially legislation as loosely drawn and as draconian as this.

This government is already using wild rhetoric about the prospect of an industrial dispute on the railways in the near future. This is also a government which has not prevented the terrible practice of ‘fire and rehire’. It did nothing to prevent the union-busting at P&O.

The government’s own track record and ministers’ recent statements should ring alarm bells for all trades unionists. The Bill would allow a further serious erosion of fundamental rights, in this case the right to organise in the workplace and the right to strike.

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