Since Priti Patel’s announcement on Tuesday (5 October) to crack down on protesters, civil liberties groups have reacted with outrage, saying the plans disregard any notion of a “healthy democracy”.
The Home Secretary has explained that she wishes to grant powers to the police to prevent people travelling to protest sites if they are a member of activist groups that interfere with key infrastructure in response to climate change activist groups, such as Insulate Britain, blocking roads.
The plan was laid out at the Conservative Party Conference this week and will involve the use of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill to facilitate the move.
During the speech, Patel interestingly referred to the activists as “criminals” who deserve to be prosecuted, saying: “Measures already going through parliament will ensure these criminals can be brought to justice for the disruption they are causing. But we are going further to close down the legal loopholes exploited by these offenders.
“So, today, I can announce I will also increase the maximum penalties for disrupting a motorway; criminalise interference with key infrastructure such as roads, railways and our free press; and give the police and courts new powers to deal with the small minority of offenders intent on travelling around the country, causing disruption and misery across our communities.”
The use of the phrase “small minority” is very telling because it creates a dichotomy between those who play by the rules and those who don’t – it doesn’t take a fool to realise that those who play by the rules are those who don’t seriously threaten the government in any capacity.
This language and policy plays on the politics of respectability and good citizenship but the incorporation of any activist into the role of a good, law-abiding citizen is partial, conditional and retractable at any given moment. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Tories shift towards using the label of ‘terrorists’ soon enough.
The dichotomy also highlights a move to convince the people that they must not be concerned with class division but must see themselves as part of the good citizens, whether they’re rich or poor, intent on imprisoning all the ‘bad’ protesters so that they can live in harmony and get to work without interruption. This all, of course, cloaks the ongoing exploitation of the working class and scares potential activists from getting involved in class struggle.
This plan goes hand in hand with the Tories’ perceived need to impose austerity upon the masses, abolishing any democratic rights we have to fight for modest living standards. It’s not surprising as the quality of life of the working class depreciates, the ruling class is scrambling to revive profit levels through draconian measures.
Although actions committed by groups such as Extinction Rebellion and the splinter group, Insulate Britain may at times be critiquable, we must defend any progressive protest group’s right to stage direct actions. Nonetheless, us at the YCL will be closely scrutinised by the British police alike.
If passed, this policy would undoubtedly be used against the YCL in the future. The YCL has vehemently opposed the Tories since its inception and as our numbers continue to grow, our reception from the government and their lackeys in the media becomes evermore hostile.
As we get stronger, it’s clear that we need to combat these attacks from the Tories and stand defiant in the face of potential political repression to wage class war against those that exploit and oppress us.
Georgina Andrews, is a member of the YCL’s Merseyside branch