Writing by Amy Life. Illustration by Heather Baillie.
The word fascism feels foreign here in the land of tea, politeness and ‘civilisation’. As I write this I am sat in a café where a father gently rocks his newborn in a pram. People are reading, working and catching up after a difficult year; it seems a world away from the countries torn apart by authoritarianism that occasionally pop up on the news. And yet, it doesn’t take an in depth look at the definition of fascism to see there are a few similarities with our current government. While we carry on with our very British lives, the fate of our country hangs between democracy and despotism.
At the helm of the government's policy-paved path to fascism, the dreaded Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts (PCSC) Bill rears its ugly head. The bill is currently being passed through the House of Lords, having made it through the House of Commons this summer and it is a catastrophe for political freedom in the UK. In line with their usual trickery, the Tories have hidden their obliteration of freedom amongst what seems like mundane albeit important amendments to previous bills aiming to protect children from assault among other things. Of course only the Tories could sink so low as to frame drastic contraventions of human rights as child safe-guarding in a bid to protect their policy from criticism. A thorough reading of the document uncovers the ugly truth that a protest of just one person could result in a year’s jail-time for the protester. While we could ponder the government’s ironic admittance of weakness that they feel one- person protests pose a great threat to their power, what’s important is what the bill means for us.
The essentials of the bill are as follows:
Police will be able to impose limitations of whatever kind they see fit on any protest of at least one person that is deemed likely to ‘impact’ the local population.
These limitations will, in most cases, cause protests to be ineffective or if they are effective, participants are likely to face time in prison as a result
As it is up to the police to decide which protests may cause distress, the bill leaves room for misuse by the police without giving solutions to any misinterpretations of the law by the police
By stripping protests of their ability to be noisy they will be rendered completely useless
Protesters that fail to follow the rules of a protest (whether or not they were aware of the rules) are liable to up to 52 weeks imprisonment- this includes protests of just one person
Encampments will be criminalised in a way that marginalises Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities
Stop and search powers are to be extended which will allow police to stop and search anyone in a public space, no reasonable suspicion necessary. It will also be an offence to challenge the police on why you’ve been stopped
Police will be legally able to coerce migrants into leaving the UK
The restrictions on protest as outlined in the bill will mean Britain no longer adheres to the European Court of Human Rights’ protection of the right to peaceful assembly. It is no small thing for a country to erode human rights to below international standards and as such the bill marks a step towards fascist governance. At the same time it is difficult to see how we are to avoid this step. Each protest against the bill is further used as evidence for the necessity of it, thus placing Brits in a catch-22 situation. But what is most interesting to me, is the lack of uproar from our nation. Barring a few spirited protests here and there, Britain seems to have entered a state of denial permitting the government to do as they please and allowing invaluable rights to be taken from us. We are not by nature a revolutionary country and yet, in the face of the huge damage about to be inflicted on us one would imagine that we may at least question it a bit more.
The gravity of this bill is that, once passed, the government will essentially have free reign to pass laws without protest from their people. It's not just that our right to protest is being removed, it is that we are losing our right to protect all other rights. The right to protest is at the heart of political freedom which is characterised by freedom from oppression. How can we prevent oppression without the freedom to protest? For example, if the government wanted to remove the right of abortion, we would no longer be able to resist this with the most effective way - protest. Add in the other atrocities of the bill and it becomes a hotpot of oppression. Political freedom seems a far cry from what we’ll have if the bill is passed. Maybe I’m being melodramatic, but we need only look at history to learn that descents into fascism often happen slowly and under the nose of a population placed in ignorance by their own government.
With our political freedom under threat, it may be necessary for us to reassess what freedom really means and what freedoms we have at our disposal to resist this threat. Does it mean what we can reasonably do within the confines of the law? Or does freedom mean whatever we can reasonably do within our capability even if it contradicts the law? If the first is true then how can we combat the bill if it passes and protest is no longer lawful? If the second is true then how do we encourage others to enact this freedom in spite of the possible consequences? The answers to these questions may just be the difference between descent into fascism and the protection of our rights.