The Gagging Bill

DemocracyWe are sliding into a dictatorship.  The new aristocrats of wealth are staging a coup by stealth, controlling what Government does, determining who makes up Government, influencing the political agenda and ensuring that all legislation conforms to their interests.  They are ensuring that the public are unaware of the Government’s programme until it is too late, and are distracting public populist distractions away from policies that will have a huge impact on their lives.  I do not claim this idea as original; I have taken it from Professor Robert Reich of the University of California, who said:

‘I fear that at least since 2010 we’ve been witnessing a quiet, slow-motion coup d’état whose purpose is to repeal every bit of progressive legislation since the New Deal and entrench the privileged positions of the wealthy and powerful – who haven’t been as wealthy or as powerful since the Gilded Age of the late 19th century.’

Alarmist, and relevant only to America?

Remember…

  • ·        ‘It’s the Sun Wot Won It!’ The American owned News International claiming credit for the Tories 1992 unexpected election victory.  Murdoch again endorsing Blair, and hey – he wins!
  • ·        The economic strategy of Austerity that suits the financial institutions but was not included in the Tories election manifesto. 
  • ·        The singular lack of effort to regulate the financial sector that is such a big donor to Tory coffers. 
  • ·        Corporate lobbyists steering energy policy away from renewables towards fossil fuels at a time when 97% of people who know what they are talking about on climate change are screaming, ‘cut carbon emissions’! 
  • ·        Tories in Europe blocking regulations on fracking and blocking moves to implement a Financial Transaction Tax. 

And so the list goes on.  We are seeing members of Parliament acting against the interests of their electors, secure because they know that the corporate press will support their re-election.

In the face of disquiet about the influence of lobbyists, the Government felt compelled to bring in a Lobbying Bill, but with a twist straight out of 1984 – they managed to exclude the activities of the powerful corporate lobbyists and focus instead on charities and small campaigning groups.  They have turned the Lobbying Bill in to a Gagging Bill. The Corporation who are running the show are unaffected and it is the small citizens groups who are trying to bring their concerns to the political agenda who will be effectively silenced in an election year.

So we now find that if the ‘Gagging’ Bill is passed into law, the ability of groups such as the Women’s Institute, Frack Off and campaigns against Austerity will be severely limited in their ability to bring their concerns and policy preferences to the attention of the public in an election.  The corporate run big party election machine will have a clear run to push the official line.  All the electors will hear is ‘Britain’s on the mend’ and ‘the medicine’s working’.  Nothing about destitution, hunger, under-employment, full time jobs for less than a living wage, obscene banker’s bonuses, the rich getting richer, the poor poorer.  Those who might have the true facts on the state of British society will have been silenced.

And this is not all.  Hidden away in the sub-clauses of an Antisocial Behaviour Crime and Policing Bill are proposals to stop protest.  A middle ranking police officer will have the power to ban any protest if it is deemed to risk causing a disturbance.  Any Council will have similar rights if any group of electors raises opposition to a demonstration. 

This Bill is proposing a nebalcombe-frackingw power called the Injunctions to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance.  Unfortunately it can’t be applied to politicians on Newsnight, but it can apply to just about anyone else away from their home.  So a landowner could apply it to ramblers on a foot path; the owners of a drilling site could apply it to people walking slowly along an access road; the organisers of a hunt could apply it to anyone holding a critical placard.  A person speaking in a public place can be silenced least she or he annoy anyone. 

There is no definition of ‘Nuisance or Annoyance’; it is the opinion of a Council or a senior police officer who seeks the injunction.  Once granted the injunction can be enforced by any ‘officer in uniform’.  There needs to be no clear intent, only the officer’s opinion that there is a risk of undefined ‘antisocial behaviour’.  The Officer will have dispersal and exclusion powers and the power to remove any person they ‘suspect’ to be under 16.  Failure to abide by the instructions of the Officer is an arrestable offence that could lead to imprisonment.

This is an attack on our fundamental right of free assembly and free speech.  This Bill has been sternly opposed by campaigning groups, the churches, political groups and legal opinion.  Lord Macdonald of River Glaven, acting on behalf of the Christian Institute said

 ‘It is easily foreseeable that these powers may be invoked by the police in situations where their use impacts bluntly upon the exercise of rights to free expression and free assembly, as well as other core right.’

In his Opinion he cited the following statement from the European Court of Justice referring to the European Convention of Human Rights.

 ‘Freedom of expression constitutes one of the essential foundations of (democratic) society, one of the basic conditions for its progress and for the development of every man.  Tolerance, of low-level non-criminal behaviour that may be capable of causing some person annoyance or nuisance, is an important feature of an open and democratic society governed by the rule of law.’

We may also note here that the Conservative Party wishes to withdraw the UK from the European Convention, in the light of this Bill, we can see why.

For more information on opposition to the Gagging Law go to:  http://blog.38degrees.org.uk/2014/01/22/gagging-law-we-won-the-argument-but-lost-the-vote/

Mike Shipley – Press Officer, Derbyshire Green Party

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