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This is an attack on freedom of speech

11 September, 2020

‘No one should ever be criminalised for holding a peaceful demonstration’

• ON August 28 the Tory government effectively banned and criminalised political campaigning in England on anything but a very small scale.

It is now a very serious offence to be involved in holding campaigning meetings of over 30 people.

A fixed penalty notice for £10,000 can be issued arbitrarily by the police or even a Police Community Support Officer without a court hearing.

Fixed penalties were supposed to be small fines for minor matters to avoid clogging the courts not for imposing very major penalties one would expect to be on the decision of a judge.

The pretext for these new laws, authorised at the stroke of a pen by a minister by decree and without parliamentary debate, is danger from a virus.

But the laws were not made when the death toll was huge but at a time when there are so few deaths that the media has turned towards focusing on the number of identified cases of infection with little regard for how many are actually ill.

People may see historical resemblances to how totalitarian societies operate and they will be right. They may also notice that all kinds of non-political activity has been allowed where the numbers attending are greater than 30 – work, education, training, for example.

None of these attracted £10,000 fines simply for their occurrence. The government said there is a right to protest but the new laws do not list that as a legitimate purpose. Why not?

The Tory government trailed the new penalties as being to prevent raves. Governments that seize powers like this do not readily give them up.

It is difficult to see that a regime which seizes power to mitigate arguing a political case can be described as anything other than a police state.

The government has been able to do it because few thought that anything of the kind could ever happen in Britain so it’s met with disbelief.

No one should ever be criminalised for holding a peaceful demonstration but that is the specific law on gatherings we now live under. And Boris Johnson is now planning even more restrictive laws on gatherings. The noose on freedom of speech is being tightened.

People need to put aside their political differences and make common cause to demand freedom to campaign or no one can press for change unless in the most minor manner while being protected from legal jeopardy. That is the whole idea.

Where does Labour stand on this? Have the major parties concluded that the virus is an opportunity to restrict civil rights?

Leighton Road, NW5


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