26 March 2021 | ANALYSIS
A panel of Labour Party members, including a peer and three sitting MPs, attacked the Government on Wednesday evening for its handling of recent protests, accusing it of clamping down on opposing views during an online discussion.
The panellists in the ‘Our Right to Resist’ discussion included Baroness Shami Chakrabarti, Apsana Begum MP, Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP and former Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbot MP. The topic of discussion centred around “the Tory attacks on our civil liberties and human rights”.
Among the topics of discussion were the police’s response to the Sarah Everard vigil, the Police and Crime Bill which inspired the Bristol riots and the Conservatives’ latest immigration proposals.
The panel event was hosted by the Labour-supporting group ‘Arise’.
Baroness Chakrabarti spoke about the different methods of policing with regard to different protests. She accused the police of having one rule for some people and different rules for others, depending on the topic of the protest.
She claimed the pro-Brexit marches that took place in 2019 after the Supreme Court intervened to stop the proroguing of Parliament were “racist”, yet had been allowed to go ahead with a less aggressive policing approach. On the other hand, she said, the Black Lives Matter protests, Extinction Rebellion protests and Sarah Everard vigil were seen as “not okay”.
While the Baroness did add that she “understand[s] the pandemic”, it should be noted that large public gatherings have been banned since it began, which would explain the discrepancy in policing for the events. The description of the Brexit protests as “racist” may also be seen as a mischaracterisation.
The Baroness added later on that people “are tempted to vote against their economic interests by a combination of racism and sexism and regionalism and sectarianism, and that’s the Steve Bannon / Donald Trump playbook. It seems to be something that Boris Jonson and his friends have read very carefully.”
She later accused Boris Johnson of singling out the gypsy/traveller community through the Police and Crime Bill, saying this was because it would bear little political cost.
She continued: “It’s just an easy hit from a very populist right-wing Government: who do you think we can hit without price, with no electoral price to us we can go and hit this very, very vulnerable community – probably not even a voting community for obvious reasons, most of them. And we can blow a dog whistle and – let’s be clear – it’s a racist dog whistle yet again.”
Ms Ribeiro-Addy, whose constituency of Streatham hosted the Sarah Everard vigil, built upon Baroness Chakrabarti’s view of the police distinguishing between the types of protests. She argued that the vigil was policed differently to the anti-vaccination marches that have taken place several times in the past year.
She said: “You’ve seen those anti-vaxxer marches, those anti-masker demonstrations and they’ve been able to police them quite well”.
Anti-vaccination protests over the past year have seen many people arrested and fined. This included Piers Corbyn, the brother of former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who has been arrested at least five times and has received at least one £10,000 fine for protesting on the issue. As a result of these measures, he has pledged to stand as a candidate for Mayor of London to resolve the issue.
Ms Ribeiro-Addy also claimed that Parliament had not banned protests and that this had been the police’s interpretation of the law. However, the Home Office has in fact said that it is illegal to attend protests at the present time.
Ms Abbott attacked the Government for creating free speech for some groups while taking it away from others. She argued that the freedom of speech had only been applied in one direction, while alternative viewpoints had been clamped down on. In particular, she said: “If the cry ‘freedom of speech’ only applies to reactionaries, racists and Piers Morgan, then it’s not a general right.”
We at Wolves imagine that Mr Morgan might have something to say about being lumped in with people described as “racists”.
While Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is trying to win back some of the Red Wall voters, the far-left of his party is continuing to brand large sections of the electorate as racists. Sir Keir, if he is to win back those voters, will need to rein in those MPs.