OPINION
14/03/2021 13:45 GMT | Updated 15/03/2021 09:15 GMT

Sarah Everard's Mourners Will Not Be Cowed By A Crackdown On Protests

The policing, crime and sentencing bill is part of Boris Johnson's divisive culture war, writes Labour MP Ian Lavery.

The scenes from Clapham Common on Saturday evening were horrific by anyone’s standards. The sight of Met Police officers trampling flowers lain in remembrance, dragging away and pinning to the floor women attending a vigil would be stomach churning under normal circumstances. But these are not normal circumstances.  

That a vigil held in the wake of the horrific murder of Sarah Everard should descend into such horror, allegedly at the hands of an officer of the same police force, shames us all. But whilst the fallout from this shameful episode and the calls for Cressida Dick’s resignation will ring out clearly in the next few days and weeks, we must organise against the next assault on our liberties.

There is no doubt that Cressida Dick should resign. No justification exists for the scenes on Clapham Common but this will not solve the underlying issue. 

This week the police, crime, sentencing and courts bill come before the House of Commons. This hurried piece of legislation is wide ranging and contains many parts to it which appear fairly benign. Sadly, there are some dangerous aspects to the bill too. At the heart of it lies the dangerous and dark curbs on protest. It is a cruel quirk that commissioner Dick has penned an accompanying statement to the legislation.  

It is why the illusionists in government have been so keen to provoke a culture war. To try to divide those usually opposed to them into opposing camps

One might question why a government riding so high in the polls would seek to further neuter dissenting voices. But after presiding over a response to the Covid pandemic, which has seen us suffer the world’s worst death tolls and amongst the most disastrous financial slumps, they are aware their hold on power is built on sand.

It is why the illusionists in government have been so keen to provoke a culture war. To try to divide those usually opposed to them into opposing camps. Those protesting the brutality that people of colour suffer, or against the destruction of our planet, are branded extremists. 

It is in this framing that the bill, in front of the Commons this week, is presented. In doing so the government are seeking consent from those who may have been conditioned to believe that the aforementioned groups should have draconian measures implemented upon them, whilst hoping they do not realise that the same legislation would have much farther-reaching consequences. What they appear not to have bargained for is something so shocking as Saturday’s events coming before the legislation could pass.

Saturday’s shameful scenes put protesters and the government on a collision course. This time, as ever, it is the protesters who are on the side of the angels

The history of protest is littered with events that have changed history, where people who have demanded change we now see as common, sense they have been demonised for daring to ask. The suffragettes, civil rights movement and trade unionists through the ages have all been forced through fighting for what is right, onto the wrong side of the law. Should the government do so again, protests will not stop - criminalising protest never ends well. 

As a young miner on strike during the 1984-85 dispute I saw first-hand how politically enabled state apparatus could be turned on hardworking communities for opposing the government’s regressive agenda. As a representative of those communities who suffered so much as a result, I will never bow to the authoritarianism embodied by this government. I am very pleased that the Labour frontbench see the dark turn at the heart of this legislation and will be whipping to oppose.

Like those giants who have protested before them, the women mourning Sarah Everard and demanding change will not be cowed into submission by a legal framework intent on silencing them. Saturday’s shameful scenes put protesters and the government on a collision course. This time, as ever, it is the protesters who are on the side of the angels.

Ian Lavery is the Labour MP for Wansbeck and former party chair.