Britain’s rage against protestors is misguided. What they do has little negative long-term impact on our lives, but a potentially huge positive one.
Spare a thought for the protesting and striking British people in 2023. They really do have the best of both worlds: that is, hated by swathes of the public, and by both halves of the two-party system. That’s a big number, even for those who didn’t fulfil the Prime Minister’s desired maths quota.
Whether its David Lammy saying the Labour Party- which was literally set up to represent the working class – will not stand on picket lines, to Conservative MP Johnathan Gullis calling Union leader Mick Lynch a Marxist waste of space, it takes fortitude to stand up for noble causes amongst a torrent of toxic abuse. Republic, Just Stop Oil and Extinction Rebellion
The problem is the British people share many of these sentiments meaning the very worst of the political class is permeating the public and eroding freedom. A recent poll by YouGov showed that there is strong support for criminalising the obstruction of major transport works with 66% in favour and 58% in favour of measures against ‘locking on’ (where protestors attach themselves to roads or methods of transport).
The demonstrators have been politically weaponised for doing something they have always been entitled in law to do until it’s increasingly undermined by Rishi Spinless Sunak and his current crop. The Conservative party has cast its out-of-touch and reactionary net and desperate for someone to blame Brits have taken the bait. Depressingly this isn’t the first time they have done so, is it?
I present to you: “Clap for carers”, “Get Brexit Done” and “Stop The Boats”. The rhetoric for protestors is similarly insidious, save the tiresome free word slogan (I guess we can thank Dominic Cummings’ dishonourable discharge for that), in fact, it’s worse: A Bill which has now been enacted into law.
The Public Order Act was given royal assent and, according to the UK government, is needed to “bolster the police’s powers to respond more effectively to disruptive and dangerous protests.”
Take a look at the Republic protests at the King’s coronation, they were not exactly carrying pitchforks or rolling in artillery, were they? On the contrary, they and others can and have been dealt with roughly and unfairly: a Just Stop Oil was pushed onto the ground by an incensed man barging into the crowd. The fact this was a member of the public rather than the police is further testament phoney outrage instilled in us by the government.
It’s important to bear in mind the Act will not just make it easier to arrest protestors, it will make protesting itself for the aforementioned causes nearly impossible in the first place. It makes it an offence to lock on to another person, object or land in a way that could cause “serious disruption” to two or more individuals or an organisation. And even if you happened to just be carrying locking on equipment -you may be one of those people that attaches a signed padlock to a bridge for example (if you are, have a word with yourself), then just remember the Act criminalises the mere act of a carrying.
A good point of comparison to the protests is the strikes. A disproportionately high news coverage is given to the view that they are gravely and indefinitely disruptive. Hyperbolic hypotheticals such as: ‘But what about all those people dying on their way to hospital?’ or missing the birth of their child, as if this 90% of the population shows a complete failure of objective and rational news reporting, taking the side of the government rather than holding them to account.
Data on the strikes from ONS this year shows that while workers were hit hard (losing over 2000 working days per sector from December 2022 to March 2023), the public was much less so. The main way people were affected by the strikes in this period was the inability to part on leisure activities and spend money on travel, with 50% and 27% of respondents indicating this respectively.
A great portion of the latter isn’t exactly spent on work, rather, Gatwick Express to get away from this mess. Protest isn’t even necessarily about workers rights or pay, they are doing this knowing they are a minority and with the law and the public not on their side. It’s always easier and braver, it must be said, to stand with the minority rather than the crowd of prevailing views and protestors have no union leader to protect them either.
British people don’t need to agree with every viewpoint these protestors stand for per se, but a society that supposedly prides itself on tolerance needs to accept protest without disruption is not protest at all and it’s not likely to ruin your life. When it comes to this we need a much bigger sense of proportion.
For more information on The Public Order Act read our article on its implications.