I’m old enough to have had not only a free university education, but a grant towards living expenses and rent for three years of study. I ended those years owing a total debt of around £500. I had free dental care and could see my regular family doctor at short notice. Rents were affordable, and if you were in a decent job, mortgages were a realistic proposition without the requirement of a huge deposit.
Despite decades of apparent on-point capitalism, ‘economic growth’ in a nation that has not suffered from attack but has regularly embarked on further wars of plunder, surely we should all be enjoying not just the benefits I experienced, but greater wealth, freedom and security (be it at the expense of others).
Instead, all those services and benefits I took for granted have been lost, decimated or stolen. Poor students service massive debts that enrich the wealthy bankers, and ordinary people face ever-increasing poverty, hunger and insecurity.
For a tiny few, it’s worked well – the number of billionaires has risen, and their individual fortunes have skyrocketed. Some of those billionaires own or influence most of the media, and while their non-dom status and complicated tax arrangements neatly protect them from contributing to our society, they orchestrate hatred and blame towards immigrants, striking workers, and climate protesters. As well as overt influence, dark money pours into lobby groups and think tanks, such as those found in Tufton Street, that help formulate economic policy, government strategy and even legislation.
At the same time Parliament – whose authority is meant to stem from the people – enacts ever-more authoritarian legislation to counter any public criticism, customarily heard through strikes and protests.
The Royal Family’s immense wealth has been built on a mixture of looting, land ownership and inheritance. The new King, although already fabulously wealthy, failed to pay any tax on more than half a billion pounds he recently received as inheritance following the death of the Queen, and yet the apparently cash-strapped public purse forked out a quarter of a billion for this weekend’s parade of privilege and wealth, in front of a decreasingly adoring public.
The Coronation weekend provided the elements for a perfect storm as new laws, facial recognition, bad policing and discontent all came together, resulting in dozens of dubious arrests, interference with wholly legitimate peaceful protest and the arrest and detention of one accredited journalist along with another independent award-winning film-maker on grounds which appear to be based on their associations and pre-crime surveillance rather than any reasonable suspicions.
Royal occasions have always been marked by over-zealous policing, often costing the public later in compensation payments. During the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, an anarchist group staging a mock guillotining in Soho Square well away from official events, was met by a dozen undercover police who carried out blanket arrests. Protesters dressed as zombies on Oxford Street were dragged out of a fast food outlet and detained. At the 2002 Jubilee, dozens of pro-Republic protesters were arrested in a pub where they were having a quiet drink after protesting with banners that read “Charles Must Never Be King”. Two years later, the Metropolitan Police paid out more than £80,000 to 23 of them in an out-of-court settlement.
The usual reason given for detention has been “in order to prevent a breach of the peace”, but with the new Public Order Act in place this year, the ante has been well and truly upped with more than 50 arrests on Coronation Day, many under Section 2 of the new Public Order Act – Conspiracy to Commit Public Nuisance – which attracts a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
Prior to the event police announced that they would be deploying a massive facial recognition operation, but gave assurances they would not be using it to target protesters. This may have been the first of several lies from this public service (which was placed under special measures last year by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate) because on the day several protesters appear to have been detained with no identifiable reason other than being recognised.
Here’s Ed from Just Stop Oil, who was arrested in possession of a t-shirt and orange banner.
This is Ed. He’s never been arrested before, and I don’t think he expected to be arrested today.
But he, along with around 20 others will spend tonight in jail for holding a sign.
Only weak governments crackdown on protest. Join us in action – sign up at https://t.co/7BzUVS02dZ pic.twitter.com/eH3nfUkSrA
— Just Stop Oil (@JustStop_Oil) May 6, 2023
And Dr. Kush Naker, an NHS doctor:
“As far as I could tell, there were no grounds for the arrest.”
NHS doctor and Just Stop Oil supporter Dr Kush Naker was arrested for protesting at the King’s coronationhttps://t.co/r8hTN9TraO
📺 Sky 501, Virgin 602, Freeview 233 and YouTube pic.twitter.com/WNHoE4wUbR
— Sky News (@SkyNews) May 8, 2023
The CEO of campaign group Republic was arrested along with 7 volunteers/staff as they were unloading placards from their van in preparation for a protest which had been agreed after months of liaising with police. The Met claims that their officers made the arrests after finding articles that could be used for ‘locking on’ – possession of such articles is one of the crimes introduced last week – and that the police no intent to prohibit protest. This may have been a further lie, as outlined in a statement from Republic describing the arrest.
The surprise ambush and arrest of Republic organisers seriously impeded the intended protest, and several planned speeches and talks didn’t take place. Additionally, although an area had been allocated after months of negotiation with the Police Events team, protesters there were threatened by arrest if they chanted too loudly.
Republican protesters near Trafalgar Square being told by a Met Police officer that they may be arrested for public nuisance for chanting “Not My King” pic.twitter.com/8pG90ns9dG
— Paul Powlesland (@paulpowlesland) May 6, 2023
In this clip, it appears that police also waded in and violently snatched a large banner.
Now ends any British citizens right to protest
Watch this video
— Sick Side (@SickSide3) May 6, 2023
Hundreds more Republic supporters on Pall Mall were prevented from even entering Parliament Square.
Out in force on Pall Mall! They won’t let our protesters into Trafalgar Square to join the rest of us. #NotMyKing pic.twitter.com/72Aod7MHT4
— Republic (@RepublicStaff) May 6, 2023
VAGUE AND WIDE-RANGING
Barrister Paul Powlesland warned that “the vague statutory drafting means that the police can interpret it to mean anything”, citing the police statement on the Republic arrests as “a textbook case of why granting police sweeping new powers is a bad idea”. It’s easy to see how this law will be misused to disrupt protests – from bicycle locks to belts or luggage straps, such everyday articles could land you in a cell while on your way to exercising your rights.
In its journey through Parliament, several sections of the Public Order Act were voted down by the Lords, but Suella Braverman has now pushed them through using Statutory Instruments, despite international concerns over their human rights implications.
THE ROLE OF THE BILLIONAIRE PRESS
The night before the Coronation, police arrested several members of the volunteer Westminster Night Safety Team. They were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to cause public nuisance, when police came across a number of rape alarms while conducting a suspicionless stop and search (permitted under new legislation). The team routinely hand these out to vulnerable women as part of their work in partnership with Westminster Council and the Metropolitan Police, as explained here by one of the volunteers after being held by police for 14 hours.
Here’s Riz is in his own words: pic.twitter.com/7L32JQECLl
— Mic Wright (@brokenbottleboy) May 6, 2023
The Daily Mail recently ran lurid headlines with unsubstantiated claims of a protest plot to scare horses (despite the obvious fact that climate and animal protesters promote veganism, nature and animal welfare).
Credit: Daily Mail
The head of the Metropolitan Police Media team used to be an executive news editor at the Daily Mail. Police have doubled down on the rape alarm story but have refused to give more information. They also later deleted an earlier tweet claiming they had intelligence reports of the plot.
Despite the massive deployment of police on Saturday, around 20 officers were also spared to raid a non-violence training session miles from the event, organised by Animal Rising. A claim by Minister for Crime, Chris Philp, that police had intelligence of a plan to throw paint, is hotly disputed by climate and animal activists. No such paint was found.
FIRST THEY CAME FOR THE PROTESTERS
On Saturday, police targeted activists who it turned out were intending to do no more than display slogan t-shirts and hold up banners, surely allowed even under the new draconian Public Order legislation. Many of the arrests occurred BEFORE any such (entirely lawful) protest was even attempted, raising the spectre of Orwellian ‘thoughtcrime’.
But police went even further. Despite displaying his press card, documentary film-maker and accredited journalist Rich Felgate was arrested and held for hours. Another documentary maker was also searched, and despite no protest material or suspicious items found, they were also arrested, handcuffed for several hours and released later with no charge.
Yesterday I got arrested whilst filming a @JustStop_Oil supporter holding a banner on the pavement near the coronation route. I’m a filmmaker and had my @BECTU press accreditation visible around my neck.
Police deemed this to be “conspiracy to commit a public nuisance”. pic.twitter.com/obgLH8Qj42
— Rich Felgate (@richfelgate) May 7, 2023
As described at the start of this article, roused by often misleading and divisive headlines in billionaire-owned media, some ‘ordinary, hard-working’ people believe that many of our society’s problems could be solved, not by greater equality, a more equitable tax system, a greener circular economy and progress to tackle racism and other prejudices, but instead by criminalising asylum seekers, climate activists and so-called ‘woke’ campaigners.
But history has shown that when an authoritarian state begins targeting one class of citizen, it doesn’t end there.
In response to workers’ strikes, which have been misrepresented and demonised by the usual media suspects, this government (comprised of unelected leaders who are returning poor opinion poll ratings) is bringing in new legislation aimed directly at ‘ordinary hard-working’ people.
In the same way that new Public Order legislation takes away the right to protest in all but a powerless and ineffectual way, the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill will give the Minister of Business and Trade the power to criminalise strikes in six sectors to prevent them from being effective. It received its Third Reading in the House of Lords yesterday.
The Secretary of State will be able to set Minimum Service Levels (MSL) for health services, fire and rescue, education, transport, nuclear decommissioning, and border security.
The legislation asks employers to do no more than “consult” with unions, before setting out which workers will be needed in order to fulfil the MSL. Any workers refusing to comply can be dismissed. In every practical sense, this new law simply removes the right to strike. Additionally, the union must take ‘reasonable steps’ to make its workers comply, and if it is deemed not to have done so, injunctions, fines, damages and sequestration can all follow.
SOUND THE ALARM
Some footage and accounts from the Coronation appear to show members of the public applauding the arrests of peaceful protesters, while others shouted abuse at pro-Republicans and climate activists as they were led away in handcuffs.
Perhaps some of those celebrating this exercise in state power were transport workers, NHS workers, or teachers. If so, will they remember this day when they lose their jobs and when their unions are criminalised for wanting a better future.
Perhaps now is the time before it is too late to recognise the reason behind and the need for hard-won human rights, and not give them away over a bit of disruption and inconvenience.