Boris Johnson is leading an increasingly authoritarian government, and we don’t see to care all that much.
The Tories have a long history of talking up freedom and then governing as centralising authoritarians in government. One should look no further than idol of the “libertarian” British right than Maggie Thatcher, and her brutal wielding of state power to crush people powered dissent throughout her punishing time in office. We can look closer to home at the student protests and anti-austerity demos during the coalition years, with the horrendous response of central government to any sort of dissent out on the streets. And of course, we now must turn our eye to Boris Johnson’s government, and Priti Patel’s Home Office, for some truly terrifying directions of travel.
We instinctively rely on the media to report on major developments; most people assume if the government is doing something oppressive or controversial, it’ll be all over the news and we’ll quickly get the facts disseminated in a news bulletin, likely as the top story if it’s that big. Alas, we don’t like in a country with a free and fair press, we live in a country with a consent manufacturer called the British press, which toes the government line and serves elite interests while duping the working class into a stupor.
We can look at the NHS reforms for a wholly different, but equally sinister example of this repression of the facts being undertaken in the interests of government PR. As the Cameron administration undertook measures that opened the NHS to yet more competition and privatisation, a hugely controversial measure that threatened to reshape the NHS in the interests of the market, and potentially destroy the thing, all we heard on the news (and this huge systemic change was hardly mentioned) was that the act would “give more power to GPs” with no major political party putting up a fight and no major media outlet scrutinising. If the public had been exposed to the objective facts, there would have been uproar.
The Police Crime Sentencing And Courts Bill 2021 is a truly scary piece of legislation. I could spend hours going through ever nit picking provision to demonstrate how sinister and authoritarian this thing really is, but let’s just say this: if this thing passes into law, if you put someone at “risk of annoyance” during a protest, you could end up in jail for 10 years. Don’t believe me? Look at the info put out by excellent civil liberty groups like Liberty, and if that isn’t enough, read the damn bill, and look for these sinister paragraphs underneath all the nice cushy language about law and order and public safety.
This bill would have come under next to zero public scrutiny had the horrendous events over the weekend regarding police overreach at a vigil not occurred. Prior to that, the opposition was going to abstain, and saying this bill didn’t go HARD ENOUGH on Law And Order, and it didn’t give ENOUGH power to the police to act with impunity with no mention of this utterly despicable measures that would allow the state to quite literally infringe and intimidate in multiple different on our right to protest anything they disapprove of, and the media was naturally silent.
Now, Labour have succumbed to pressure from progressives and civil libertarians, and are taking the principled stand against the bill; and rightfully highlighting the fallacy of slave trader statue toppling getting you more jail time than, you know, actual rape of a woman. Do the Tory “libertarians” care a jot? Seemingly not. The hypocrisy of their farcical posturing becomes apparent, when they put up a fight against temporary and proportional public health restrictions, but won’t put up a sizable rebel when we’re dealing with an actual infringement on civil liberties and a real excess in terms of COVID enforcement.
What we see here is a government with little concern for dissent or protest, using a public health crisis and the emergency powers granted to it, to permanently weaken our right to make clear our discontent to those in power, while handing yet more enforcement powers to police officers clearly already plenty drunk on power.
The worry, is the public don’t care. We often enough talk about just how bizarrely authoritarian the British public is, with a wafer thin plurality opposing the vigil over the weekend, a big plurality backing Cressida Dick, and only 2 in 10 thinking protests should be allowed during lockdown. Any government with a semblance of concern for civil liberties would have made exceptions for protest, regardless of lockdown (we’ve seen from the States it causes minimal, if any, spread when outside), but the Johnson government needn’t care, because the public are bootlickers.
Priti Patel has called BLM protests “dreadful”, and had expressed time and time again a contempt for protests. This attitude is genuinely quite scary, and however people scoff at the assertion the Johnson government is taking us in the direction of Orban’s Hungary, what with the boundary changes, the incoming voter restrictions, the bigoted culture wars, the authoritarian state, and the economic populism, this is absolutely where it begins, unless we organise, educate, push back, and stop it. Progressives and civil libertarians must now go to war with the British security state (not literally), and push back at every turn against further infringement on our basic rights to dissent. Let’s remember this is an administration banning dissent over capitalism or history in schools in a way that puts proto-fascist regimes to shame.
This government is taking a clear, and unprecedented authoritarian turn. There is a right side and a wrong side, and we all need to stand against this. The direction of travel depends on how much pushback there is; if we put up an organised effort against more overreach, the creep at the very least slows; if we roll over, the government will go further and further with impunity, drunk on powers it sees as the latest weapon in the culture war against the young, city dwellers, and ethnic minorities. Boris Johnson is now at the head of an authoritarian government.