Democracy

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Capitalism is trumping democracy at home

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 28/05/2022 - 2:31am in

Image credit: 80’s Child / Shutterstock.com All day, I have been coming back to this: How have we arrived at...

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conservatives might show Labour the way…

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 28/05/2022 - 1:02am in

…as this comment from Richard Drax (who owns, poor chap, only 2% of the land in Dorset) suggests: An interesting insight that a right wing MP thinks that Thursday’s ‘mini’ budget (too little and too late though it was) will, next time round, give the socialists excuses to spend – and we cannot possibly have... Read more

Include and compromise — don’t divide and conquer: Tendrils of Hope from Australia.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 27/05/2022 - 11:21pm in

Tags 

Democracy, history

I really enjoyed this conversation with my friend Peyton Bowman which celebrates the possibility that Australia might be able to show the world how to push back against the Trumpian madness.

We tried to turn Peyton’s lack of inside knowledge of Australia’s electoral system into a feature rather than a bug as I used the conversation to explain to him (and to myself!) the significance I saw in the recent election of a new Labor Government.

I think Australian culture and two specific features of our electoral system make it easier for our politicians to govern from the centre. Now the triumph of a number of independents from the wealthier, previously conservative voting suburbs of Australia’s big cities has swung the pendulum back towards the centre and opened up new opportunities, not just for the country, but for each of us.

And I explain my own plans for making a small contribution to a new and better Australia.

Hoping that better monetary understanding leads to better politics

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 27/05/2022 - 11:10pm in

Thus concludes an article in the New Statesman by Josh Ryan Collins, associate professor in economics and finance at the University College London Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose. Amoungst other things he states: When you request a loan, the bank converts your IOU to the bank into liabilities upon itself that appear as newly... Read more

‘Partygate’ is a Profound Crisis Endangering the Rule of Law in Britain

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 26/05/2022 - 7:50pm in

The bigger story of the scandal of Downing Street lockdown parties is how fundamentally they strike at the foundations of our democracy, says barrister Gareth Roberts

Boris Johnson has broken the law, we all know that. The Metropolitan Police have issued him with a fixed penalty notice and he has accepted his guilt and paid up. He is not the only Downing Street miscreant. As a result of unlawful behaviour in breach of Coronavirus lockdown laws at the home of our Prime Minister, the police found cause to issue a further 126 fines to a further 83 individuals – including to Johnson's wife and the Chancellor. This is unprecedented.

Johnson has the ignominy of being the first and only Prime Minister ever convicted of a criminal offence while office. Downing Street holds the record for attracting more breaches of lockdown laws than any other place in the country. 

Should we bothered? Not according to those who seek to defend him and his Government. Their defences have ranged from the predictable – ‘we should all move on’ – to the absurd – ‘he was ambushed by cake’ – to the technical – ‘what he was doing was reasonable within a work environment'. 

All of these attempts to secure Boris Johnson’s acquittal in the court of public opinion demonstrate a deep and dangerous failure to understand the significance of the rule of law and, more importantly, the process by which law evolves and its role within our society and constitution. 

Some lawyers and politicians like to portray legal process as simply the reading of words in a statute and trying to fit the facts of any given case or argument into this. In recent days, these individuals been out in force armed with the words of the Coronavirus regulations, attempting to suggest that because the statute allowed for workplace gatherings reasonably necessary for work, then having a cake and a few beers at the end of a long working day in Downing Street was necessary and lawful.

But to treat the law as an academic exercise or a means to a debate about semantics is dangerously simplistic – because the rule of law isn’t about that, it is about people.  

The rule of law is not something that appeared set in stone, delivered by a bearded deity from on high – the rule of law has evolved as the result of a process. Statutory law is driven by politicians and politics. In the UK, the adversarial nature of our political system, in theory, leads to laws being made by a Government elected because what it was promising to do was deemed to be right by the majority of the electorate. It means that politicians promise what they hope will be both popular and socially responsible.

The criminal law exists to curtail certain freedoms with the intention of keeping us all safe. After the Dunblane massacre of 1996, for instance, there was an understandable clamour for new laws to be introduced to limit the ownership of guns. This gave rise to the Firearms Act 1997 as the government of the time saw the need to act; limiting our ability to possess a gun was deemed necessary to keep us safe. 

A more esoteric example would be the Finance Act, passed by Parliament each year. It sets duties, tariffs, rates of tax and similar. It follows the government’s financial programme and becomes the law of the land; a curtailment on our freedom to do what we want with our money with the promise that, as a result, the wellbeing of the nation will be enhanced. 

Because these laws follow a political process, that process – and the law that results from it – must have at its heart three important factors: honesty, reliability and trust. We the people, who give up our freedoms, who allow those to make our laws on our behalf, are entitled to assume that those who are in charge of that process are honest, reliable and trustworthy. 

And by reliable, I mean that the parameters of the debate that precedes the enactment of laws must consist of true and properly reliable facts – not lies or distortion brought about by polemic or misplaced ideology. In theological law, it is possible to say ‘man shall only eat fish on a Friday’ because God says so – but that can’t be the case with statutory man-made laws, unless, of course, Parliament was presented with a good factual premise as to why fish must be eaten every Friday. The Brexit debate was so dominated by unreliable facts and misinformation that it is no surprise that the result has been poor law. 

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The facts that are presented to the people and their representatives in Parliament must be done so honestly. We must expect, at the very least, that when a government minister stands at the despatch box to deliver utterances that affect, often profoundly, all our lives that he is telling us the truth – anything less and the entire system becomes worthless. We may as well be ruled by dictator or directly by a monarch. 

And, of course, there must be trust – the government trusts that those who are being subjected to the rule of law will try to obey it, while we the people have the right to expect that those who have set the law will follow it in the same way. There can be no distinction between we the people and our representatives in Parliament – we are all equal in the eyes of the law and even the merest suggestion to the contrary is devastating for society. 

The ‘partygate’ scandal is so much more than an argument about cake and beer. It goes far beyond the juvenile behaviour of one Prime Minister and his colleagues in Downing Street. Instead it goes to the very heart of what is meant by the rule of law in this country.

The Coronavirus lockdown rules involved some of the most profound and significant limitations upon our freedoms that our nation has ever been asked to endure and Boris Johnson’s failure to implement them with the same care and diligence that he urged upon everyone else, together with his decision to lie about his failure because it suited his ambitions and personality, is something that we must not accept. 

We cannot just move on, because ours is a liberal democracy and our laws result from that pluralist process. And if we the people can’t trust that process, and if our Prime Minister who is charged with overseeing that process is dishonest, then why should any of us treat any of the laws that are imposed upon us with anything other than contempt?  

Gareth Roberts is a barrister

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Johnson will never resign

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 26/05/2022 - 6:38pm in

Yet, Conservative MP Jonathan Gullis says that he and his colleagues in the 1922 Committee yesterday were asking the Prime Minister questions about rebuilding trust. Fat chance. Trust is irrelevant to Johnson, who has proved beyond any doubt that he is in it for himself. The country, the Conservative party, Wine Time Fridays and everything... Read more

Australia enters the post-party phase of Western democracy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 26/05/2022 - 2:14pm in

Tags 

Democracy

Originally published on The Interpreter.

Two federal elections ago, in 2016, the primary vote for the Labor Party and the Liberal-Nationals coalition reached record lows, while the number of voters who put an independent or minor party first on their ballot paper reached new highs. Former Labor leader Kim Beazley observed at the time that, with those trends expected to continue, Australia might be just two elections away from a Trump-like disruption.

Two elections later, that judgment looks half-prescient. Electoral politics was certainly disrupted last Saturday, but not by a Trump-like figure. Instead, we saw the rise of a loose-knit group of professional women known as the teal independents. We’ll come back to them in a moment, but first, a word on how Australia got to this point.

The central drama of Western democratic politics today, Australia included, is major-party decline. Traditional centre-right and centre-left parties were established to represent large, coherent social and economic groups, most importantly unionised labour, business, and various religions. But the economic and social model on which these parties were founded began to change in the 1950s and has now largely disappeared, thanks to neoliberalism, deindustrialisation, the feminisation and casualisation of the workforce, the decline of organised religion, the decline of unionism, and the collapse of communism.

As a result, these traditional big parties steadily lost members and voters. In response, the big parties found a new way to survive: they would cease to represent specific social and economic groups and instead become broad churches. And they wouldn’t need a large membership to do it: campaigning went from labour-intensive to capital intensive, so the emphasis moved from attracting members to attracting donors.

This is what I described in my 2019 book Our Very Own Brexit as “hollowing out”: the public drifts away from the major parties, and the parties respond by moving away from the public. Rather than being the expression of a mass movement, politics becomes the province of a small cadre of professionals who train most of their adult lives to be politicians or operatives.

This model of major-party survival has obvious limits; you can’t bleed voters and members indefinitely. Brexit, the rise of European populism, Macron and Trump were clear signs that the model was reaching those limits. A key point here is that the disruption to major-party dominance does not necessarily need to come from the radical right or left; it just has to come from outside the established parties. That was the lesson from Macron’s election in France, and it was also the lesson of Trump, who was as near as American presidential politics gets to being an independent and who, compared to those he ran against in the GOP primaries, was not particularly right wing.

Which brings us to the teal wave that swept over Australian federal politics last Saturday. On the interim count, the Labor and Coalition primary vote continued the systematic decline that Beazley identified in 2016, and which had in fact begun in the 1980s. Only 32 per cent of Australians placed the ALP first on their ballots, a result which, as the ABC’s Andrew Probyn put it, would in other circumstances be enough to trigger talk of an existential crisis in the ALP. The Coalition went backwards also to 35 per cent of the primary vote. For independents and minor parties combined, the figure has now risen to 33 per cent.

That’s a roughly even three-way split, but don’t mistake this shift for a move towards a third force in Australian politics. During the campaign, Liberal party politicians expressed frustration that, despite sharing branding and a major funder, the teal candidates refused to out themselves as a de facto party. It was a revealing category error – they were trying to mentally fit this new phenomenon onto a familiar 20th century model. But Western politics has entered a post-party phase where movements and charismatic individuals rise and fall quickly on the back of generous funding and smart campaigning, but with no settled social and economic base. The number of independents and small parties in our parliament will continue to grow, but the composition of that group is likely to change a lot at each election. There will be no settled “third force”.

What happens to the major parties in this post-party environment? For one thing, they will continue to shrink. For another, they will need to get used to governing with wafer-thin majorities or as a minority. This is common in many Western democracies so there is every reason to think Australia can cope. In fact, if it strengthens the oversight role of the House of Representatives, it will likely improve overall governance.

It also means that the authority of Australian governments will continue to decline. This is partly a matter of declining vote numbers for the major parties, but also a function of hollowing out. Politics is not something the public participates in any longer, whether through joining a party or through membership of a union, church or professional organisation. Instead, the public spectates or just ignores formal politics altogether, intervening only at election time.

If the teal wave really is Australia’s version of the Trump disruption, then Australia will have got off lightly. But there is nothing to indicate that the teals have had the last word on this subject. The argument I made in Our Very Own Brexit is that the hollowing out of politics around the democratic West has already had radical consequences, and that Australia may not be spared.

The Sue Gray Report: A Very Etonian Coup

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 26/05/2022 - 1:33am in

In the effort to save his skin, Boris Johnson has waged a campaign against the institutions of British democracy, says Sam Bright

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In A Very British Coup, the 1980s political fiction drama originally written by the journalist-turned-Labour MP Chris Mullin, a staunchly left-wing Labour Prime Minister is hampered and harassed in office by the British establishment: the media, the financial sector, and the security services.

These institutions are all portrayed as being instinctively conservative – a power bloc united in the effort to sabotage a socialist administration.

This tale has been inverted in the present day by a fellow traveller from Fleet Street to Downing Street, Boris Johnson.

The current Prime Minister plays the aggressor, having launched a coup against the institutions of the British state – compromising their authority and integrity to preserve his own power.

Johnson’s coup has been set in motion for several years, though it has been accelerated during the ‘Partygate’ scandal – culminating today in the publication of the Sue Gray report, showing how Downing Street harboured a Friday night binge culture while the nation followed Johnson’s orders and retreated indoors to avoid spreading COVID-19.

The Prime Minister has been indicted in this crime. Gray reiterates the initial conclusions that she released in January, describing a “failure of leadership” in Downing Street, and saying that “the senior leadership at the centre... must bear responsibility for this culture”.

However, rather than take responsibility, the “greased piglet” has attempted to squirm out of his political bind – ploughing a path of destruction through the architecture of the British state.

Indeed, Cabinet Secretary Simon Case appears to be the sacrificial lamb offered to the public to assuage their anger.

There are conflicting reports about whether Case – the most senior civil servant in the country – will resign as a result of his role in the affair, but it is clear that Johnson is attempting to export blame to a state official, dragging down the reputation of the Civil Service in the process.

This has played out on the front pages of the tabloids in recent days, with fevered speculation about the providence of a meeting between Sue Gray and Boris Johnson earlier this month.

Briefings from Downing Street officials initially suggested that Gray had asked for the meeting – during which the Prime Minister reportedly leaned on Gray to not release her findings – with Johnson’s spokesperson later admitting that the summit was indeed requested by Downing Street.

Periodic bombardments from Downing Street, propelled by Johnson’s acolytes in the right-wing press, have been an occupational hazard for civil servants in recent years. The get-back-to-work orders of “overgrown prefect” Jacob Rees-Mogg have followed years of Johnson railing against the Whitehall “blob”, which his former chief aide Dominic Cummings deployed as a catch-all excuse for administrative incompetence.

This war against officialdom is not the first time that the Prime Minister has brawled with the establishment from which he is derived. One of Johnson’s first acts in the job, encouraged by Cummings, was to prorogue Parliament – an unlawful act, which misled the Queen.

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‘May Eton Flourish’

This, in many ways, is the Old Etonian spirit. The school is the pulsating nerve-centre of the British establishment, and its status imbues the college and its creations with a sense of exceptionalism – a belief that the institutions of power exist to serve their interests rather than vice versa.

As Musa Okwonga writes in his Eton memoir, One of Them, “I look at the school’s motto, ‘May Eton Flourish’, and I think, it is not right that you flourish, and will continue to flourish, at the expense of so many others.”

And while the security services worked avidly to subvert Mullin’s fictional Prime Minister, Harry Perkins, the current occupant of Downing Street has spooked his spooks.

Reports suggest that the security services expressed concerns about Johnson’s plan to appoint Evgeny Lebedev – the son of a former Russian KGB agent who has in recent days been sanctioned by Canada – to the House of Lords. Under concerted pressure from Johnson, however, these concerns were withdrawn, reports indicate.

Johnson has so far refused to release the contents of the security advice, despite being commanded by Parliament to do so, and Evgeny Lebedev – owner of the Evening Standard and the Independent – sits in the House of Lords under the title ‘Baron Lebedev of Hampton and Siberia’.

As many have observed, Johnson seems to be taking a temporary break from writing newspaper columns in order to be Prime Minister. He is a habitual polemicist, who still considers his boss to be the Daily Telegraph, according to Cummings. Indeed, Johnson appears to have dragged the right-wing press into Downing Street as an agency of power, through which it has succumbed to his cult of immorality.

Perhaps to a greater extent than at any time in recent history, journalists have been forced to deny and distort the truth to serve the partisan interests of their man in power. The cover-up is often worse than the crime, and Johnson’s foot-soldiers in the oligarch-owned press have sullied their reputations even further in order to clean up his mess.

The lies used to absolve Johnson of blame, often having germinated on the front pages of the papers, have been carried to Parliament by the Prime Minister – perpetuating the already pervasive belief that no politician, of any denomination, can be trusted to tell the truth.

The Metropolitan Police, meanwhile, has managed to undermine its own integrity sufficiently even without the help of the Prime Minister.

There may be many legitimate reasons to be 'anti-establishment' in modern British politics. Our constitutional norms, our electoral system, the rules governing the individual conduct of MPs, and much more besides are desperately in need of reform.

But Boris Johnson’s form of anti-establishment politics appears to target the last bastions of respectability and decency in our democracy. He has launched a coup against morality, the well-functioning institutions that diligently keep the wheels of power turning, and the bodies designed to keep us all safe.

And rather than cauterising the wounds of the disillusioned masses, this coup will surely only trigger more popular disenfranchisement.

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The Punditocracy and the Subversion of Progress

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 24/05/2022 - 7:30pm in

How is the modern media environment emboldening people who want to destroy popular social justice campaigns for their own personal gain?

Political debate across the broadcast media is being destabilised by the presence of knowledge-bereft ‘personalities’, particularly drawn from the right.

Our democratic conversation has been raided by self-serving actors who use the space not as a forum for nuanced analysis, but as a means of burgeoning their personal brand. They are masters in stirring up conflict, consequently blocking the path of progress – particularly for the young.

These media personalities range from former tabloid journalists, such as Piers Morgan, to figureheads affiliated with largely failed political projects – such as Laurence Fox, founder of the Reclaim Party – to young commentators seeking their moment in the spotlight, like 19-year-old university student-turned occasional Good Morning Britain panellist Sophie Corcoran. 

Twitter is an intrinsic factor in the rise of these political personalities. A 2021 study by the Guardian found that algorithmic bias on Twitter favours right-wing politicians and personalities. This head start, alongside the clickbait-reactivity of the platform – encouraging the speedy and the sensational over the calm and the judicious – has allowed previously little-known loudmouths to gain inflated levels of public notoriety.

Fox is a classic example. The former actor and unsuccessful 2021 London Mayoral candidate told The Times in 2019 that he had been “totally radicalised” by watching YouTube videos about ‘woke culture’ and ‘political correctness’.

Since then, his standing as a political figure has mushroomed, triggered by an appearance on BBC Question Time in January 2020 and helping him to gain 300,000 Twitter followers. 

Fox is now something of a regular across mainstream broadcasting, spouting his vague anti-political-correctness agenda across the airwaves. Just last week, he appeared on the BBC's Politics Live alongside Ellie Mae O’Hagan from the Centre for Labour and Social Studies (CLASS) think tank, discussing the proposed windfall tax on energy companies.

Fox’s laddy delivery, mixed with a painfully evident lack of prior knowledge, epitomises what Otto English has described in these pages as ‘politainment’ – the rise of “ridiculous diversions into colourful stories about bells and fireworks overshadowing the real issues of the day”.

A Depreciating Asset

The mainstreaming of angry, right-wing media pundits is yet another act in the UK’s long-running ‘culture war’, which pits different demographic groups against each other for cynical political purposes.

The outcome has been deeply corrosive to democracy, elevating the unevidenced ramblings of online agitators above the wisdom of certified experts. Politics has become commodified, even and especially on the BBC, which propelled Fox to stardom in the same way that it did Nigel Farage – another serial electoral loser – during the decade prior. A lack of seriousness therefore pervades modern British politics, from Downing Street to the dimly-lit studios of GB News.

Younger personalities such as Darren Grimes and Sophie Corcoran in particular seem to embody a brand of extreme cynicism. Their primary function seems to be destructive: using poorly-formed opinions and tabloid catchphrases to tear down the cause of progress. From environmental activism to racial equality movements, these commentators both undermine the young activists who represent the body of young-progressive opinion in the UK, and neuter their social causes.

The strand of thinking that aligns these personalities is the ‘war on woke’.

The word “woke” originated in the 2010s from African American vernacular, meaning to be “alert to racial prejudice and discrimination”. It has come more recently to colloquially mean awareness of a broader range of social justice issues – and has been framed in a negative context by the right.

Andrew Doyle, the GB News presenter and right-wing comedian, is soon to publish a book entitled, ‘The New Puritans: How the Religion of Social Justice Captured the Western World’.

Fox, Doyle and their acolytes fight against this perceived ‘woke’ enemy, without a tangible sense of who actually constitutes that enemy. As the education policy expert Sam Freedman has written – in relation to the hard-right outrage over the alleged cancelling of Shakespeare in schools (something that has not happened): “A new trend I’ve noticed, when you run out of real culture war issues, you just imagine ones that might exist in the future and fight them.”

Theirs is a perpetual battle against social justice – fighting against a contrived present world of aggressive ‘woke snowflakes’ in order to return to an imagined past.

And this has been the stated aim of right-wing upstarts in the broadcast media – notably GB News, whose co-founder Andrew Neil said that the channel would take on the woke establishment – and Talk TV, whose flagship presenter Piers Morgan used his opening night monologue to say that: “I want to issue an urgent trigger warning for all ultra-sensitive, permanently offended woke snowflakes who may have accidentally tuned into this show. You are not going to enjoy my show. It’s going to really annoy you.”

Yet, despite their continued prominence on our screens and social media platforms, the appeal of right-wing culture warriors appears to be dwindling. While posters and banners could be spotted around many of the UK’s major cities promoting Morgan’s new show, his daily viewing figures have plummeted. Last Wednesday – some three weeks after launch – just 24,000 people tuned in.

The posters in question stated “love him or hate him, you don’t want to miss him”. It has quickly been made apparent that, whatever the public’s personal opinion of Morgan, the majority did, in fact, want to miss him. And for all the attempts by professional provocateurs to stoke the culture war, perhaps the nation does value experts – and unity – after all.

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Groped, Taunted and Followed Home: The Legal Observers of Protests Targeted by Officers for Peacefully Policing the Police

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 24/05/2022 - 6:00pm in

Josiah Mortimer digs into a shocking new report on the challenges faced by those trying to defend our right to protest

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Legal observers have described being groped, followed home and spied on by police in a new report on the state of protest oversight in Britain.

The Article 11 Trust – set up to defend protest rights – has published shocking research into the treatment of legal observers by the police. 

While legal observers do not have formal legal status, their role is internationally recognised by the UN Human Rights Committee as necessary for the exercise of the right to peacefully assemble. They are often seen in high vis jackets at protests, handing out ‘Know Your Rights’ cards to activists and providing support to those arrested.

But police monitoring groups fear that they are targeted in the UK by hostile police officers – with legal observers who are females and people of colour at particular risk. 

The report, 'Protecting Protest – Police Treatment of Legal Observers in Britain', draws on the experiences of nearly 40 legal observers in Britain, a significant proportion of them still undertaking the role. They highlighted harassment, violence and discrimination by officers while monitoring police behaviour at protests. 

Several high-profile cases of police mistreatment of these volunteers have emerged over the past two years.

Last March, Greater Manchester Police sparked outrage after a woman was seen stripped down to her underwear and carried away by officers, during a 'Kill the Bill' protest. And following an incident on 1 May last year, three legal observers lodged complaints of assault against Greater Manchester Police, including one allegation of sexual assault where “a male officer grabbed a female legal observer’s chest”. On two occasions that day, an observer witnessed police pushing “two women [observers] very forcefully”. 

Sexist Policing

The Article 11 Trust found that more than half – 56% – of the legal observers interviewed faced gender-based discrimination from the police, ranging from patronising comments to sexual assault.

The vast majority of those interviewed also said that they had been deliberately obstructed in their work by the police, with participants describing being misled, threatened with arrest, or subject to use of force to limit their effectiveness. 

One woman – who stopped doing legal observing before the pandemic – told Byline Times that she was often intimidated by police at protests, in her eyes deliberately.

“At the G8 Summit in Cardiff [in 2014], I was parking my car and I was greeted by police officers. They knew I was going... I’ve been asked to leave places, and then followed. I have seen sexual assaults. You don’t have to grab women by the chests, you can grab them by the shoulders. You don’t have to intimidate them through physical contact.

“It’s the ‘innocent’ little conversations from officers: ‘hi Janie, how are you?’ when I hadn’t said my name. And calling me ‘love’. The Met Police’s intelligence on legal observers is appalling. There’s no guidance, and no training."  

One complainant said: “I am petite in size and find the male officers use their size to intimidate... At an anti-fracking demo, male officers were pressing themselves up against my back as well as female activists. It was disgusting and made me feel sick.” 

Another added: “I’ve witnessed sexualised actions by police, mainly on women – being grabby, lifting items of clothing... I have been followed and filmed by the evidence 'gatherers'."

Another observer interviewed for the report also said that they had been followed home – in their understanding, by a police officer – after observing a protest.

On one occasion "this really big male officer was shoving his body against me and kept saying that I couldn't touch him and to stop touching him – I wasn't," one female legal observer told the report's authors. "But if I pushed back I could have faced being arrested.” She said she was “shaking” after the incident.

Byline Times cannot verify the interviewees’ claims, but the Article 11 Trust says that all the testimonies are from legal observers with decades of collective experience monitoring demonstrations. 

Targeting Minorities

Racialised groups, including those at Black Lives Matter and Palestine solidarity protests, are more harshly policed than others, observers told the report's authors.

In March this year, four Black Protest Legal Support (BPLS) observers – three of whom were non-white – were arrested under Coronavirus regulations at a London demonstration against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. The observers condemned the move as “an attack on vital community movements that hold the police to account”.

In a recent essay, two members of Black Protest Legal Support – Patricia Daley and Queenie Djan – explained how “the police’s interaction with black and brown protestors and legal observers alike has been starkly different to their interaction with white protestors”.

They described police repeatedly threatening and mocking black and brown observers for noting officers' badge numbers. 

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Who Polices the Police?

The report found that the policing of protest across Britain is “inconsistent” and influenced by the opinions and prejudices of senior officers – in other words, whether local police chiefs back the demonstrators or not.

The Article 11 Trust submitted Freedom of Information requests to the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC), the College of Policing (CoP) and 17 police forces across the UK for any documentation or policy relating to legal observers. Of the 15 responses it received, Police Scotland was the only force to formally recognise observers’ roles. 

The Tactical Aid Unit within Greater Manchester Police, London's Metropolitan Police, the Ministry of Defence, Police Scotland and Merseyside Police were identified as particularly hostile towards legal observers and protests more generally. 

Griff Ferris, a volunteer with the monitoring group Black Protest Legal Support, was arrested by the Met Police at a Kill the Bill demonstration in London last April – despite being clearly identified as a legal observer. 

“Under the COVID regulations, there was an exemption for doing work, and that includes voluntary work," he told Byline Times. "We spoke to the police... they said they didn’t care. They were told from ‘higher up’ that legal observers didn’t have an exemption." He was arrested, held overnight, and strip-searched after refusing to give his personal information. 

Police scrutiny group Netpol is warning that, with the passing of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act this year, the protest landscape is set to worsen – and independent observers’ presence is “needed more than ever".

Emmanuelle Andrews, policy and campaigns manager at human rights group Liberty, told Byline Times that the reports of observers' experiences were “extremely concerning”. “Protest is a key way we can have our voices heard – and legal observers play a vital role in protecting the right to protest, ensuring the police act within the law and keeping people safe," she told Byline Times.

“If the police and Government believe that they are respecting protest rights, they should welcome the scrutiny that legal observers bring. Instead of giving the police more powers which are being routinely abused – particularly against women and people of colour – the Government should roll-back the powers of the police to prevent these kinds of abuses taking place.”

A spokesperson for Netpol said: “The National Police Chiefs Council must end the kind of aggressive treatment this report has documented – and properly recognise that the right to monitor the actions of the police is an essential part of protecting human rights.”

The National Police Chiefs Council, the College of Policing and the Home Office did not respond to requests for comment. 

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