Not democrats, are they liberal? Politics and protest rights

Posted on November 16, 2010 by | Comments Off

Back in May, we started writing here about how this government is bringing a shock doctrine to Britain. We launched a Facebook page, website, etc. The basic idea of the shock doctrine is that right wing government’s use emergencies to push through their unpopular neo-liberal ideology.

As well as the massive cuts to public spending, the privitisation of vast swathes of the state, and cuts to corporation tax; the shock doctrine, as discribed by Naomi Klein, also tends to come with oppression of opposition and a crack down on protest.

When we started to ask if this would happen with this coalition goevernment, we were told that there was no way. The Lib Dems would not let this happen. They might be horrid neo-liberals. But they are at least liberals.

Well, in the last few weeks, this principle has been tested. First we are told that the Government (presumably including the ‘Liberal’ Democrats) is supporting policies including the use of drones to spy on activists, and further militarisation of the police:

As reported this Sunday:

“the Observer has learned that defence firms are working closely with UK armed forces and contemplating a “militarisation” strategy to counter the threat of civil disorder.

“The trade group representing the military and security industry says firms are in negotiation with senior officers over possible orders for armoured vehicles, body scanners and better surveillance equipment.

“The move coincides with government-backed attempts to introduce the use of unmanned spy drones throughout UK airspace, facilitating an expansion of covert surveillance that could provide intelligence on future demonstrations.”

And now we see the police have shut down the site FITwatch. FIT (Forward Intelegence Team)watch was set up to help keep a track of the way in which police were keeping substantial databases of activists, including those involved in legal political activity – and so effectively criminalising protest.

The site was shut down – something that the Forward Intelligence Team had presumably wanted to do for a while – after it posted a blog advising those who want to escape police attention after the Millbank protests.  Whatever people think of the specific post which led to the final request from police to close the blog (which you can see here) we would imagine that ‘liberals’ in government would support freedom of speech, and would oppose the state shutting down websites. In fact, while many on the left have supported no platform policies for fascists, it has often been the liberals in the Lib Dems and Tories who have stood up for their right to express their views – even in the cases of sites which effectively incite violence, such as Redwatch (which I refuse to link to).  I have yet to hear any of these Liberal Democrat ministers making the same case for FITwatch, despite the fact that their basic activity is essentially a liberal one – monitoring state oppression.

Of course, these are the actions of police and Home Office, rather than MPs. Lib Dems seem to have done nothing so far to stop this crack down on protest. But they will have a chance to redeam themselves if they back the campaign being run by the good folks at BOND to extend the ‘Freedom’ Bill to enshire some of the rights we need when we protest. They also have a chance to lean on their colleagues in the Home Office to insist that there is no place for the oppression of protest or freedom of speech in a liberal country.

With their back-track on election promises, their vote against proportional representation and their vote against votes at 16, Clegg and his friends have proved they aren’t true democrats. It’ll be interesting to see if they have lost their liberal principles too.

Update: Emily Apple from FITwatch has a piece about this at CiF

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