28. 09. 2011

Green Liberties

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Despite getting more than a little grumpy about it, the wall-to-wall coverage of the tenth anniversary of 9/11 generated some fascinating analysis of “the wasted decade” that we just lived through.

Most of it focussed either on the big geo-political issues (China and India filling some of the leadership space vacated by the US, a world more or less secure because of the “war on terror” and so on), or on the much more human consequences in terms of the position of Muslims in western societies and the impact on social cohesion.

There’s one small part of this that has preoccupied me for the last ten years – and that’s the impact of 9/11 (and our collective response to it) on people’s civil liberties – and, in particular, on the citizen’s rights to protest.

As I mentioned above, this was something I wanted to explore through the Sustainable Development Commission – but was very robustly warned off by our minders in Whitehall.

And apart from those organisations in the Green Movement (such as Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and a host of smaller NGOs more inclined to taking direct action) that had an obvious reason to be very disturbed at the way in which the Labour Government was making it harder and harder for people to protest, there wasn’t any recognisable appetite for taking this on amongst the other NGOs – on top of everything else.

Anyway, this proved to be a bone that I couldn’t stop gnawing away at. So Bethan Harris and I put our heads together and decided to do a report (click here to see report) looking back over the last ten years just to see what the cumulative effect of changing legislation and policing practices has been.  

It’s not a pretty picture. The Labour government ruthlessly manipulated the post 9/11 context to push through a raft of profoundly illiberal measures – as was so eloquently (but belatedly) recognised by David Blunkett and others towards the end of their time in office.

Both the Tories and Lib Dems committed to putting that right in their election manifestos, and then confirmed that in the Coalition’s Programme for Government.

Not much progress on that as yet. In opposition, for instance, the Lib Dems pledged to remove a number of laws targeted at protest, including the offence of Aggravated Trespass. Yet as of now, the Freedom Bill in front of Parliament makes no mention of this.

These are important issues – not least because these are difficult times. Most commentators assume that the economy is going to stay pretty flat for the next couple of years. The depth and scale of the cuts in public expenditure are only now becoming apparent, with an inevitable increase in public concern and anger.

The next few years could easily witness a huge increase in highly polarised politics and growing civil dissent. There’s a lot of renewed political energy at the local and community level, and a readiness to engage that gives the lie to lazy media commentaries about political apathy and inertia.

A critical time, therefore, to be reflecting on the role of civil liberties in our society today, particularly as they relate to the right to protest.

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16. 09. 2013
Dan Kelly

This is exactly the same trend we see in New Zealand, where the government has recently removed the right to protest deep sea drilling at sea - effectively stymying public opinion when (and where) our democratic voice is most needed.

You can read more about this particular change, and why we shouldn't accept it on my blog http://elhombredelsur.wordpress.com/2013/09/08/deep-sea-drilling-and-the-nuclear-free-protests-time-to-get-free/

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