There can’t be any doubt now that the big story of the Coronation weekend is the abuse of the new Public Order Act by police, to arrest and detain people who had every right to protest against a monarchy they do not want.
Graham Smith, chief executive of the anti-monarch group Republic, was jailed early on Saturday morning, on suspicion of conspiring to cause a public nuisance by disrupting the celebrations on London’s streets.
He has made it clear that neither he nor anybody else in his group had any intention to break the law.
Indeed, Republic has made it clear that it co-operated fully with the Metropolitan Police before the event even started:
Graham Smith, speaking for Republic on 3 May, said: “We have had two meetings with the Met police, and numerous phone conversations. They have repeatedly said they have no concerns about Republic’s plans.”
Mr Smith was released on Saturday but police retained his phone and luggage straps that they had claimed could have been used for “locking on” – attaching protesters to street furniture to cause disruption.
These items were returned on Monday evening, when officers admitted they were not able to find any reason to charge Mr Smith with a crime. Here are his comments:
We have just been told that the police will be taking no further action. This has been a disgraceful episode and we will be speaking to lawyers about taking legal action. I also expect a full inquiry into why they repeatedly lied to us and who authorised the arrests.
— Graham Smith 🇺🇦 🏳️🌈 (@GrahamSmith_) May 8, 2023
This evening three Met police officers visited my home to hand back my phone and the luggage straps. They apologised while wearing a body cam. I made it clear the apology is not accepted as we will be taking further action. https://t.co/BwPxw2aNx5
— Graham Smith 🇺🇦 🏳️🌈 (@GrahamSmith_) May 8, 2023
Do you believe the claim of regret by the police? Richard Murphy, of Funding the Future, doesn’t:
I do not believe the police. Politely, they are asking us to believe in yet more fairytales if they expect us to think that these arrests were a mistake.
They announced zero tolerance of protest in advance of the coronation.
They got new powers enacted days in advance of the coronation to arrest without reason.
Republic had been completely open and honest about their intentions, I know. I get their emails. And so there was no new “intelligence” for the police to act on to justify their actions, as they and those seeking to excuse them (Ed Balls, I am looking at you) claimed. There was just a police conspiracy to appease Suella Braverman by showing zero tolerance that backfired spectacularly in both the UK and around the world.
And now they have not only had to eat humble pie, because their actions were so obviously unjustified and unjustifiable – because not only was the protest peaceful but there was never a conspiracy that it should be anything else – but they have now paved the way for rightful demands that use of this law be restricted until such time as it can be repealed.
The only impediment to that happening is Labour’s support for these laws – which looks most especially crass now.
I fear Mr Murphy’s hope for Labour may be forlorn. More on this below.
This morning (Tuesday, May 9), Mr Smith was interviewed by Kay Burley of Sky News, who did her level best to undermine his assertions – and he made mincemeat of her. Fair play to her for posting the clip, though!
Kay: Do you want to tell me about the officers coming round to your house or not?
— Kay Burley (@KayBurley) May 9, 2023
This Writer cannot understand why Burley kept harping on about the cost of the Coronation. I had heard the £250m line too – and whether it cost that much or the more modest £100m figure that has been more widely-quoted, it’s still money that could have been put to better use in a country whose people are struggling financially because the government has sucked all the money out of it.
And she was unable to stop Mr Smith from making his point that “there was no evidence of any intent or capacity to commit any offence” and “no suggestion of wrongdoing… at all”.
While Burley was putting forward a pro-Establishment view, other journalists went very strongly the other way. Here’s Michael Crick – and I know he’s problematic too, but his words are worth hearing – on LBC:
'This is the sort of thing that goes on in Moscow!'
— LBC (@LBC) May 8, 2023
Sadly, it doesn’t matter what the commenterati say about it; the political elite in Westminster have closed ranks to deny that anything untoward happened at all – and they certainly won’t consider revising or repealing the vague law that allowed this scandal to happen.
Here’s prime minister Rishi Sunak. First he said he supported what the police did:
“The police are operationally independent of Government, they’ll make these decisions based on what they think is best,” he told broadcasters in Hertfordshire.
“Actually I’m grateful to the police and everyone who played a part in ensuring that this weekend has gone so well, so successfully and so safely, that was an extraordinary effort by so many people and I’m grateful to them for all their hard work.”
Then he repeated his assertions to TV reporters:
Q: You supported the police, but yesterday they apologised to the protesters… doesn't the public order act need looking at?
Rishi Sunak: People have the right to protest freely
Q: People do have the right to protest, but these people didn't have the right… they were stopped pic.twitter.com/P6RE5X19L4
— Haggis_UK 🇬🇧 🇪🇺 (@Haggis_UK) May 9, 2023
It’s interesting that Sunak claimed the arrests were “operational decisions made by the police at the time”. I wonder if we can have that confirmed? I’ll try to contact the Met and see what response I get.
Meanwhile, here’s Tory MP Peter Bone, who supports his prime ministers point of view, having his derriere turned into burger meat and handed back to him by Marina Purkiss:
Tory MP, Peter Bone is all for freedom of speech…
He is also all for the met police preemptively arresting protesters.
Like calling yourself a vegan and then eating steak…pic.twitter.com/rEa5LtyMdf
— Marina Purkiss (@MarinaPurkiss) May 8, 2023
So much for the Tory point of view.
And what about Labour?
Lisa Nandy, on the morning media round, made it clear that her party sides with the Tories and repeated the assertion (although not in as many words) that Labour wants to be able to clamp down on protesters just as hard as the Tories appear to have done:
If you are worried about human rights, civil rights, the right to free speech and the right to protest, you cannot expect – on the evidence – that Starmer’s Govt will be much better than the grimly repressive Tories https://t.co/mGDQ2vguJv
— Tom London (@TomLondon6) May 9, 2023
Yet another member of Labour's Shadow Cabinet states that her party will not repeal the Public Order Act
'We are not into wholesale repeal of legislation without understanding what the problem is first' pic.twitter.com/wxjOj83mgN
— j (@jrc1921) May 9, 2023
Even Barry Gardiner, usually excellent at presenting his party in a reasonable light, struggled in a discussion of the scandal on the BBC’s Politics Live:
And what does Labour think of Republic, and the right of anti-monarchists to be able to present their point of view?
Sir Keir Starmer has proscribed the anti-monarchy group Republic
Labour Party members are now forbidden to affiliate with the group, and they face being expelled from the party
The Labour leader continues his authoritarian attacks against democracy within the party https://t.co/jHIVcb9Uhj
— Socialist Voice (@SocialistVoice) May 8, 2023
Admittedly, party MPs have protested:
John McDonnell, the former shadow chancellor, questioned the rules this week, saying: “I can’t see that allowing local parties to participate in groups like these is going to bring down civilisation as we know it.
“A form of institutional paranoia has emerged in the higher echelons of the party’s bureaucracy which has led to a level of control-freakery in relation to the activities of local CLPs which borders on farce.”
Another MP and former shadow frontbencher, Clive Lewis, who will address anti-monarchy protesters staging a demonstration against the coronation in London on Saturday, said he had “serious misgivings” about the rule preventing affiliation with Republic, adding there was a long history of branches having relationships with democratic campaigning organisations.
Lewis said: “It feels wrong, and sits uncomfortably with me. I think a lot of people will find it problematic, even people who are going to be supportive of the coronation and the king. Many of them will also be people who believe in freedom of speech, freedom of expression and having an open, honest political debate about the future of this country.
“If you join the Labour party, you often joined because you want to make a difference to make your country better, and those are the kind of people who will want to ask questions about the kind of democracy we have.”
But Starmer seems to feel he has to act this way because it might win him some votes – despite the fact that it makes him (yet again) a hypocrite:
Labour under Keir Starmer’s leadership has attempted to underline its patriotism in order to reconnect with voters in “red wall” seats. In the past, Starmer had advocated abolishing the monarchy.
— Kentish Made (@kentish_made) May 8, 2023
Yes, littering is indeed a crime, but it seems nobody has been punished for it.
Instead, the police concentrated their resources on persecuting people who had not broken the law at all.
It really is the big story of the weekend: supporters of the monarchy attacked, arrested, and imprisoned dozens of people on the day their icon was crowned – not for any crime, but simply for having a different point of view.
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