Tag Archives: antisocial behaviour

Wannabe tyrants’ flimsy excuses for blocking non-party campaigning

Loss of freedom: Every day the Coalition government tries to take something away from you; at the moment, it's your right to criticise.

Loss of freedom: Every day the Coalition government tries to take something away from you; at the moment, it’s your right to free speech.

With the Antisocial Behaviour Bill successfully blocked (for the time being), defenders of Free Speech may return to the Transparency of Lobbying Bill, and its provision to block any campaigning that our right-wing government doesn’t like.

Caroline Lucas MP, writing in The Guardian today, informs us that the Tories’ and Liberal Democrats’ current rationale for the plan to gag us all is to prevent, say, large fracking firms from spending huge amounts of money in her Brighton Pavilion constituency to unseat her.

The Green Party MP writes: “Yes, apparently Tory and Lib Dem supporters of the bill are defending its swingeing provisions at public meetings up and down the country by claiming they’re necessary in order to prevent fracking firm Cuadrilla pumping a million pounds into Brighton Pavilion to unseat me, and – of course – they would hate to see that happen.”

This is laughable. No member of one party would lift a finger to prevent a member of another from losing their seat.

However, we can use this argument to get to a more likely truth – simply by reversing it.

So let’s suggest that the plan to cut, drastically, spending limits on campaigns by third-party organisations, to broaden the definition of what constitutes campaigning in order to catch more people within the legislation and to regulate organisations lobbying on issues at constituency level is in fact intended to protect Conservative and Liberal Democrat seats from attacks by ordinary people like you and me.

Does this seem more likely?

The evidence does tend to stack up in favour. The legislation is already well-known as the ‘Gagging’ Bill and, as Ms Lucas explains in her article, “would effectively shut down legitimate voices seeking to raise awareness on issues of public interest, whether they are on NHS reform, housing policy, or wildlife conservation”.

Taking just those three examples, the general public remains infuriated at the way the Health and Social Care Act – otherwise known as the NHS Privatisation Act – was pushed through Parliament while mounting public and professional opposition to its provisions was ignored. We counted on our representatives in Parliament and in the press and they let us down. The BBC in particular should hang its corporate head in shame. The ‘Gagging’ Bill would ensure that we could not raise the issue again during an election period, giving the Coalition parties a chance to brush it under the carpet or dismiss it as old news.

The Bedroom Tax will remain a burning issue until after the 2015 election, whether the government likes it or not – the recent revelation that regulations governing people who were social housing tenants before 1996 exempt them from the Tax ensures it, as the government has already committed itself to re-writing those regulations and re-assessing the tenants who are currently let off the hook. Not only that, but tenants who have already lost money – or perhaps even their homes – because they didn’t know these regulations still applied will want reparation for the way they have been treated; let’s not forget that any harm done to those tenants is an illegal act. The ‘Gagging’ Bill would sideline these people and this issue.

As for wildlife conservation, you may be aware that there has been a hugely controversial cull of badgers in a couple of English counties. The pretext for this is the eradication of Tuberculosis – the badgers are said to carry the disease and pass it on to cattle, causing costly damage to herds. However, it seems not one culled badger has been tested for the disease – and at £4,100 per dead badger, is the cull not fairly costly itself?

Coming back to the Guardian article, Ms Lucas hits the nail on the head: “Big business or wealthy people like Lord Ashcroft don’t influence politics through charities, small community groups or campaigning organisations. They often already gain it through family connections or social networks, or they buy it through donations to political parties. Or, in the case of the big energy companies, they helpfully supply staff to work in government departments. The provisions of the lobbying bill will do nothing to stop any of that.

“Sadly, one of the underlying reasons for the government’s attempts to push through this bill is that it is afraid of the power of informed and organised public opinion.

“If Nick Clegg and David Cameron get their way, the legitimate voices of the third sector will be suppressed, and their power neutered.”

Isn’t that what tyrants (or in this case, wannabe tyrants) do?

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Foiled! Lords veto Coalition bid to make being ‘annoying’ an arrestable offence

140108ipna

The Conservative-led Coalition government has suffered a major setback in its plan for an oppressive law to criminalise any behaviour that may be deemed a nuisance or annoyance.

The Antisocial Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill was intended to allow police the power to arrest any group in a public place who constables believe may upset someone. It was rejected by 306 votes to 178, after peers on all sides of the House condemned the proposal as one that would eliminate carol-singing and street preaching, bell-ringing and – of course – political protests.

It seems the Lords are more interested than our would-be tyrants in the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Cabinet in the basic assumption of British law – that a person is innocent until proven guilty.

The politics.co.uk website, reporting the government’s defeat, said the new law would have introduced Injunctions to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance (IPNAs) to replace Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs).

It explained: “Whereas an Asbo can only be granted if a person or group is causing or threatening to cause ‘harassment, alarm or distress’ to someone else, an Ipna could be approved merely if a judge believes the behaviour in question is ‘capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person’.

“Opinion could have been swayed by a mistake from Lord Faulks, the Tory peer widely expected to shortly become a minister who was asked to give an example of the sort of behaviour which might be captured by the bill.

“He described a group of youths who repeatedly gathered at a specific location, smoking cannabis and playing loud music in a way representing ‘a day-by-day harassment of individuals’.

“That triggered consternation in the chamber as peers challenged him over the word ‘harassment’ – a higher bar than the ‘nuisance or annoyance’ threshold he was arguing in favour of.

“‘I find it difficult to accept a Conservative-led government is prepared to introduce this lower threshold in the bill,’ Tory backbencher Patrick Cormack said.

“‘We are sinking to a lower threshold and in the process many people may have their civil liberties taken away from them.'”

It is the judgement of the general public that this is precisely the intention.

Peers repeatedly quoted Lord Justice Sedley’s ruling in a 1997 high court case, when he declared: “Freedom to only speak inoffensively is not worth having.”

It is interesting to note that the government tried a well-used tactic – making a minor concession over the definition of ‘annoyance’ before the debate took place, in order to win the day. This has served the Coalition well in the past, particularly during the fight over the Health and Social Care Act, in which claims were made about GPs’ role in commissioning services, about the future role of the Health Secretary, and about the promotion of private health organisations over NHS providers.

But today the Lords were not fooled and dismissed the change in agreement with the claim of civil liberties group Liberty, which said – in words that may also be applied to the claims about the Health Act – that they were “a little bit of window dressing” and “nothing substantial has changed“.

A further concession, changing the proposal for an IPNA to be granted only if it is “just and convenient to do so” into one for it to be granted if it targets conduct which could be “reasonably expected to cause nuisance or annoyance” was torpedoed by Lord Dear, who rightly dismissed it as “vague and imprecise“.

That is a criticism that has also been levelled at that other instrument of repression, the Transparency of Lobbying Bill. Lord Blair, the former Metropolitan police commissioner, invited comparison between the two when he described the Antisocial Behaviour Bill in the same terms previously applied to the Lobbying Bill: “This is a piece of absolutely awful legislation.”

The defeat means the Bill will return to the House of Commons, where MPs will have to reconsider their approach to freedom of speech, under the scrutiny of a general public that is now much more aware of the threat to it than when the Bill was first passed by our allegedly democratic representatives.

With a general election only 16 months away, every MP must know that every decision they make could affect their chances in 2015.

We must judge them on their actions.

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Police State Britain: Tories would arrest you for looking at them in a funny way

Antisocial: Under the new legislation, the role of the police as the strong arm of the state will increase; law and order will have increasingly less to do with their job.

Antisocial: Under the new legislation, the role of the police as the strong arm of the state will increase; law and order will have increasingly less to do with their job.

Isn’t it nice for our police that they seem to have had a long time to prepare for the new Antisocial Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill’s passage into law – as long ago as 2010 they were warning a 12-year-old boy, who wanted to save his youth centre, that they could arrest him.

The Mirror reported at the time that Nicky Wishart was removed from class – by anti-terror police – after he used Facebook to organise a protest outside David Cameron’s constituency office. His innocent request for people to “save our youth centre” was used as evidence against him.

Nicky lives in Cameron’s Witney, Oxfordshire constituency. The paper reported him as saying, “All this is because Mr Cameron is our local MP and it’s a bit embarrassing for him.”

On a personal note, this story bears a strong resemblance to what happened when I submitted my Freedom of Information request on mortality rates for people claiming Employment and Support Allowance/Incapacity Benefit. My own request for anyone else who believes the facts should be known to follow my example was held up as an excuse to dismiss the request as “vexatious” and refuse to answer it – and it is clear that this site continues to be monitored by the Department for Work and Pensions.

Nicky’s story could be repeated many times every day if the Antisocial Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill becomes law.

As Jayne Linney has pointed out in an article I reblogged here today, it criminalises “any behaviour that may be deemed as “nuisance”, or liable to cause annoyance… it actually allows the police to arrest any group in a public place they think may upset someone!”

Peaceful protest will become a criminal offence.

The basic assumption of British law – that a person is innocent until proven guilty – will be swept away and forgotten.

Not only does this link in with the aims of the so-called Transparency of Lobbying Bill – to gag anyone who would inform the public of the ever-more harmful transgressions committed by our ever-more despotic right-wing rulers – it also provides an easy way of filling all the privately-run prisons they have been building.

Of course, some might argue that this would be no hardship, since the new private prisons are run appallingly badly. However, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has praised the failing Oakwood, mismanaged by G4S, as his favourite prison and anyone saying differently after the Lobbying Bill is passed, or campaigning to make it less easy to get drugs and more easy to get soap there after the Antisocial Behaviour bill is passed, will face the possibility of a term inside.

And consider this: The Conservative-led government has hundreds of millions of pounds for projects like Oakwood, run by their favourite firms like G4S – but if you want help getting a business going you’re pretty much on your own. They will change the law to ensure that their version of events and opinion on issues can be broadcast to the masses, while opposing views are gagged. Yet they describe all their actions as “fair”.

How would you describe their behaviour?

Get your answers in quickly; they’ll soon be illegal.

(Thanks, as ever, to the ‘Constable Savage’ sketch from Not The Nine O’clock News for help with the headline.)

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