01/02/2022 by socialistfight
by Gerry Downing
Boris Johnson’s premiership hangs by a thread; only a miracle or a war can save him. The National Insurance hike will go ahead in April, forcing the poorest to pay most for the NHS; no question of a more progressive tax on the rich, a wealth tax or even a one-off windfall tax on billionaires. Last May we were told that there were 171 billionaires in the UK, 24 more than a year previous. The world’s ten richest men increased their wealth from $700 billion to $1.5 trillion in the first two years of the pandemic.
War over the Ukraine could send the price of gas skyrocketing, adding to the inflationary surge in Britain and globally. No serious politician doubts that class struggle and riots are coming from a working class and oppressed driven to the wall by a still-expanding gig economy, food banks, homelessness and hunger. Whoever replaces Johnson may be more right wing and will be more effective in carrying out the assaults on civil liberties, on immigrants, and on social care.
These assaults can only prevail if and workers’ rights are further diminished, and these rights are still lodged in their mass organisations, the trade unions, and the Labour party.
Brexit nationalism has proved a fool’s illusion and so we have this waft of repressive bills, going through the House of Commons (HoC) or passed, threatening to prepare for what will be a version of a police state. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is the worst but just look at the rest!
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill
So, this Bill lost 14 divisions in the House of Lords against successive provisions inserted by Priti Patel in the HoC at a late stage, but the essential reactionary character of the Bill remains. She obviously inserted these ultra-reactionary amendments to make the essence seem better. Gone are the ones that punish protesters who “lock on” to things getting a prison sentence of up to 51 weeks. Police will not be allowed to stop and search randomly, and the ability to introduce “serious disruption prevention orders”. It will not be an automatic offence to disrupt the operation of key national infrastructure, like airports and newspaper printers.
But it still gives the power to police to ban protests on the flimsiest of excuses as do powers to arrest and impose sentences of a year for normal practices on demonstrations. The attacks on the Roma, Gipsy and Irish Traveller communities is still there. The Bill will still criminalise ‘unauthorised encampments’ and established trespass as a criminal offence which will pose significant risks for these communities’ way of life. The police can seize their home whenever they want if the are parked in the wrong place. Local authorities have abolished more and more authorised camping sites so travellers often have no option but to park where they can.
Lord Peter Hain, the former Labour minister and anti-Apartheid campaigner, described the bill as, “the biggest threat to the right to dissent and the right to protest in my lifetime …it would have throttled the suffragettes fight for votes for women and prevented other major protests such as anti-fascist demonstrators at the Battle of Cable Street, and thwarted the anti-apartheid protests of the late 1960s and 70s”. Human rights group Liberty called the amendments a “power grab” by the government, and the bill an “attack on the rights of everyone who has a cause they believe in”.
Priti Patel’s Nationality and Borders Bill
Priti Patel’s Nationality and Borders Bill of July 2021 proposes to introduce “offshore” asylum hubs for applying refugee and migrant asylum claims, potentially in another European or an African country. It criminalizes asylum seekers, who come on “unsanctioned” routes and can remove British citizenship from dual nationals without notice, a shocking power far beyond the Windrush scandal. The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants labelled the proposals as “inhumane and farcical”. An amendment to the Bill was introduced which would allow people to be deprived of British citizenship without being given notice. At the time the Home Office stated its position on citizenship: “British citizenship is a privilege, not a right”.
The Bill also deals with British Overseas Territories citizenship, registration of stateless citizens, and the making of claims of asylum in “designated places”. The two-tier asylum system that the government plans to introduce means that those arriving by “irregular means” such as boats will be granted fewer rights, the barristers said, which would be inconsistent with the refugee convention and the ECHR. “The basis for the attack on irregular arrival is that refugees should use safe legal routes. But there are no such safe legal routes. There is no such thing as a refugee visa,” they said.
But the worst indictment of the Bill is the 27 who drowned in the channel on November 24; 17 men, seven women – one of whom was pregnant – and three children.
The Elections Bill 2021-22
The Elections Bill 2021 was introduced to the HoC in July 2021. It proposes to introduce voter photo ID for voting in the United Kingdom. The government gets new powers over the independent elections’ regulator. It also tightens spending limits on “third parties”. Helen Pearse, in the Guardian, October 26, says the elections bill is a brazen attack on our trade unions it must be stopped:
“Why are they introducing this big change (photo ID)? Since 2014, there have been just three convictions and nine cautions issued after allegations of voter fraud. On the other hand, according to the Cabinet Office, two million voters currently lack the ID they’d need to vote. This isn’t about making our democracy fairer: there isn’t a problem here that needs to be fixed. This is Trump-style voter suppression tactics, which will reduce turnout and make our democracy less representative.
… “Trade unions’ right to campaign independently is under threat. The election bill includes new changes to restrict campaigning by ‘third parties’ like trade unions. The constitutional link between affiliated unions and the Labour Party, and the right of unions to an independent voice is under threat – again.”
Tory tax on trade unions
On 25/1/22 the Tories taxed unions 2.5 per cent of total union income to pay the Certification Officer (CO) for dealing with complaints against them. The law was passed almost without notice. It will generate some £30 but the CO’s office cost only £700,000 last year. Such a tax does not apply to any other voluntary organisation. MPs are not taxed to pay for the standards’ watchdog, broadcasters don’t pay tax for Ofcom, data processors don’t pay tax for information commissioners.
The Certification Officer now has the power to fine trade unions if he decides they have breached the rules. This is an open invitation for every employer and anti-trade union rightist to put in as many complaints as possible to bankrupt trade unions.
Amnesty for the Armed Forces
Boris Johnson’s Tories want to give an amnesty to all soldiers accused of crimes when they served in the north of Ireland. So illegal killings by state forces as well as killings by paramilitary groups would be amnestied. All political parties in the whole island of Ireland have rejected this; the nationalists because they want to prosecute state forces who murdered and the loyalists because they want to prosecute the IRA and other nationalists. Obviously, those awaiting inquests let alone prosecutions for 50 years are outraged. And no one will be prosecuted for mass slayings like Ballymurphy and Bloody Sunday. ▲