By Alex Rutherford
On Coronation Day, the Metropolitan Police celebrated by arresting 51 peaceful protestors, using powers granted by the Public Order Act 2023 which had received the new King’s assent only four days before. The operation, nicknamed ‘Golden Orb’, showed that these draconian powers can be used to prevent even a minor nuisance to the ruling class.
Members of various groups, including Just Stop Oil, Republic, and Animal Rising, were arrested and held in police custody, some for between 14 and 16 hours. Those from Republic were arrested on the pretext that the plastic straps used to carry placards in their van could potentially be used to ‘lock on’, a new offence created by the Public Order Act, while those from Just Stop Oil were arrested for wearing t-shirts displaying the group’s logo. The activists from Animal Rising meanwhile were conducting a completely unrelated non-violence training miles away from, and hours before, the coronation itself.
A zealous police response was only to be expected from a ruling class anxious to transfer the halo from Elizabeth to Charles, who along with Camilla had scored badly in the opinion polls since the death of the sainted Dianna. Since the monarchy (rather than the dysfunctional royal family soap opera) is supposed to embody national unity, ‘above politics’, the slightest sign of dissent might shatter this illusion. The heavy handed response also reflects the fact that Rishi Sunak, the third Tory prime minister in as many years, is suffering from his own crisis of legitimacy and desperately seeking to borrow some from the decrepit institution of the monarchy.
The arbitrary nature of these arrests should be a cause for concern among all class-conscious workers. They demonstrate that the right of protest in Britain can now be suspended at will by the government, narrowing even further the protection given to civil liberties by our ‘unwritten constitution’. Even where activists are released without charge, they can be preemptively picked up again using facial recognition technology, on suspicion, and protests can effectively be blocked by this strategy. This is another milestone on the road to Britain becoming a police surveillance state.
This is only the most recent assault on democratic rights by this Tory government — the right to protest has already been limited by the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022. The most despicable provisions of this as a Bill had been stripped out by the unelected House of Lords as being anti-democratic but have now been reinstated in the Public Order Act. The Tories have also commenced a renewed attack on the right to take effective industrial action with the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill 2022-23. That is to say nothing of the Tories shameful treatment of refugees and asylum seekers.
Taken together these legal attacks damage existing illusions of ‘democratic consent’. They come at a time when the Metropolitan Police is at the centre of a whirlwind of ever mounting scandals which have come to light in the months following the murder of Sarah Everard by then-serving officer Wayne Couzens. These have involved officers committing a diverse range of criminal offences, including one of the UK’s most prolific sex offenders (David Carrick) and an officer jailed for sending messages of a ‘highly sexualised nature’ to a 13-year-old girl (Mark Collins). The multifarious offences committed by Met officers also include domestic abuse, false imprisonment, and many other instances of sexual assault against both adults and children.
Calls for resistance to these new powers have been growing, and on 17 May an online cross-movement meeting entitled ‘Not My Bill!’ was held between activists in Just Stop Oil, Animal Rising, Republic, Fossil Free London, and other activist groups, including Workers Power. With more than 300 people in attendance, the panellists spoke about their experiences of being arrested, and pledged their organisations to begin a united fightback. This was followed up by a lively demonstration in Parliament Square on 27 May.
One of the arrestees told of his experience of being treated differently by the police due to being from a racial minority background. This is unsurprising, as such powers are almost uniformly applied more harshly to racial and ethnic minorities, reflecting the generalised racism inherent within capitalist society itself. It is likely that women and LGBTQ+ folk will also be disproportionately affected.
The drive towards unity in action in the face of police repression will strike a cord with workers and activists. We call on all socialists and trade unionists to join this struggle, pledging their support and industrial muscle to the fight against these new laws. Such a struggle can and must be generalised into a movement in which militants from a wide variety of progressive campaigns stand shoulder to shoulder with the labour movement to resist the Tories’ assaults on our rights, as well as daily police brutality and violence.
Our first task is to unite against our common enemy – the British capitalist state. In the process, the working class must also forge new fighting organisations which are capable of leading the struggle to make these powers unworkable in the streets. Such organisations should be linked to a new type of working class party; a disciplined revolutionary party capable of leading the masses of workers and the oppressed to final victory over capitalism, through a socialist revolution.