Priti Patel’s plans to restrict civil liberties make it all the more important that activists keep the public on their side
A draconian police and crime bill is making its way through parliament, and on Tuesday the home secretary, Priti Patel, told her party’s conference that she planned to remove even more rights from political protesters. New offences of disrupting motorways and national infrastructure will be added to legislation that already dramatically expands police powers. Tory members applauded their illiberal home secretary loudly as she denounced the Insulate Britain protesters who have repeatedly blocked roads.
Many others, including the former prime minister Theresa May, have voiced concerns about a bill that creates a new criminal offence of trespass, lets the police dictate the timings of demonstrations and restrict protests deemed (by them) to be causing noise and “nuisance”. These are shocking restrictions, clearly designed to make impossible the kinds of actions that anti-racism and environmental protesters have undertaken in recent years, including those that followed the murder of George Floyd. Six-month sentences for new offences that were previously treated as civil matters are excessive. But Ms Patel is unafraid of the charge of authoritarianism, and knows that it plays well with her home crowd. Her speech sought to present desperate Channel-crossing migrants and road-blocking protesters as the enemies of law-abiding Britons, along with the paedophiles and murderers whose sentences her bill will also increase.