SUELLA BRAVERMAN may have done one thing for the protesters she has tried so hard to silence — ensure tomorrow’s Armistice Day march for peace has been the talk of the country all week.
Organisers believe the London demo will exceed even the half a million marchers of a fortnight ago. In some cities coach companies report having run out of coaches for hire — not something anti-war activists can remember happening since the biggest march in British history, that against war in Iraq, on February 15 2003.
The Home Secretary blusters that the “public expects” the police to crack down on these marches. Actually all polls show large majorities in favour of an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, which is precisely what the march demands.
It is not the Tory government with its stated desire that Israel “win” its genocidal assault on the Palestinians, nor the Labour opposition whose leadership continues to back a war in which tanks besiege hospitals and bombers flatten schools, who speak for public opinion. It is the marchers.
Braverman is an outrider for the most authoritarian and reactionary tendency in Establishment politics.
The Times article that has caused her colleagues such embarrassment is an attempt to rally a far-right coalition against democracy. Her bid to bully the Metropolitan Police into banning a peaceful protest goes too far for most of her Cabinet colleagues, while the sheer size of Palestine solidarity mobilisations in every part of Britain has led many Tory MPs to distance themselves from her “hate march” rhetoric for fear of offending constituents.
Nonetheless we cannot dismiss her as an isolated figure. Braverman is seeking to entrench and take further a consistent government policy of restricting the space for protest and giving police sweeping powers to shut down public demonstrations of dissent and arrest the dissenters.
This is the intent of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act and the Public Order Act. This is the reason police could swoop on anti-monarchy protesters earlier in the year, arresting them before a demo even began.
And these draconian laws have the opposition’s stamp of approval: Sir Keir Starmer says if elected he will allow them to “bed in.” Naturally, since Starmer is also hostile to the right to dissent — witness the bans on moving motions on the Gaza crisis in constituency Labour parties, the latest in a long line of measures to bully and silence the Labour membership.
Make no mistake, the reason Palestine demonstrations have not been banned is because they are huge. Neither government nor opposition has a problem in principle with suppressing protest: but the consequences of attempting to prohibit marches on this scale are unpredictable and cooler Establishment heads oppose the gamble.
That makes it all the more important that we maximise the size of the marches — and keep marching until Israel is forced to stop its horrendous war.
We are marching for an end to the slaughter, not “humanitarian pauses” designed to empty stretches of Palestinian territory whose residents may never be allowed to go home.
We are marching for an end to the decades-long occupation of Palestinian land and for Israel’s allies, Britain among them, to finally force it into serious peace negotiations with an independent Palestine as their outcome.
And we are asserting our right to march, and in doing so challenging not just Braverman but the entire draconian direction of British politics in recent years.
Remembrance Sunday weekend has become a nationalist jamboree, a celebration of militarism and an opportunity for reactionary bigots to depict opponents of Britain’s aggressive foreign policy as unpatriotic or even treasonous — as we saw with the ferocious attacks aimed at Jeremy Corbyn each time this date came around when he led Labour.
Tomorrow we reclaim Armistice Day for its true, original purpose: to honour the war dead, reflect on the horror of war and work for a peaceful world.
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