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Editorial: The Queen's Speech plans a wide-ranging attack on democratic rights

THE 2022 Queen’s Speech has one overarching theme: to increase the power of the British state over citizens, particularly when it comes to restricting the democratic rights to protest and political engagement.

The Met Office might announce that the chance of the world warming by over 1.5°C from pre-industrial averages in the next five years has increased to 50-50. But the government is more interested in increasing jail terms for climate protesters than in tackling increasing temperatures.

The Spycops Inquiry might be hearing details of appalling abuses of police power through deceiving women into sexual relationships and stealing the identities of dead children. But the government is determined to keep increasing police powers, including by an extension of stop-and-search powers despite the overwhelming evidence that these are deployed in a racist way.

The Conservatives are moving forward with long-trailed plans to scrap the Human Rights Act and further undermine our international obligations to protect refugees.

They plan a a ban on boycotts that “undermine community cohesion” — a sinister bid to outlaw the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement that has built up significant solidarity with Palestine, and to prevent it playing a similar role in supporting Palestinian liberation as the boycott of apartheid South Africa did in the 1980s.

This raft of authoritarian legislation is the corollary to the refusal to take action on the cost of living, even as millions face poverty as a result of soaring food and energy prices.

Ministers hide behind the claim that the solution here is economic growth: but their proposals for encouraging that, such as further deregulation in our out-of-control finance sector, are not likely to address the squeeze on incomes. 

Not only is there still no employment rights Bill, but the government is clearly gearing up for a major assault on one of the remaining strongholds of organised labour: plans to “expand” the role of the private sector in our already privatised rail system are accompanied by threats of “efficiencies and economies of scale across the rail sector.” 

As rail unions have warned, this amounts to a scheme to seriously downgrade Britain’s rail capacity at a huge cost in jobs at a time when everything should be done to encourage rail travel, whose carbon footprint is minimal compared to road or air alternatives.

This is a multi-faceted attack on working-class people, and it is essential that the left does not artificially separate “bread-and-butter” issues around the cost of living from the wide-ranging assault on our democratic rights.

The draconian rules targeting protest rights will be deployed against workers on picket lines and at trade union demos.

Civil liberties and the scope for peaceful direct action, including forms of collective action like building effective boycotts, are being restricted precisely because the government expects unrest to grow over the falling standard of living and its utterly irresponsible approach to the climate crisis.

Labour is not in a position to lead resistance to this agenda. 

Having jettisoned its popular advocacy of public ownership of transport, energy and water and having refused to back workers demanding proper pay rises, it is left with little to say to people who are suffering. 

This was reflected in its local elections performance, in which advances in London were not matched in the “red wall” areas needed for a national fightback.

It is an unconvincing champion of civil liberties too, having itself called for harsher action against climate protesters. It will no doubt line up behind a ban on BDS to demonstrate its pro-Israel credentials and smear all practical action in solidarity with occupied Palestine as anti-semitic.

Westminster, as currently constituted, is not a bastion of democracy but a real threat to our democratic rights.

Our fight to defend and extend them must march in step with the battles over pay and prices.

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