Amid Christmas Party furore, Boris Johnson's government has been pressing ahead with its dangerously illiberal agenda – Talat Yaqoob
Like a terrible advent calendar every day of December seems to have unveiled another “party that was not a party”.
It was only cheese and wine, it was only a small leaving do, the Prime Minister was only present to say a few remarks. All of this is of course, is nonsense.
No spin and no political manoeuvring will make it go away, because it cuts the public deeply; they can clearly see the unfairness in relation to their own lives and sacrifices. This time last year, people were unable to visit their loved ones for the last time in hospital, unpaid carers had no respite, those at high risk said Merry Christmas through the window. We followed the rules, and it feels like those who made the rules ignored them, whilst laughing away any responsibility.
Whilst these scandals are revealed on the front pages, in the background is more spin, mistruths and distortions that are equally worthy of top billing. The problem is that there are so many, within the same week, that there is not enough space on the front pages. That’s the mess we are in.
We are in a moment where the lies about Christmas parties resonate with the public. The other distortions or scandals are lost in policy speak, are specific to an already oppressed section of society and therefore are too easily ignored by the majority. That is, until their effects come into play, months after the legislation is passed through Westminster.
These things are too often hidden away in the opaqueness of the policymaking machine, which is why it is so easy to do damage without consequences. It is exactly this that the UK government is taking advantage of – and we must, must pay attention and be as angry about this as we are about Downing Street’s secret Santa parties. We owe it to each other; we owe it to the communities that are always the first to be harmed.
Let’s talk through the last two weeks.
Last week the Nationality and Borders Bill passed its third reading in the House of Commons. An already hugely complex and controversial bill came with almost 100 pages of amendments ahead of these debates for members to consider. There simply was not enough time given for the scrutiny required for such a deeply damaging bill.
Many organisations including Amnesty and the Refugee Council pushed back as hard as they could on the manipulative spin around this bill from the Home Office.
The UK government stated that it would protect asylum seekers from people smugglers, but it is likely to do the opposite because there are no safe routes for seeking asylum.
The UK government stated that the bill would save lives, again it is likely to do the opposite, all of this when we have just seen 27 deaths on our doorstep in the Channel.
In amongst the already considerable horrors of this bill, a provision was slipped in making it easier for the Home Office to strip British people of their citizenship, and of course this is disproportionately an attack on Black and Asian communities, including those who were born in the UK. They can do this without notice and with limited access to appeal based on what they perceive as being in the “public interest”.
Over the last fortnight the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill has been at reporting stage in the House of Lords. But that has not stopped the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, from quietly adding in 15 pages of amendments which include further powers to shut down our right to protest and abolish the legal requirement for police to have “sufficient grounds for suspicion” before they stop and search someone.
The current conditions already create a racist response in policing where Black people are seven times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people. The amendments also include measures to effectively criminalise Gypsy and Traveller communities. Yes, justice is devolved in Scotland and many of these provisions do not apply here, but that does not mean they are not hugely damaging and worthy of our attention, especially if you’re planning to join a protest in England any time soon.
Earlier this week, UK Justice Secretary Dominic Raab announced his plans to overhaul the Human Rights Act to counter “wokery and political correctness” because to the UK government the most troubling development across the nation is the increasing interest in the pursuit of social justice.
It is fuelled by political positioning and populism, not in any interests of the public or a fairer society. As a consequence of this overhaul, it is very likely that the pursuit of justice will become significantly harder, as will avenues to hold authorities, especially the government, to account.
Throughout all of this, of course, the devolved administrations and the consequences of these actions on them have been ignored. This is particularly the case on human rights.
Whilst the Scottish government holds powers to legislate in devolved matters, it must do so whilst upholding the Human Rights Act, which is what helps us to push the Scottish government to take a human rights-based approach to policy making. if this is abolished, what does that mean for the protection of civil and political rights in Scotland?
And that’s just the last ten days.
Rule-breaking Christmas parties and damaging bills passing through Westminster are linked. Not just because so many of us are angry about them, but because they display a disdain towards the public, they demonstrate misuse of power and the dismissal of the real impact of a government’s behaviour and decisions on the public’s health, well-being and human rights.
We are right to be angry and we have to channel that anger into collective pressure for genuine accountability and to defeat the many dangerous policies being pursued. Quite frankly, our democracy and our human rights depend on it.
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