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Case Studies

Queen’s Speech 2022: protest

Here Mark Rowe begins a series of articles on the various laws proposed in the Queen’s Speech 2022, about crime, that may affect the private security sector. First, protest.

The first job of any government is to keep its people safe. So states the background notes for the Queen’s Speech 2022. Hence the proposed Protect Duty, that has been much debated within private security ever since it was first taken up by the Home Office a couple of years ago. Yet it didn’t get a mention in the actual Queen’s Speech, and in those background notes is only described as a draft.

In contrast, other proposals are described as more definite Bills. Such as a Public Order Bill, in the words of the background notes to make ‘the streets safer by preventing a minority of protestors from using guerrilla tactics that cause misery to the hard-working public, disrupt businesses, interfere with emergency services’, and at a cost of millions.

The background notes, as that passage suggests, were slanted to make political points, just as the phrase ‘crime overall – excluding fraud and computer misuse – is down 13 per cent, in the year ending December 2021 compared to the year ending December 2019. While that sounds super, the problem is that fraud is the number one volume crime. Take away the worst of anything, and the rest won’t look so bad statistically.

While the notes do mention the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, that the Government has only just passed, the notes don’t say that that Act also sought to address protest tactics. Protest, then, is politically sensitive; but the fact that the Government is having to return to the subject suggests that there’s not an easy, or any, legal answer.

The Public Order Bill proposes ‘new criminal offences of locking-on and going equipped to lock-on, thereby criminalising the protest tactic of individuals intentionally attaching themselves to others, objects, or buildings’. A new offence will be ‘to obstruct major transport works’; the HS2 railway line from Euston to Birmingham is named. Also new will be a ‘criminal offence for interfering with key national infrastructure, which covers any behaviour which obstructs or delays the operation of key infrastructure, such as airports, railways, and printing presses’. Again, the Extinction Rebellion (XR) climate change campaign is referenced; it has targeted all those places. Also proposed, Serious Disruption Prevention Orders, for protesters causing such disruption; if they defy such an order, that too is a criminal offence.

Let’s turn to what XR have to say; while this statement is aimed at the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, it applies to anything else proposed as well. Leaving aside the swear words, XR takes the moral high ground against what they describe as ‘repressive legislation’. It’s ‘meant to scare those of us who are working for change and they are also intended to put people off joining us’.

Like XR or loathe them, it’s plain from what they say that they ‘won’t be silenced’; they will stick to their ‘nonviolent civil resistance’. Because XR and other protesters are determined, motivated and can call on expertise (‘we innovate, we know how to read the lay of the land and strategically adapt our tactics’). For example, in a sort of martial arts move, XR deliberately are using the state’s use of laws and police – as that XR statement points out, making arrests only adds ‘yet more pressure on courts that are already stretched’.

What the statement does not include is that individual protesters may quite like to be detained and fined, and even made subject to an order, if it gives them personal prestige within their movement. Protesters have long been careful to make sure where they stand legally; as XR already is with the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act. The advent of cheap video and audio recording on mass market devices such as phones means that every move of uniformed authority, whether police or private security is filmed. As routinely done by angry fans against stewards at football matches, that also serves to passive-aggressively tell anyone in uniform doing their job that they are being watched.

The trouble with laws that twist with each turn of a protest movement’s tactics is that tactics change every year or two, faster than Parliament can legislate. This year HS2 is referenced; next year protesters may target somewhere else. A striking feature of XR and in a previous generation the animal rights movement has been that anywhere or anything can be protested against because everyone is guilty, or supplies a guilty party.

To name only some of the ‘highlights‘ named by XR as their targets in April: as varied as HM Treasury, Lloyds of London, ‘oil facilities’, Shell’s HQ in Waterloo (‘infiltrated’) and ‘four of London’s busiest bridges’. That last may be most significant because it was the ‘third year anniversary of the April Rebellion in 2019’. In other words, not only are police unable to stop the centre of London being blocked, it’s becoming a tradition.

Talking of traditions, late spring is the end of the football season when some clubs – by the nature of competitive team sports – are doing so badly that fans protest. So it was at Oldham FC at their home match against Salford, when fans went onto the pitch, angry at their club’s relegation to the fifth tier of English football. By the same token, all it takes is for a club to do better on the pitch, as at West Ham, and fans – who were restless in recent years – are happy again. In between, fans may protest – physically and online – if their team is doing relatively poorly, or less well than they have been led to expect, as at Manchester United.

A similarity between football supporters, who range from the fan to the fanatic, with XR and related movements such as animal rights – and their protests at Norwich Livestock Market – is that there’s a spectrum of feeling, from sympathising donors and well-wishing fund-raisers to the extreme of full-time careerist activists, who aren’t going to stop; and if they did, they would go on to some other protest movement.

As an aside, protest methods change but there’s nothing new under the sun. A protester ties himself to a goalpost at Everton FC in March; anti-apartheid protesters in the winter of 1969-70 sat on pitches and stood on rugby posts where the South African Springboks played around the British Isles.

The questions, in the end, are beyond the pay grade of the private security person. For those in political authority, the question is whether politics is open enough to satisfy those who have a complaint to make, whether about a plan for solar panels or wind turbines in their neighbourhood, or someone worried about something as nebulous as ‘climate destruction’. For those protesting for political change, the question is when to accept that your movement isn’t being taken up, because most people won’t take a leaflet from you when they pass by; the angry London commuters pulling XR protesters off Tube roofs in October 2019 was the watershed. At what point do protesters accept that they’re in a democracy, and, as after a football match, accept defeat; or, turn terroristic?


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