The Police and Evidence Bill now wending its way through Parliament represents one of the most draconian pieces of legislation introduced by any British government in recent history. Having said that the same was said about the recent Spycops Bill and the Police and Criminal Evidence Act. ‘Most draconian’ it seems is relative.

Whilst the stand-out clauses are those which virtually make being Roma illegal and which make demonstrating more or less impossible, nobody is really asking why they need these new powers. As far as I am aware the police have not been begging to be turned into the British version of the Stasi, so what is going on?

A right to protest

Currently your right to protest is enshrined within the Human Rights Act (1998) which made the European Convention on Human Rights law in the U.K. Whilst leaving Europe means that we are no longer covered by European legislation, the HRA is not European but British legislation and therefore remains until it is amended or removed. Recent press speculation about Tories wanting to leave the ECHR should be taken with a generous dose of salt.

The legislation currently being brought before parliament is entirely inflammatory and, under current circumstances, entirely unnecessary. The powers that the Tories are seeking are pretty much what is contained in the Coronavirus Act (2020). The additional powers are being sought with the express intention of limiting our right to protest if the virus is ever suppressed to the level that something resembling normal life returns. Incidentally, the Coronavirus Act was renewed and extended until October this week. The Labour Party, predictably, supported the extension of the Emergency Powers which, if the government is to believed (stop sniggering at the back!) will not be necessary after June 21st.

The Tories have been vexed by the success of both Extinction Rebellion and Black Lives Matter. Interestingly, they seem not at all concerned by gangs of white thugs rampaging through London demanding freedom from the lockdown imposed by the Government. Priti Patel, the vacuous and vicious, Home Secretary called XR “so-called eco-crusaders turned criminals” and used her speech to Conservative Party conference in early October, to accuse Black Lives Matter of being motivated by “hooliganism and thuggery”.

The set piece violence in Bristol is, conveniently, at just the right time to allow the Government to claim it needs additional powers. Interestingly, or not, Labour’s response to the violence has been to condemn the protestors and say nothing about the revelation that the police lied about the extent of its officers injuries. What they said was “officers sustained broken bones”. What they meant was “officers inflicted broken bones”. It was an understandable mix up and certainly not the sort of thing you would expect a Labour politician to notice.

Nothing new

None of this is anything new. The Tories have always seen protests as outbreaks of lawlessness. When you control the economy and boardrooms and belong to exclusive clubs where you can vent your prejudices surrounded by those who share all your petty vindictive prejudices, you don’t need to spend time marching and chanting to get your point across. Ironically, one of the most successful British films of the last couple of years was Mike Leigh’s film Peterloo, based on the real events from 1819 where local cavalry charged democracy demonstrators killing at least 18 people. Most people watching that film had no idea the hypocrisy of the ruling class was alive and kicking in the 21st Century.

But, this vindictiveness does not explain why now? The Tories have an 80-seat majority, the weakest opposition in living memory, the country locked down by a pandemic they are mishandling, an obsequious media supporting everything they do and say and a defeated left in absolute disarray. They have a Public Order Act which allows them to prevent demos from marching on any streets they want and to search anybody they suspect may have a concealed weapon. Trade unions have been rendered all but useless by successive Trade Union Acts which make getting a strike nigh on impossible and spreading that strike, by secondary picketing, unlawful. In short, the U.K. already resembles a dystopian novel. Why now?

Perhaps some indication of what is happening can be found in something more mundane than crime and policing. In June 2020 it was reported that the British economy had contracted by 20.4% in a single quarter. This is a phenomenal number and although it was blamed on the lockdown restrictions reveals underlying issues which no amount of wishful thinking can eradicate.

The elephant in the room

According to Forbes, the U.K. economy contracted by 9.9% overall in 2020 the highest fall on record. The slump is twice that of the 2009 financial crisis and is possibly the worst in 300 years. Whilst this is laid firmly at the feet of the pandemic, it is noticeable that the USA which has probably equaled the U.K. in terms of mismanaging the pandemic fell by, a still record but relatively small compared to the U.K., 3.5%.

Is there an elephant lurking in the room? Cast your mind back to 2016 when then Chancellor George Osborne warned that Brexit would: “push our economy into a recession and lead to an increase in unemployment of around 500,000, GDP would be 3.6% smaller, average real wages would be lower, inflation higher, sterling weaker, house prices would be hit..” As much as it pains me to admit it, George was right. Of course, most people were not really worrying about the impact of Brexit whilst we were all focussed on the pandemic. The Balance recently did a summary of the impact of Brexit on the U.K. This is what it concluded:

Uncertainty over Brexit slowed the U.K.’s growth from 2.4% in 2015 to 1.0% in 2019. The U.K. government estimated that Brexit would lower the U.K.’s growth by up to 6.7% over 15 years. It assumed the current terms of free trade but restricted immigration. The British pound fell from $1.48 on the day of the referendum to $1.36 the next day. That helps exports but increases the prices of imports. It has not regained its pre-Brexit high.

You may wonder what all these boring percentages have got to do with the police attacking demonstrators? If so then it is worth reminding you that you live in a capitalist economy. It did not cease to be capitalist as a result of the pandemic. Even if Chancellor Rishi Sunak borrowed heavily from the social democratic playbook to manage the pandemic economy, effectively nationalising 80% of the economy through the furlough scheme. Despite this, it remains true that capital needs a ‘reserve army of Labour’ so a certain level of unemployment is built into the system. But, if the economy contracts to a level where it is barely moving at all, that unemployment is not seasonal but structural. It is, to put it in simple terms, a sign of a deepening crisis.

It’s the economy, stupid

Advocates of ‘modern monetary theory’ suggest that all the government has to do is print more money but it is not quite that simple. In reality, that is what the Government have done. The fact is that capitalism is predicated on a system where some people have capital (what you might call money) to invest and the vast majority have nothing to invest but their labour power. This remains the case today. In this sense nothing has changed since the days of Adam Smith and Karl Marx.

But, and this is probably the most important insight from Marx, capitalists don’t invest to produce things that are useful. Very few capitalists have any genuine passion for their products. Capitalists invest to obtain a return on their capital. Broadly speaking they want to make a profit. Investment decisions are not made on what is best for society but on what is best for individual investors. And, here’s the rub, investors get used to a certain rate of return. When that rate of return starts to fall, then they don’t invest. In theory, governments could invest in their stead. In reality printing money in order to prop up the economy has only ever been a short term solution.

The calculation for the rate of profit is very technical and I won’t bore you with it, but the idea that it is declining is monitored by the American economist Michael Roberts who has tracked the rate of profit in America from 1945-2019 and this is his conclusion:  “But over the whole post-war period up to 2019, there was a .. fall in the US rate of profit ..of 31%!” To be clear Roberts does not say, neither did Marx for that matter, that the rate of profit will fall uniformly or will end up at zero or below. There are still profits to be made but the point is that as they get harder to find so investors lose that all important factor: confidence; and that means that they hang onto their wealth rather than risk it in productive enterprises that provide those all important jobs for the rest of us.

Confidence trick

It’s important to note here that business confidence, a measure of whether businesses think they will do well in the coming months and investment confidence, a measure of whether people are prepared to invest in that confidence are not necessarily the same thing. In 2015, for example, the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales reported that “it isn’t businesses lack of funds causing the downturn in investment, rather confidence in the economic environment in which they’re operating in is the problem.”  By 2019 the same organisation was reporting that “Confidence across all sectors are in negative territory apart from IT & Communications.

What we are witnessing is an economy in a spiral of decline. Confidence is low. That feeds into a very real lack of investment. As the U.K. has committed the double self inflicted misery of Brexit and mishandling the pandemic, so what investment there is has moved to other locations. What this means is that jobs and pay rises are going to be hard to come by. What this means is that people’s anger and frustration will be expressed in the only way it can: in more and more demonstrations.

For the Tories (in both the Conservatives and Labour) demonstrations are only permissible if they can have no impact whatsoever and cause no disruption to anybody else. Whilst you would expect the Conservative Party to be hostile to ordinary people taking to the streets, it probably shouldn’t be too much of a surprise when Shadow Housing Secretary Thangam Debbonaire and Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds faced with scenes of police and protestors clashing immediately condemn the protestors. Of course, violent scenes are not desirable but from Peterloo onwards the first recourse of beleaguered governments is to strike out first and ask questions later.

For the left a real dilemma now opens up. Demonstrating during a pandemic, with all the risks that entails to our our health and safety, safe in the knowledge that if there is violence it will be blamed unilaterally on the protestors, or sit back and watch a Bill be enacted that will make every demonstration, by default, unlawful. The Bill is motivated partially by the petty vindictiveness of a party gifted an election by MPs and full-time employees of their supposed opponents and partly by their fear that the economic catastrophe they have manufactured will result in large and uncontrollable forces being unleashed onto the streets. In the same way that they used the miners strike to undermine trade unionism they are now planning to use the pandemic to ensure that grassroots movements cannot take hold in communities throughout the country. For the purposes of the coming battles Labour must be considered as on the side of the government and should be treated accordingly. Most socialists would under no circumstances vote Conservative it really is time we realised that that means no conservative vote regardless of which party they are in.

Another great site by the Dangerous Globe

Another great site by the Dangerous Globe

A free to use, comprehensive and independent search engine which is about to become your favourite. https://thereal.news

TheReal.News is a search engine that has had the spin removed. We use sites that we have studied for some time and monitored for integrity and we don’t use sites that we have seen which either spin or lie their way to the front page. Everybody is biased in some way or they aren’t breathing, but Bias and Bollocks are not the same thing.

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Dave Middleton
I'm Dave Middleton. I am a member of the Labour Party (until they catch up with me) and like to think of myself as left-wing. My Twitter account is @DavMidd Please do feel free to email me about this blog at ThinkingDoing51@gmail.com
https://davemiddletons.blogspot.com/
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