Is our government fundamentally opposed to political freedoms?

When the current coalition came to power, we were promised a “liberal” government by David Cameron as well as Nick Clegg. The Liberal Democrats and Tory “left” seemed to be offering an almost classical liberal approach entailing individual autonomy in the realms of public, private and economic life.

This philosophy is being used to defend the privatisation of public services, massive public sector cuts and the scrapping of regulations originally designed to protect workers and service users alike. Still, at least this is a government prepared back individual freedoms and roll back the authoritarianism* of the Labour years…right…?

If we look at the recent actions of police forces around the country – and the Metropolitan Police in particular – it appears that our current political climate is at least as authoritarian as it was under Labour. Most of the oppressive “anti-terror” legislation passed by the previous government is still in place in spite of Lib Dem promises, and the police are shamelessly using it to crack down upon political dissent.

Most recently, the Met issued a pamphlet that called upon individuals and businesses to “report” anyone who happens to subscribe to a particular political ideology.

“Any information relating to anarchists should be reported to your local police.”

The justification for this?

“Anarchism is a political philosophy which considers the state undesirable, unnecessary, and harmful, and instead promotes a stateless society, or anarchy.”

Well, yes…but that doesn’t mean that every anarchist is about to run around breaking the law nilly-willy. In fact, this is probably a good moment to come out as an anarchist sympathiser. I feel that anarchism – whilst imperfect – offers some great ideas about freedom, equality and consensual decision-making. I have good anarchist friends, who sometimes hang around with other anarchists and talk about anarchism. If I lived in London, would you report me? I’m pretty dangerous after all. I write about my political beliefs on the internet, and occasionally I turn up at street protests and wave a placard around.

Whilst we’re on the subject of street protests, it’s worth noting that this is the same police force that “pre-emptively” arrested individuals on suspicion of potential street theatre, allegedly enabled the sexual assault of two trans people and may have worked with Facebook to remove over 50 “extremist” pages (most of which belonged to anti-cuts groups, UK Uncut chapters and small socialist parties)…all on the day of the Royal Wedding.

You may also recall that the Met deliberately misled protesters involved in the peaceful occupation of Fortnum & Mason during mass demonstrations on 26 March, and appears to be working with the Crown Prosecution Service to crack down upon non-violent direct action. Meanwhile, children and adults alike were unnecessarily kettled for hours in the freezing cold during last year’s student protests.

These are, of course, the actions of one police force, and it can be politically difficult for MPs to criticise police practice. You do have to wonder why our supposedly “liberal” government appears to have nothing to say about the gradual erosion of personal freedoms however, particularly as a number of Labour MPs and and parliament’s one Green MP have been quite willing to condemn police malpractice.

My response to this situation would be that the government is primarily interested in defending personal liberty for the wealthy and powerful. This is why members of the Conservative party are pushing for the removal of the 50p tax rate at a time of supposed austerity. It’s why the government is holding a consultation on squatting that pre-supposes squatters are necessarily a “problem” even as thousands of homes lie empty in spite of growing homelessness. It’s also the reason why NewsCorp and News International executives were frequently wined and dined prior to the recent explosion of media interest in the phone-hacking case(s).

Of course, we can as always work to reclaim our freedoms. Write a letter to your MP, sign (or even better, launch) a petition, take part in demonstrations, join a group involved in non-violent direct action against state oppression; do whatever you think works for you.

And failing that, you could always report ANY information relating to anarchism to the police.

EDIT: the “anti-terror” pamphlets were apparently issued by the Met under the auspices of Project Griffin. Why not see if your friendly local force is also a participant? If so, you could always give them a call and ask for their position on anarchism.

 

*with Labour we are, of course, talking about the party that ended the freedom to protest within Westminster, enabled the “extraordinary rendition” and torture of suspected terrorists, backed police crackdowns on activism, attempted to institute a national DNA database and compulsory ID cards and firmly established the UK as the site of one-fifth of the world’s CCTV cameras…

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