“For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens: as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone” – David Cameron, May 13th 2015
Let’s just let that one sink in…
At the first meeting of the new National Security Council (NSC), plans for a Counter-Extremism Bill were discussed to ‘put British values at the heart of the new government’s approach to tackling extremism’, and ‘prioritise new legislation to make it much harder for people to promote dangerous extremist views in our communities.’
The Prime Minister said to the NSC:
“For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens: as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone. It’s often meant we have stood neutral between different values. And that’s helped foster a narrative of extremism and grievance.
This government will conclusively turn the page on this failed approach. As the party of one nation, we will govern as one nation, and bring our country together. That means actively promoting certain values.
Freedom of speech. Freedom of worship. Democracy. The rule of law. Equal rights regardless of race, gender or sexuality.
We must say to our citizens: this is what defines us as a society. To belong here is to believe in these things. And it means confronting head-on the poisonous Islamist extremist ideology. Whether they are violent in their means or not, we must make it impossible for the extremists to succeed.”
You can read what the Home Secretary Theresa May had to add and the full Government press release on the bill here.
Reading it sends shivers down my spine.
I’m extremely annoyed that we’re going to spend the next five years under a Conservative Government.
I’m extremely concerned that things in the UK are going to get a lot harder for a LOT more people.
I’m also extremely frightened by the Government’s proposal for new anti-extremism laws.
We should not keep quiet about this. I’m really angry about it, and I’m going to talk to people about it on social media, and take to the streets to voice my discontent. However I’m not planning to hurt anyone or damage anything.
Does this still mean we’re going to be breaking the law?
A right-wing party with an extremely conservative ideology and support of 24% of the country decides ‘British values’
Now, let me remind you that the Conservative party only received 37% of the vote with a turnout of 60%. That means they represent 24% of people eligible to vote. With this, less than a quarter of the public’s support, they claim legitimacy as the party of “one nation”. From this pedestal Cameron’s cabinet have outlined our “one nation’s” values; which they claim are: Freedom of speech. Freedom of worship. Democracy. The rule of law. Equal rights regardless of race, gender or sexuality.
But let’s take a closer look at some of those values shall we…
Freedom of speech – the government wants to establish a law that will have the power to ‘ban extremist organisations who seek to undermine democracy’, take action against ‘channels which broadcast extremist content’ and clamp down on people using social media to air their views.
Democracy – the government wants to ban people from publicly challenging democracy or liberal values, which is, in itself undemocratic and illiberal.
The rule of law - “For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens: as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone” – David Cameron, May 13th 2015.
Equal rights regardless of race, gender or sexuality - seven of the 27 cabinet ministers voted against gay marriage, including our new Minister for Equality Caroline Dineage and Education Secretary Nicky Morgan.
I could go on…
And what about some of the other Conservative ‘values’?
Animal welfare – the Government will give Parliament the opportunity to repeal the Hunting Act on a free vote. So that rich people (come on, let’s be honest) can continue to cruelly hunt foxes for pleasure.
Compassion – new Disabilities Minister Justin Tomlinson voted against protecting benefits for disabled children and cancer patients. He also voted for the bedroom tax.
Restorative justice – new Minister Priti Patel said she would support the reintroduction of capital punishment. Justice Secretary Michael Gove agrees that Britain was ‘wrong to abolish hanging’ in the 1960s.
Equality – aside from a cabinet where a Minister for Equality voted against gay marriage. These laws will almost certainly disproportionately target people of colour and contribute to the already huge problems of racism and Islamaphobia in this country. It’s also worth noting that over half of Cameron’s new cabinet have been educated at an independent school at some point in their life. Under a Conservative/Lib Dem coalition, the richest 1% doubled their wealth and now the Conservatives are planning another £12bn of cuts to the welfare budget.
Humanity – the Government will repeal the 1998 Human Rights Act – which gives us all the right: to life; not to be tortured; not to be a slave; to a fair trial; not to be punished if you haven’t broken the law; to private family life; to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; to freedom of expression; to marry and start a family; to peaceful enjoyment of possessions; to education; to free elections; to not be given the death penalty. They will replace it with a British Bill of Rights, where ‘there will be a threshold below which Convention rights will not be engaged’.
So anyone who challenges these ‘values’ is considered an ‘extremist’ huh?
You can bet your bottom dollar that these laws are going to be used as a way to crack down on protesters, rioters and an unhappy, dissenting public; as well as the most vulnerable in society.
This is all a big concern for me: a white, straight, middle-class woman, but when I posted about this on Facebook, my friend commented that it’s also important to point out the racialised aspect of the proposals. A report published by The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) in February this year found serious deprivation for Muslims in Britain with a higher rate of unemployment that the average and almost half living in the bottom 10% of deprived local authority districts. She said: “For a community already marginalised by the state the threat of criminalising their dissent and the invasion of their cultural and religious spaces is hugely disturbing” (the government will investigate Sharia councils and are looking to shut down mosques if they believe people are ‘influencing’ each other there). She also highlighted that these measures will further compound the intense targeting and scrutiny of the Muslim community under Schedule 7, “where young men in particular have been arrested and charged for what effectively amounts to holding opinions on things the government doesn’t like.”
In a statement of the Conservative party’s aims in 2006, under values it reads: “The more we trust people, the stronger they and society become.” But it’s clear that the ‘trust’ is gone, that extreme Conservativism is what’s valued, and anyone who disagrees needs to be shut down.
Under laisez faire governance you can’t engineer people’s values. Trying to police thought, values and beliefs is not only self-contradictory, it will only create fear and division and anger and mistrust. Life will resemble the film ‘Minority Report’ – where we walk around under a cloud of suspicion, arrested for crimes we didn’t commit, and actions we didn’t ever intend to take.
Values are a core part of who we are as people and should grow organically.
In summary, my concerns about these laws are many: They are vague – and therefore almost unchallengeable. They will limit rights to speech free speech and deprive individuals of their liberties. There is already a huge arsenal of laws in place to tackle ‘threats to society’. They are racist. They are divisive. A hugely unpopular Conservative Government elected by 24% of the country is deciding ‘British Values’. And, most frightening of all: they go beyond the law; ‘below which Convention rights will not be engaged’, a state of exception that allows for the ‘physical elimination not only of political adversaries but of entire categories of citizens who for some reason cannot be integrated into the political system’ (see Agamben)
So, what can we do about this?
To counter these proposals we need to remember the principles of true democracy: ‘a system of government by the whole population’ – where the people rule. We’ve got to keep that in mind. People have the power. Not a Conservative government elected by 24% of the country. Not big businesses. Not money. Us. All of us. And we’ve got to stick together.
There are 650 people sitting in the House of Commons and about 790 (unelected!) in the House of Lords, of varying degrees of humanity. All with their own values and agendas and ideas and histories and educations and experiences. All with their own problems and hang-ups and desires. Flawed human beings. And it’s important to remember that they have no right to tell us what to think or feel or value.
It’s time to stand up for what you believe in and encourage others to do the same. Stick together. Organise. Challenge. Protest. Resist. Have Faith. Take Courage. And most importantly, when these laws are passed, and people and groups are shut down and victimized for challenging these ‘values’ – stand with them in solidarity.