We must break the power of the rich. It’s time to #StopTheRot.
The #StopTheRot campaign kicked off on Sunday. Organised by Open Britain and calling for an end to the rotten politics of the UK, backing a petition to rewrite the ministerial code so that the prime minister can be held accountable under it, the mood was upbeat and determined, despite the rain and a cramped venue opposite Downing Street.
That did make sure however that when the handy Noise-o-meter went off the scales – with cheers for calls to change and boos for Boris Johnson and his cronies – the noise would have powered down through the heart of government. Its presence of course reflected the now in place – and deeply dangerous – Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, which criminalises making noise at protests, guaranteeing the cry to “make some noise!” will be ringing around our streets regularly.
The slogan raises the question, what are the top line things we need to do to “stop the rot” in our body politic. In preparing the closing speech of the rally, I came up with a list of three things.
First is that the rule of law must be applied to all – and available to all. It must be applied to the Home Office, in preventing its frequently illegal application of the hostile environment, to the corruption-ridden City of London, to the Tories and their mates running driven grouse shooting moors that persecute raptors. And yes, of course to government ministers and MPs.
And it must be applied to the law of the land – whether it comes to the deeply discriminatory and dangerous Part 4 of the Police Act, that deliberately and explicitly targets Gypsy and Traveller people, or the Nationality and Borders Act, which the UN refugee agency has clearly identified is in breach of international law and which has been seen as a threat to the whole international asylum system.
The second urgent need is for justice. Basic justice demands we should be ensuring the last food bank closes due to lack of demand – with benefits (ideally a universal basic income) meeting people’s needs, funded by the polluters and the profiteers (a windfall tax on dirty profits would be a good start). And a step towards the climate justice – together with the essential climate action that the government is now failing to deliver.
The third need – and one essential for delivering all of the many others – is democracy. That the unelected House of Lords, with its continuing archaic hereditary component, is more representative of the country (with non-party crossbench peers having the balance of power) than the Commons is a powerful demonstration of just how broken out constitutional arrangements are. Boris Johnson got 100% of the power in the Commons with 44% of the vote in 2019 – and has shown he’ll be in no way restrained by the assumption of being a ‘good chap‘ that underpins our current unwritten arrangements.
As speaker after speaker said, the UK is heading fast in the opposite direction, of autocracy – from voter suppression and government control of the Electoral Commission in the Elections Act, to plans to restore even more repressive anti-protest measures that the House of Lords threw out of the Police Act and the Orwellian “Free Speech Bill”, designed to achieve just the opposite.
I finished with a quote from a suffragette anthem, March of the Women: “Should, shout, up with your song… Laugh in hope for sure is the end.” The way we are now is profoundly unstable, economically, socially, environmentally, politically, educationally.
Change is certain – it is up to us to make that change in the right direction – towards the system change. Failure to deliver that explains why we still need to be on the streets, raising our voices in protest, as the suffragettes were a century ago. The power of the City, the power of the wealthy, the power of the few has not been broken, but it now must be, and can be.
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