Protestors assemble in Parliament Square to demonstrate against Government's Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)

The Police Bill isn’t the threat to democracy the Left say it is

If you’re looking for the enemies of free speech, you’re looking the wrong way, argues Robert Poll

I know it’s tempting to revert to fighting the old, safe battles from when the world was simpler. But the world, and the war, has moved on.

The woke extremists have pulled off a coup beyond their wildest dreams. By making out that free speech is under attack from the Police Bill, they have managed not only to neuter the opposition, but to actually recruit them.

Be under no illusions: by fighting for unrestricted protest on the one hand, and to cancel your opinions on the other, this is not a fight for their rights. It’s a fight against yours.

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

The go-to position for libertarians is the “moral high-ground” argument, encapsulated by this maxim from Voltaire’s biographer, Evelyn Beatrice Hall. It is, indeed, one of the most noble, eloquently expressed sentiments in history.

From an early age, I observed this defining difference in character between those on the left and those on the right. People on the right disagree with those on the left. They think they’re wrong. People on the left hate those on the right. They think they’re evil.

Adopting the moral high ground is inherent to our position

So yes, adopting the moral high ground is inherent to our position. But if people are actively trying to destroy our way of life and undermine our liberties (and, what’s more, winning), then must we not also protect what we cherish? In such an instance, joining them equates to active collusion in our own destruction. It’s not just taking the moral high ground; it’s overshooting it and tumbling down the other side.

Now, I would never advocate banning peaceful protest (as has been the case for this last year, with near unquestioned acquiescence), but realities have moved on and the art of peaceful protest has been lost. When was the last protest you saw that didn’t end in trouble? The right to protest has to be balanced against the rights of others to live and work freely, without disruption and without creating situations where our heritage ends up getting trashed.

“But we already have laws, they just need enforcing.”

While I have some sympathy for this position, the reality is that tactics have evolved and the police’s response hasn’t. In October 2019, the police broke up a “highly disruptive” week-long Extinction Rebellion protest using the Public Order Act 1986. The following month, the High Court ruled that was unlawful. The law was found wanting. This fixes that.

As a fully functioning democracy, we have manifold checks and balances

I’ve read the bill and I just don’t recognise the narrative that’s been so successfully pushed by left wing activists. It clearly targets only “highly disruptive” protests. And while I understand the nervousness around defining that, there is no realistic likelihood of a genuinely peaceful protest being stopped. As a fully functioning democracy, we have manifold checks and balances. The target here is the kind of genuinely disruptive event that we’ve all spent the last few years complaining about. Now they are finally doing something about it and that is protecting our liberties, not eroding them. We must not be distracted by invented threats into taking our eyes off the real ones. Else soon we’ll find we still have the right to protest, but not the right to say what we’re protesting about.

And if all this hasn’t convinced you, I’ll just say this. If you want to know whether you’re on the right side, look at the people around you. And if David Lammy is there, run like hell.

Robert Poll is the founder of the Save Our Statues Twitter campaign.

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