Banning protests will turn the UK into “Putin’s Russia”, a former home secretary has said.
David Blunkett, who held the position under Tony Blair said that the government’s proposed policing bill would lead to “more ugly conflicts between the public and the police.”
Writing in the Guardian he said the bill would “leave a bad taste in the mouths of British people who value tolerance, democracy and open debate”.
“Banning protest would make us more like Putin’s Russia than the UK. It would be a lasting and toxic legacy for Boris Johnson,” he added.
“By giving police forces sweeping discretion about how they deal with protesters, this law would drive a wedge between them and the public.
“Tolerating dissent and protest is a British value, and it’s central to our democracy. It’s ironic that this bill would mean far harsher treatment for protesters in Parliament Square, where statues commemorate Mandela and Gandhi, leaders of historic disruptive, noisy and annoying protest movements now taught in British schools.”
His comments came as more ‘kill the bill’ protests were planned over the weekend, with protesters warned by police that they may be in reach of Covid-19 restrictions.
It follows criticism of policing in the UK and the use of force at events, such as the vigil for Sarah Everard. The incident led to pressure on the Metropolitan Police commissioner, Cressida Dick, to resign.
Mr Blunkett said that the criticism of her “gives us an inkling of the controversies that could blaze across the country if these sweeping powers are pushed on to the police”.
The former home secretary added that despite accusations that it would have implications for all political persuasions.
“Protest might be inconvenient for politicians, but it acts as a pressure valve, allowing citizens to express their views and vent frustrations that could otherwise boil over,” he said.
“It’s easy to stereotype protesters as leftwing. But this bill would mean alienating others across the centre and right wing of the electorate whom the government won’t want – or can’t afford – to lose: taxi drivers angry about Uber, say, or ardent Brexit supporters.”