The authoritarian drift of the Conservative government

Now that the dust has settled a little, with the departure of Suella Braverman, we take a look at the authoritarian drift of the Conservative government. The attempt to ban the Palestine solidarity demonstration on November 11th, by using invective around ‘hate marches’, alleged antisemitism, and the possibility of civil disorder, should be seen in an international context.

In early October, the Minister of the Interior Gerald Darmanin asking the prefects in France to ban all pro-Palestinian demonstrations. He stated,  “pro-Palestinian protests, because they are likely to generate disturbances to public order, must be banned.” A demonstration was organised on October 19th. The previous day, the Conseil d’Etat France’s highest administrative court, after an appeal filed by the Comité Action Palestine (Palestine Action Committee), ruled that pro-Palestinian demonstrations could not be banned by a blanket order from Darmanin and should be subject to the decision of prefects on a case-by-case basis. Earlier police had used tear gas and water cannon to disperse two Palestine solidarity demonstrations on October 12th. A large demonstration of 30,000 took place in Paris on October 18th, echoed by demonstrations all over France. The Macron regime was forced to back down and allow protests, culminating in massive demonstrations over the weekend of November 11-12th, with many smaller demonstrations  in towns and villages throughout France. The  Macron regime was forced to back down. Now, Macron has moved from outright support for Israel to calls for a ceasefire. This is because of the precarious position the Macron regime finds itself in. The mass refusal to recognise the ban would have meant large scale  civil disorder, something that Macron does not need.

There were similar bans on Palestine solidarity demonstrations in Austria and Germany. In Rome, Police attacked a pro-Palestine demo using batons. All of this is in line with alliance these countries- the UK, France, Germany, Austria, and Italy- have with Israel and a desire to suppress any opposition to this alliance. The façade of bourgeois democracy- free speech and freedom of assembly-is beginning to be wheeled offstage as a series of crises come together to shake the foundations of capitalism.

Here  in the UK, this can be seen with the attacks on Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil activists, with pre-emptive raids and arrests and draconian sentencing.

It can be seen in the new laws round strikes in the public sector, with requirements for ambulance workers and border security staff to provide a minimum level of service during industrial action. This will allow employers to issue work notices to staff to come into work to maintain minimum service levels. Trade unions have been warned they face fines of up to one million pounds if they fail to encourage their members to comply with those orders. This will give union bureaucrats an additional excuse to sabotage any grassroots industrial action.

Laws and new powers to supposedly counter ‘extremism’ like the 2022 Police Act and the 2023 Public Order Act, as well as extensive abuses of the Prevent programme, are increasingly being used to smother dissent and protest. The levelling up department run by Michael Gove had also applied a new definition of extremism, which extends far beyond Islamist jihadism: “Extremism is the promotion or advancement of any ideology which aims to overturn or undermine the UK’s system of parliamentary democracy, its institutions and values.” This would affect a large number of organisations and groups if fully applied, including the Anarchist Communist Group and other anarchist organisations.

Amid the furore on November 11th in London over disturbances by the far right, it has been overlooked by many that the Metropolitan Police imposed exclusion zones on Whitehall, Horse Guards Parade, the Westminster Abbey Field of Remembrance and other areas, banning those on the Palestine solidarity march from these locations. The Met warned that anyone believed to be part of or associated with the pro-Palestinian demonstration trying to assemble in the exclusion zones near the Whitehall area would be arrested. In addition, the Met imposed a conclusion to the march and speeches at 5pm, with additional exclusion zones in Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus.

The Met also had additional powers to search people for weapons.

The Palestine solidarity demonstrations on October 21st and November 11th saw huge turnouts. These included large numbers of young people.

We are now entering a period of war between different imperialist blocs, as seen with both Ukraine and Israel-Palestine, the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Turkey’s bombing of the Kurds, US bombing raids against Iranian bases in Syria, and increasing US sabre rattling against China. This is coupled with a worsening climate crisis and an increasing attack on living standards in many countries.

The large numbers turning out worldwide to express solidarity with the Palestinian masses, demonstrates widespread rejection of the drive to war, despite the criticisms that could be offered about some elements of the marches. It also demonstrates here in the UK a widespread rejection of the Tory government’s increasing authoritarianism and shift to the radical right.