So the UK government’s done it.
They’ve passed the Policing Bill, the Nationality Bill and Voter ID. In a single night they have made it harder to protest, harder to vote, made it easier to strip their own citizens of citizenship on a ministerial whim and borderline impossible to seek asylum – a legal human right. They have turned Mayoral and PCC elections into first past the post – a demonstrably less fair way of electing anyone – and have also removed the independence of the Electoral Commission, a body which should a-politically monitor the fairness of our elections, and which now will be a political tool to be wielded by whoever is in power.
In other words, fundamental institutions of democracy and humans rights last night were removed from the UK.
Maybe you’re not too fussed right now. Maybe you think that the Conservative Party surely won’t use the power to disenfranchise millions at the electoral booth, or to use its power to affect our electoral process at the no-longer independent Commission. Maybe you’re right. Maybe they won’t. (Although thus far, on the evidence of endless corruption, criminal charges and scandal, I wouldn’t hold your breath.) But the point about institutions isn’t about today, or even tomorrow. It’s about five years, ten years, twenty years time. A time when someone else might come along – from the left or the right – and realise that the safeguards that protect democracy have been removed, and exploit that. Our democracy is less safe now than it was yesterday, and all for the power-grab of a party that is morally and ethically bankrupt.
As for refugees, we are failing both our committments to international law, and a pretty fundamental test of human decency. If Ukraine has taught us anything, it’s that the line between living peacefully and having your world turned upside down is incredibly thin. The act of empathy is trying to imagine what it would be like for us – what it might be like to be bombed by our own government, arrested and tortured for daring to speak out, imprisoned for daring to love someone of the same sex, beaten for speaking truth to power, punished for simply existing. I am the granddaughter of a Jewish refugee whose family were murdered for being Jewish. As a 13 year old child the UK took her in on the Kindertransport; it wouldn’t take her parents, and they died in the camps, leaving an orphaned child alone in a strange country at war. I try to imagine now how it would have been if my grandmother had been sent to a country on the other side of the earth – a country that the UK government has accussed of human rights violations, of torture and abuse – for the crime of trying to outrun the Holocaust.
Even if our basic human empathy fails us, then whatever happened to having the minimal imagination to wonder: what if this happened to me? Would you not hope, and pray, that when your home was destroyed, when your family were arrested for going to a protest, when your vote was denied and everything you fought for and believed taken away – would you not hope that somewhere, there’d be a place where you could live peacefully, as part of a community? One of the great lies of the Conservative government – one of the many – is that there’s “no room”. And yet, if you compare the UK to other countries around the world – we have pledged to take c.17,000 refugees from Ukraine, through an extraordinarily difficult, dehumanising process that seems designed to not work. Whereas Poland have opened their doors to millions, the Czech Republic to hundreds of thousands, Moldova, a tiny, impoverished country, nearly a hundred thousand. Turkey hosts 3.7 million Syrian refugees. In Lebanon, 1 in 4 people are Syrian refugees. This mad idea that the UK is somehow a valliant little magnet for refugees, and that’s somehow a bad thing – it is a lie, all the way down. And for that lie we are willing to break all international laws, and all laws of human decency.
Meanwhile, in the UK, the government is now pushing ahead with the privatisation of Channel 4. A state-owned channel that in recent years has been praised for its independent journalism, which is self-funding and takes not a penny of taxpayer money and is doing absolutely fine… and they want to sell it off to yet another oligarch. Free and fair elections have just been dented; the right to protest has just taken a real battering; and now they’re coming for the freedom of the press in a landscape where nearly all UK media is owned by a wealthy, politically active oligarch.
Wherever you are on the political spectrum, whatever you believe – these are institutions that serve the nation which are being destroyed. Free elections. The right to protest. Independent journalism, that scrutinizes all sides of the political spectrum. Not to mention an unethical assault on refugees and international law.
I’m not gonna lie: I feel pretty depressed. This is not a left/right issue. This is a protection of everyone’s freedom, everyone’s rights. The right usually touts itself as “light government”, yet here are bills that put stunning power into the hands of government bodies and away from its citizens. The platform of the Conservative Party is a lie.
So! What to do about feeling shit?
Obviously the most relaxing and helpful thing is to take action. Even the act of writing this rather ranty blog is mildly uplifting in its own way: communicating with others and trying to get even one or two people on board with change is a hugely important and vital act, and if you know anyone who you think has been ignoring the news but might be open to a conversation over a cuppa tea, please do not under estimate the importance and the power of that act. That cuppa and that conversation is so, so important.
Other things you can do!
On May 5th, please enjoy the right to vote without having to take ID with you, and vote for change. Let’s start the process of getting these people out of power from the grassroots up, to show them that we value our rights and our democractic safeties, and are not cool with being led by ideologically corrupt, ethically bankrupt law-breakers.
If you have time and inclination, local political parties are also always desperate for help. The party I volunteer for, the Greens, have no big backers, no huge money from fossil fuels or newspaper magnates – we rely on volunteers giving their time to try and spread a message of climate action and fairness. Stuffing envelopes, knocking on doors – whatever you can do makes a huge difference.
There are a huge range of organisations who are campaigning for change, and they always need people to sign petitions, donations, amplification – whatever you can give. My recommendation, to avoid total burnout, is to pick one that you feel you can really get behind. Below are a few of my favourites:
Campaigning for electoral reform and democracy in the UK: https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/
Standing up for your right to protest peacefully: https://www.libertyhumanrights.org.uk/
Standing up for the rights of refugees and full of good resources about asylum: https://www.refugeecouncil.org.uk/
Using the law to challenge government power and corruption: https://goodlawproject.org/
Fact-checking lies from all end of the political spectrum and fighting for truth in politics: https://fullfact.org/
And finally, on a slightly different note, an organisation run by NHS doctors campaigning to protect and improve the NHS: https://www.everydoctor.org.uk/about
These are things worth fighting for, and fighting for things that matter is both an act of generosity in your community – and a powerful way to own your agency and take charge when feeling down.