It’s Time to Kill This Bill Once and for All

Let’s not get complacent in victory – we've still got a bill to kill.

by Shanice McBean

19 January 2022

Protesters holding burning flare with smoke march through the city during the Kill The Bill demonstration. May Day sees protests across the country due to the proposed Police, Crime and Sentencing Bill that, if passed, would introduce new legislation around protests.
Andy Barton / SOPA Images

A few months ago I met with community organisers who had been centrally involved in fighting the 1984 Police and Criminal Evidence Act. We chatted about how to drive the Kill The Bill (KTB) movement forward and avoid mistakes of the past. One thing they said stuck with me: small victories will be vital; they will sustain you, keep the movement alive and allow people to believe that victory is possible.

This week the House of Lords inflicted a beat down on the government. On Monday night, peers voted against last-minute amendments to the police, crime, sentencing and courts (PCSC) bill, a sweeping, draconian attack on our civil liberties. Consigned to the dustbin of history were 14 of the bill’s more authoritarian proposals, including introducing an offence for “locking on”; suspicionless stop and searches for protests; and court orders to prevent protest.

Undoubtedly, this victory is a result of the sustained organising – from protests to direct action, community organising to lobbying – that began after the Clapham Common vigil for Sarah Everard in March. It is a vindication of the movement’s broad strategy to build a wide coalition that could use a diversity of tactics. But as we dance in victory, we need razor-sharp focus on the way forward.

First: a sober analysis of the limits of a parliamentary strategy. Parts of the bill voted down in the Lords can be retabled in the Commons before making their way back to the Lords. We cannot afford to waste the momentum of this victory by trapping the movement in the drudgery of the parliamentary process.

Instead, what I’ve learned from Monday night is that strategically targeting places of potential rupture in the parliamentary process can produce the small victories we need to sustain the movement. When the PCSC bill was first delayed in March 2021, organisers rightly used this win to propel the movement forward. The removal of these amendments on Monday will mitigate some of the bill’s harmful effects. But when the most vicious parts of the bill remain at the whim of the 80-seat Tory majority, we can’t confuse small wins for the final victory: defeating the bill in its entirety.

The PCSC bill will make trespass a criminal offence and criminalise Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) life wholesale. Serious Violence Reduction Orders will give cops more ways to target Black men and boys with suspicionless stop and searches. “Serious annoyance” becoming a crime will threaten our right to picket and protest. The KTB movement revitalised radical solidarity, the notion that an injury to one is an injury to all. We can’t now leave the most oppressed of us behind.

Now is the time to dig the dagger in deeper. Mass national mobilisations need to be sites of radical action and cause exactly what the government is trying to prevent: annoyance, disruption, even chaos. Now is the time for daring and creative direct actions that show this government that if they push, we’ll push harder.

Crucially, we need to prepare the movement for the fact that regardless of delay and defeats, the bulk of the bill will pass. This is why abolitionists within the movement have been arguing for and initiating the extra-parliamentary strategy of making the bill ungovernable on the streets by building mass community power.

The bill seeks to build police power at the local level, so resistance needs to be built at the local level, too. Mass trespass and eviction resistance will be needed to fight attacks on the GRT community. Organised police intervention, of the kind Sisters Uncut is organising, will be needed to disrupt new stop and search powers. As with the poll tax, mass disruptive local action has the potential to make the bill unenforceable.

The Kenmure Street protest in Glasgow – the community action on 13 May 2021 that, after an eight-hour standoff, succeeded in releasing two of the protesters’ neighbours from immigration detention – shows that organised communities can resist state violence. But let’s be clear: Kenmure Street didn’t come out of nowhere. It was the result of dedicated, patient local organising. As we move to the next phases of the KTB movement, we have to get better at synthesising local organising and national mobilising: they should be boosting each other. When people go home from a thousands-strong action in Manchester, they should be returning to their local CopWatch group, then bringing that group to the next national action.

The KTB movement is an opportunity for left realignment. Wipe away the tears from the Corbyn era, link up with groups fighting the borders and election bills, and start sticking it to this wannabe authoritarian government. Carpe diem, comrades.

Shanice McBean is an activist and writer.

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