'The State It's In' - Squall Editorial
Travels In A Political Arena
Assessing the early impact of the Criminal Justice Act
Squall 9, Winter Jan/Feb 1995, pg. 4
The Latest Act
Since the Criminal Justice Act's arrival on the statute books there have been a number of arrests, but as yet no convictions. Top of the league table by a long way are hunt saboteurs, whose 95 arrests under the 'aggravated trespass' section of the Act represent the most used part of the legislation to date. There are also seven road protesters on charges under the same section of the Act. Four from a crane-climbing protest in Manchester associated with the No M65 campaign and three arrested outside of the Wimpey office in Bristol, during a protest over the Company's involvement in the construction of the M77 near Glasgow. All seven have pending court dates.
Information concerning travellers is much harder to collate than most of the other groups affected by the public order sections of the Act. Travellers have always been under-represented in terms of campaigning groups and are, by the very nature of their itinerancy, difficult to keep in contact with on a nation-wide basis.
Reports coming in suggest that so far the Act has been used mostly as a threat to travellers - to move on or face arrest. Twelve travellers in Glen Garry, Scotland, refused to move in order to challenge the law but in fact now face initial charges under the 1865 Criminal Trespass Act (a uniquely Scottish law). The word is that there are also outstanding charges against them under the Criminal Justice Act, which are only to be brought if a conviction under the Scottish Criminal Trespass Act is not secured by the authorities. These travellers are being dealt with two at a time at a series of court dates beginning in March and going through to April.
There are as yet no reports of any arrests under the raves and festivals section of the Bill. The sections immediately implementable are those allowing police to order people assembling for an event to leave with their equipment and vehicles, and those allowing a constable to turn away anyone within a five mile radius that they consider may be heading for the event. The sections on the confiscation and disposal of sound equipment and other property are not likely to be activated by statutory instrument until around April of this year.
The same goes for the ex-parte/24 hours to get out/�5000 or 6 months imprisonment sections of the Act against squatting. These are not due for implementation until changes are made to the rules of court by the Lord Chancellor's Department and are expected around May/April time.
However, the sections allowing forced entry to be used against squatters by protected intended occupiers (PIOs) became implementable on February 3rd. BUT DO NOT PANIC. Anyone attempting forced entry to a property must possess either a certificate showing them to be a local authority/housing association PIO or a statement sworn before a justice of the peace or a commissioner of oaths, proving them to be a private PIO. Without these documents forced entry is illegal. If acting on behalf of a PIO, the people attempting forced entry must have authorisation from the PIO. There are already reported incidence of 'heavies' kicking doors in, claiming they have the right to do so under the Criminal Justice Act. This is not the case. If such forced entry occurs, squatters and other occupants should telephone the police immediately and inform them that someone is breaking into your home.
It is vital to the process of both tracking misuses of the Act and keeping in touch with its implementation nation-wide, that anyone affected by the legislation contacts one the CJA monitoring schemes (see page 44).
Non-Violent Direct-Action Explosions
There is no doubt that the incidence of direct-action protest has increased since the passing of the Criminal Justice Act last November. Passionate demonstrations of public concern, such as those at Shoreham, Brightlingsea and Coventry, have clearly caught the attention of the media, involving as they do a wide variety of people never before participating in direct action.
As a consequence, many people have come face to face with truncheon- wielding riot police for the first time in their lives, and found such encounters to be as unpleasant as previously marginalised political protesters have always said they were (see 'News of the Skews' - page 10). Even the Daily Express ran a double page spread on whether the police had been "too heavy" at Brightlingsea.
The crown of official embarrassment of course came in February, when Allan Stewart, Junior Scottish Office Industry Minister, was caught attempting a little raw devolution of his own with a pickaxe. Whilst visiting the site of the M77 construction outside Glasgow, it appears that he went temporarily berserk, ripping down road- protesters' banners and waving a pick axe with the words - "It's a useful thing a pick-axe. there's a lot you an do with a pick-axe". After a lamentable effort to suggest that he had been charged by protesters, a story no-one bought, he was forced to resign. His son is also the subject of an investigation after arriving on site with a loaded air gun (See 'Road Wars' - page 16).
Contributing significantly to the new climate of protest have been the major anti-road campaigns of the last few years. Environmental non-violent direct actions, such as those at Twyford Down and Claremont Road have helped create a new and different impression of the possibilities of direct action; usurping the old 'core of troublemakers' conclusion, used so casually to dismiss previous expressions of public dissatisfaction (see Towers of Strength - page 18).
The media have given far more coverage to the likes of the Shoreham and Brightlingsea demonstrations than to any public protest in recent years, primarily because they clearly involve large numbers of 'ordinary' (a media term) people. Both the Claremont and Twyford campaigns inspired much local support and participation, helping prime both the media and the general public with a new sense of overt political expression. Concerned people from all walks of life are seeing that involvement in non-violent direct actions are effective expressions in a deaf democracy. As more and more people lose faith in ignored consultation processes, official 'blah', and political unaccountability, the number of people who feel strongly enough to come out and make a demonstrative stand, increases. No-one could fail to be unmoved by the mother of Jill Phipps (the woman who died under the wheels of a veal truck in Coventry), who rose above her own grief to say that she too would be willing to die to see the end of compassionless veal exports. Media martyrdom aside, we are talking about real human beings here; people who feel this strongly.
Some observers have asked why it is that animal transportation in particular has inspired such vehement public outrage. What about people who have no shelter tonight, they say, or the increasing levels poverty in this country, or the long term social erosion caused by unemployment and the breakdown of communities etc?
These are certainly important points to remember although people do view animals as obviously innocent. Never the less, the lack of compassion and respect inherent in purely profit- motivated animal transportation, are factors missing from much of current politics. The consistent over-emphasis of economics as the most important facet of human development is squeezing the humanity out of human societies. It is reflective in the way we treat animals, the environment and each other.
Single Issues And Getting Things Done
From within the political arena, left and right, there has been a general slander directed towards 'single issue politics' and 'lobby groups'.
"We don't see pressure groups for what they are; one dimensional," said Michael Portillo last year. "I do not believe policy should be determined by lobby groups of whatever sort," agreed Tony Blair.
However, pouring passion into single issues has become the only way many people feel will ensure at least some progress somewhere. Whilst the political arena plays out its careful chess match, real life goes on and has needs. In order to campaign for the recognition of these social needs, it is necessary to stick at something.
Politicians are bound to find such lobbying an annoyance, reluctant as they obviously are to alter a pre-agenda'd game plan. However, they are supposed to be democratic representatives and lobbying your MP is the vestigial remains of democratic accountability.
For the myopic political chess-players, the annoying fly buzzing round the light- bulb is an uncomfortable reminder that their game is not the only thing going on around here.
The Criminal Justice Act has certainly played a significant part in introducing 'single issue campaigners' to each other, and the common ground they all share is their battle for respect.
Whether it be for the rights of animals or the rights of homeless people; the rights to decide whether your land is carved up by more tarmac or the right to be culturally diverse.
However, the Criminal Justice Act is just one of many manoeuvres, both legislative and covert, designed to engineer a society befitting a compassionless economic vision of Britain.
Even a cursory glance at the measures and motivations in the legislative pipeline, is enough to demonstrate the across-the-board political disrespect, presently prevalent:
The removal of the statutory provision for resettlement units is the subject of a clause buried within the currently debated Job Seekers Bill, and further erodes the availability of direct access hostels for homeless people. On top of this, the upcoming Homelessness Review will the remove the statutory right of 'priority need' homeless families to permanent housing.
The last budget announced the cutting of funeral grants available to 'poor' families, under the pretext that they encourage funeral parlours to charge more. The same unbelievable logic was used to announce a cut in housing benefit under the similar pretext that it encourages landlords to charge more!
Landlords and funeral parlours charge more because greed is a characteristic of an unfettered free- market, not because they see the pound signs of benefit flashing before their eyes. Most landlords will not take people who are on housing benefit, considering the benefit system to be an unreliable rent-payer; a fact that most home-owning politicians would never know about.
Meanwhile single mothers are having babies just to jump the housing waiting list, or so we are told by a government intent on the avoidance of housing responsibility. Even if it were true, and it undoubtedly isn't, we should be questioning what this says about the availability of housing, not looking at reducing the opportunities for single mothers yet further.
The more this government stamps itself with such socially corrosive legislation, the more people come to realise that a complacent disrespect for social realities oozes out of every sub-clause of recent legislation. This has undoubtedly fuelled the number of people who now feel committed to protest campaigns.
But of course, except for the energetic few, it is not possible to be everywhere at once and indeed the effectiveness of campaigning often depends on concentrating on one issue. If you could say something once and have it registered, then single issue politics would be unnecessary. However, the experience of most people involved in grass-roots politics, is that official ears are severely clogged with power-wax. Thus progress depends on sticking with an issue until a fair voice is registered.
Democracy was never founded on the principle of ignoring people, but the British version seems to be running it that way. Polished but meaningless political verbals, may sound authoritative but they are beginning to make a cliche of language itself, so disconnected are they from any substance. People just don't believe the blah any more, however many acting lessons or schools of oratory the particular politician has attended.
It is a major dichotomy that the political arena is annoyed with 'lobby groups', at the same time as requesting that we all feel included in the political process.
"It is time to bring government closer to the people it serves," says Tony Blair (Hansard 11/1/95)
Are we supposed to vote and then leave MPs and big business to get on with it? Upon what basis is such social trustworthiness expected?
There are an increasing number of politicians who have never met the reality of need face to face. Having left public schools and universities, politics has been their career-path ever since (see 'Shuffle, Shuffle, Snuffle' - page 12).
Tony Blair should take note of the fact that it takes more than a pre-arranged photo-opportunity in a run down council estate to put an academic career-politician in touch with real life.
In the absence of in-touch politics, single issue lobby groups have become the voice of current social concerns. They have multiplied in recent times, and the mutual adversity of facing a deaf political system, has led to interactions and cross-support based on common experiences. No wonder the likes of Portillo and Blair feel threatened. Not everyone is politically placated by the manufactured smiles of rubber lips and the Cheshire cat.
DIY Community Care
There has been a proliferation of squat community centres and cafes recently, daring to operate an open door policy in the middle of cities. At a time when there is much debate about such things as community care and the rehabilitation of young offenders these DIY centres have been providing just such social initiatives. CoolTan in Brixton, The Rainbow Centre in Kentish Town and another in Cardiff; the Alamo in Blackburn and the Courthouse in Brighton, are amongst a number of such projects springing up nation-wide. Coming in through the open doors are people discharged from mental institutions - largactyled into a zombiedom, young rough and tough homeless people with "no respect for no- one, cos no-one's got respect for me", run-aways, drug addicts and alcoholics, as well as artists and dancers.
Such genuine care for the community has in fact been a feature of many of the groups targeted for eradication by the Criminal Justice Act. Festivals for example, offered many thousands of people the chance to experience co-habiting with complete strangers; a unique and increasingly rare learning experience - especially when it's pouring with rain.
Meanwhile money buys us a solid front door and perhaps a strong garden gate behind which we can isolate our small family units. Steven Norris, Minister for Public Transport and ex- VW/Audi dealer, all too convincingly stated at a recent Commons environment select committee, that people wanted private cars because "You have your own temperature control, your own music, and don't have to put up with dreadful human beings sitting alongside you." At free raves and festivals in sharp contrast, you share the music, the temperature control and the experience of dancing with other human beings beside you.
Before the public order legislation of 1986 and 1994, travellers could also gather together, forming communities often centred around fireplaces and stove-burners. Not the "hordes of marauding locusts" described by the Daily Telegraph, but people who find a greater sense of purpose in collecting fire-wood than in dealing stocks and shares. Something that perhaps the brigadiers and free market philosophers at the Daily Telegraph have little conception of.
Public order legislation over the last ten years, driven as it is by media hysteria and cultural prejudice, has severely curtailed such gatherings by limiting the assembly of people to 20 and of vehicles to six. This has also exacerbated the vulnerability of travelling families to an increasing incidence of vigilantism.
"No one will interfere with the traditional right of the gentlemen of the road to wander the lanes of Scotland, so long as they are on their own or there are only a few of them," said Home Office Minister, David MacLean with characteristic cruelty.
To those unfamiliar with festivals, free raves or communal campaigns, their contribution to community awareness may not be obvious beneath the black paint applied by ministers and media. But the point to rescue from beneath the misinformation, is that if people have no direct experience of living with each other, then the whole concept of community becomes alien to their attentions. Only through the direct experience of community - its trials, tribulations and celebrations - do people learn how to make living together work in reality. Otherwise of course, we end up with the situation that we have in the current political arena, where words like 'community' remain an unrealised rhetorical concept.
The existence of Agenda 21, an internationally signed agreement from the Rio Earth Summit of 1992 is gathering momentum and possibly represents a new opportunity to call such 'community' rhetoric to account, (see page 15)
Thatcher was famous for saying "there is no such thing as society" and it seems both her and her subsequent replacement, have followed policies attempting to ensure that such pro-market anti-community ideas, dominate our social reality. Almost as a contradiction we have consistent 'blah' on open government, citizen's charter, millennium celebrations and of course the national lottery. The lottery, as a good example, has been hyped up to become the new currency of the nation's conversation - something for us all to rally around as a nation, much of course to the financial benefit of both the government and the operating company, and, oh yes, some to charities to make it all palatable. They all make rather pathetic replacements for genuine community.
Meanwhile, if you talk to seventeen year old Dave in Luton, he'll tell you he was a homeless car thief at 15 but now has found purpose with the squatting and dance community regeneration posse, the Exodus Collective: "It was like eating bad apples all my life and then tasting a good one. I only want to eat good ones from now on," he says.(see Exodus update - Page 32)
On a wider political level, the need to cultivate a healthier respect for cultural diversity is ever more necessary, swamped as many are by the economic intentions of multi-nationals and other free-market myopics. It is undoubtedly such convictions that fuel the two 'unemployed' campaigners currently pitching themselves against the top libel lawyers employed by the $24 billion-a- year junk importers - McDonalds (see Other Busyness - page 6). There is also a major grass-roots battle occurring in Russia and other east European countries, as western business opportunists come pouring into the vacuum. It is no small irony that the largest McDonalds in the world operates in Moscow, whilst women stand on the streets of the city in rows, trying to sell their toilet seats to make ends meet (see 'Western Promise' - International SQUALL - page 34).
On a global level, the threat to the environment is universal and demanding of a unified response as a matter of urgency. Cultivation of community is not only a matter of necessity for the long term health of our society, it is also a matter of utmost importance in meeting the global environmental threat posed by the erosion of human respect.
For more articles about the Criminal Justice Act and Public Order Act 1994 - covering the build-up, the resistance, the consequences, plus commentary of discussions in the House of Commons about it click here.