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Cllr Helen Whitehead: Enemy of Democracy?


In recent months and fuelled by the terrible  tragedy in Gaza,   there’s been much talk about abuse, threats and intimidation directed towards  our MPs and councillors and demands for the law to be changed to ban demonstrations outside of parliament, town halls, MPs offices  or any other buildings which  host  democratic functions.


Prime Minster Sunak has ordered the Police to adopt a more stringent approach to enforcing  what are already some of the toughest anti-protest laws  in the democratic world, whilst  his sidekick Michael Gove introduced a new definition of extremism which will brand hundreds of thousands of UK citizens as extremists for exercising their democratic rights  to disagree  with and  campaign against policies and laws they oppose.


What’s going on is one of the most serious clampdowns on basic democratic rights since world war two. It’s not for nothing that the United Nations recently condemned new UK laws restricting  strikes and protest as being deeply troubling and incompatible with the country’s international obligations to uphold human rights.


It’s all too easy to blame the rightward moving Tories for this crack down on our freedoms. Labour Leader and former human rights lawyer, Keir Starmer,  has done next to nothing to oppose this undermining of our democracy and,  with all his recent policy roll backs, it’s almost certain that the new anti-trade union and protest laws will remain in force under a Starmer premiership.


But just as disturbing as Starmer’s retreat, Thanet’s Labour politicians are, to their shame,  eagerly embracing  the  Tory drive to  undermine  human rights in order to  exercise their power in the council chamber without   being held to account  for their actions by the people who voted them into office.


The leader of this despicable democracy dodging deal  is

Thanet Council’s  Deputy Leader Helen Whitehead, who is also the  imposed, but not democratically selected,  Labour Parliamentary Candidate for the new constituency of Herne Bay and Sandwich.


At the council meeting next  Thursday Whitehead  is moving a motion which calls upon TDC to “challenge the abuse against Councillors and Officers.


Bearing in mind the vile murders of MPs Jo Cox and David Amess, the brutal stabbing of MP Steven Timms MP plus the appalling personal abuse that many politicians such as Dianne Abbot suffer online, or in person, I think everyone agrees that politicians  need protection and in special cases beefed up protection.

 

But as the United Nations said about the UKs anti-trade union and protests laws, there is absolutely no reason or need to get tougher on those who criticise or abuse MPs and councillors and absolutely no need  bring in new laws and regulations. The truth is that existing laws and police  powers are more than adequate to deal with the safety of politicians.


The Criminal Justice Act 2003, the  Crime and Disorder Act

1998, the Malicious Communications Act 1998, the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, the Public Order  Act 1986,  and up and coming legal changes on hate crime proposed by the Law Commission all provide, or will provide, powerful protection for politician, and everyone else, against abuse, harassment, intimidation, threats and hate speech.


In my view, to clamp down any further will be profoundly undemocratic and in breach of the international human rights agreements signed up to by the UK.


Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights  provides everyone with “the freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers”.


UK courts and the European Court of Human Rights have on numerous occasions over many years repeatedly ruled that because of their public role in society politicians “inevitably and knowingly lay themselves open to close scrutiny of their every word and deed by both journalists and the public at large; they must consequently display a greater degree of tolerance”.


The courts have ruled many times that tolerance means the acceptance of criticism and commentary by politicians which can, so long at it doesn’t constitute hate crime, is not discriminatory,  or  incites or  threatens violence, be shocking, offensive, and upsetting. 


This applies not just to the written or spoken word, serious or comical, but to artistic expression such as cartoons, photographs, video,  drawings, effigies etc.


Article 11 of the European Convention of Human Rights says  “Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and  freedom of association with others”. But new laws to clamp down strikes and peaceful demonstrations, passed by the Tories in 2023 threaten to destoy this right to freely associate with others to bring about change.


Whitehead takes no  account of how  her motion might impact upon these hard won democratic  human rights.  Neither does she appear to care  about the fact that her motion is to all intents and purposes a part of the Tory agenda  to dilute and destroy our rights to criticise and disagree with our elected politicians, rudely or politely and without fear or favour.


The introduction of her motion means that Whitehead clearly doesn’t want to be held to account by  voters, she doesn’t want to be criticised and doesn’t want to listen to opinions which diverge from her own.


Even worse, the timing of her motion leads me to believe  that Whitehead, like Rishi Sunak and the Tories, is  cynically exploiting the genocide in Gaza and the  international outcry against it,  to justify her call for a clamp down on the right to hold politicians to account.


This motion is certainly not the work of a democratic socialist. It’s the ill-considered blithering of a political ignoramus who like a Pound Shop Putin appears to want power and influence without being answersble to anyone.


I wish her well in her election campaign.




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