The speech made by Clive Lewis, the Labour MP for Norwich South, in the House of Commons on 16 March 2021.
How often have we heard the notion that somehow liberty is an integral part of the English character, and that we fortunate few in this country are somehow different from the rest of humanity? Not for us authoritarianism, autocracy or, God forbid, the dark slide into fascism. No, no, no—that is for other people and other countries, not us. Yet here we stand, yet again with yet another Bill from this Government stripping the people of this country of yet more liberty and more of their democratic rights.
English exceptionalism is a dangerous fallacy, none more so than when it comes to the constant vigilance required of any democracy. It is hubris of the first order—one I fear has infected those on the Government Benches. The potential for the slide into authoritarianism and worse is, as history has clearly demonstrated, part of the human condition. That is the painful and bloody lesson from the 20th century. Yet here we are, with this Bill before us. It is the tip of an authoritarian iceberg—one that is on a collision course with public defiance.
Democracy is being swept away in a calculated programme to leave the public muted and powerless. We have the demonisation of the Gypsy, Traveller and Roma community, a planned voter suppression Bill to strip the right to vote from black and other disadvantaged communities, and the limiting of judicial review to stop the public challenging the Government’s decisions in court and shifting yet more power to the Executive. We have the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill, which creates a two-tier, “them and us” system of human rights. Now, having passed that, the Government are coming for our rights with a review of UK human rights legislation.
Those on the Government Benches are fast moving from becoming a Government to becoming a regime. They want to stifle dissent, so that they are not accountable to the public. Our country—our economy, our politics and our media—is controlled by a small clique of individuals. Over the past 40 years, they have taken more power for themselves at the expense of our democracy. Now they are not even happy with us clinging on to the scraps we currently have.
I have directed this speech at Government Members, but to those on my own Front Bench who have finally been brought to the right position of opposition, I say this: it should not have taken the police assault on people gathered peacefully in memory of Sarah Everard to see the assault on democracy that this Bill is. It is writ large, so let this be a wake-up call. We have never seen anything like this Government before.
If the Bill goes through, anyone who values their democratic rights must get organised and fight back. I will stand with protesters, irrelevant of the laws passed by this place. I say to anyone in this place and outside who values democracy that we must create a democracy that is fit for purpose for the challenges we face—climate and ecological breakdown, the epidemic of inequality—
Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
Order. We are moving on.