Clive Lewis – 2022 Speech on the Public Order Bill

The speech made by Clive Lewis, the Labour MP for Norwich South, in the House of Commons on 23 May 2022.

It is always an experience to speak after the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis)—what kind of experience, I do not think parliamentary etiquette allows to me to express, but it is an experience none the less.

I would like to comment on some of the engagement tonight from Government Members, because it is quite instructive. It is like a one-sided equation. They want to make this issue about the disruption to individuals and the cost to business, and although that is one side of the equation, there is another side to it: the disruption that the climate crisis is bringing to people around the world already and to this country. One thing that the House may or may not know is that, between 2010 and 2019, it is estimated that 5 million people have already died from the effects of the climate crisis. I understand that Government Members want to talk about an individual in an ambulance, an individual who has been disrupted, but we should think about the global disruption and what is happening around the world. Some 800,000 of those people were in Europe. This is not just happening elsewhere—it is happening here and now.

Jonathan Gullis

I am not in denial about the importance of dealing with the climate emergency, but does the hon. Gentleman accept that those who are leading these so-called protests should be leading by example? Saying that they do not care about insulating homes, or insulating their own home, does not send a very good message from the top when they are trying to convince the nation to follow their lead.

Clive Lewis

That individual has made their comments, but I guess the question we have to ask is who are the criminals. Are the criminals those individuals who are trying to come together collectively to stand up against a Government who are failing them on the climate crisis, or against billion-pound corporations with pockets deep enough to buy influence in Parliament and across politics? Are the criminals those individuals who are trying to use the only apparatus that they have to stand up and speak up for what they feel impassioned about? I would argue that the real criminals are those who are wilfully pushing to extract more oil from our oilfields and who are pushing us off an existential cliff edge. I think that this country and the British people increasingly understand that those are the people who need to be held to account.

Members need not take my word for it; they should listen to that socialist radical, the Secretary-General of the UN. The hon. Gentleman may think that the Secretary-General is woke, but I think he is increasingly important to global politics. He wrote:

“Climate activists are sometimes depicted as dangerous radicals. But the truly dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing the production of fossil fuels.”

Cue our own Government attempting to do just that.

Opposition Members know all too well this Government’s track record of attacks on human rights, democracy, the poor, the vulnerable, trade unions, justice and migrants. Undermining our democratic right to protest goes against the very essence of what it means to live in a democracy.

Again, hon. Members do not have to take my word for it. The Joint Committee on Human Rights described proposals set out in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 as “oppressive and wrong”. The Equality and Human Rights Commission stated that measures in it undermine human rights legislation. Former senior police officers described it as “harmful to democracy”. Some 700 legal academics called for it to be dropped. UN special rapporteurs and top human rights officials warned that it threatens our rights. More than 600,000 members of the public signed a petition against it.

What possible motivation could the Government have to push through such an authoritarian and regressive Bill? I think that that is a legitimate question for Opposition Members to ask. The Bill is so regressive and anti-democratic that even Conservative Members are baulking at its sweeping, draconian powers.

Let us take a look at the Bill’s provisions on protests involving critical infrastructure. Like so much of this Government’s agenda, they have been lifted directly from the hard neo-con right in the US. A Bloomberg News exposé from 2019 uncovered extensive lobbying by the oil and gas industry to criminalise protest near extraction sites. We know that the Conservative party has received more than a million pounds from the oil and gas industry in the past few years, so it is legitimate to ask what the Government’s motivations are for the Bill.

Jonathan Gullis

The hon. Gentleman talks about motivations. May I ask about the Labour party’s motivations from the millions that it takes from trade unions?

Clive Lewis

Trade union money is the cleanest money in British politics. [Laughter.] The hon. Gentleman can quote me: it is the cleanest money, because we declare it and because we are representing the interests of workers, which is why our party was set up. We have no shame; we are proud of where our funding comes from.

As many Opposition Members have seen, much of the money that funds the Conservative party has come from the kleptocrats of Russia, with whom Conservative Members have more in common than with the people of this country.

Tom Hunt

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Clive Lewis

No, I will make some progress.

The issue of freedom goes to the heart of the Bill. Conservative Members revel in being the so-called party of freedom, but let us interrogate that a little. Some freedoms are zero-sum, but unfortunately many are not. As Isaiah Berlin explained, freedom for the pike means death for the minnow.

Conservative Members often talk about freedom—freedom for people to go about their lives and so on—but we must ask a critical question: freedom for whom and freedom against whom? That is what they do not explain. Freedom from trade unions is freedom for corporations to exploit their workers. Freedom from regulation and red tape, as Conservative Members call it, is freedom for corporations to pollute our rivers and restrict our freedom to swim or fish. Freedom from tax, another Conservative staple, is freedom from the redistribution that is essential for fairness and social mobility.

Now freedom is being mentioned again, and this time it is freedom from protest. That means freedom against the public’s right and ability to hold big business and the Government to account for the climate destruction that they are undertaking. Opposition Members know which side Conservative Members are on. Increasingly, so do the British public. You may wrap this up in the ability of law and order to hold back the unwashed masses, but actually they are the people who are fighting for all our freedoms, for our future and for a world without a climate crisis fuelled by your friends in the big corporations and the oil sector. That is the reality.