Tuesday’s Queen’s Speech has outlined the Government’s plans for the forthcoming parliamentary session. It will be seen by many in the press and the political world as a chance for Boris Johnson to consolidate last week’s strong performance by the Tories in local and national elections and deliver on its ‘levelling up’ agenda.
But for activists across the peace movement and CND in particular, it will represent not only a new, more aggressive foreign and defence policy (including more nuclear weapons) but also a further escalation in the Government’s campaign to silence dissent.
In parts, the Speech was emphatically militarist. The Queen, reading from a text prepared by the Government, said that the armed services ‘will provide our gallant Armed Services with the biggest spending increase in thirty years’. This means both the huge expansion in the nuclear arsenal and an increase in conventional capacities.
By the Government’s own admission, this increase would make Britain the second largest military spender in NATO, after the US, at a time when the country is likely to emerge from the pandemic as one of the worst affected in the world.
The Speech also reaffirms the conclusions of the Integrated Review, published in March, and says the UK will be ‘increasing our engagement in the Indo-Pacific’, including the deployment of the new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth to the area.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill looks set to progress into the next parliamentary session. The language of the Government is euphemistic when it talks about ‘balancing the rights of protesters with the rights of others to go about their business unhindered’ but the meaning is clear: to give the police more powers and put scenes like those on Clapham Common and Bristol on a lawful basis.
The successes of Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion (in which CND participates) have frightened the government because they show what CND has always known: protest can and does work.
That’s why the Bill introduces a new statutory offence of ‘public nuisance’ carrying a maximum sentence of ten years in prison and hands the power to the Home Secretary to define ‘serious disruption to an organisation’, one of the new, lowered tests for the police imposing conditions on demonstrations.
The Government also intends to bring forward a ‘Counter-States Threat Bill’, the details of which are not yet clear but which will give the police and intelligence services even more powers.
Taken together, the plans set out in the Queen’s Speech demonstrate the Government’s commitment to an aggressive foreign policy, particularly in relation to China and Russia, and its desire to make sure opponents of its policies find it as difficult as possible to build opposition to it.