Labour is stifling the right to protest

The news that government officials have been passing intelligence on climate change activists to a power company serves to underline the unhealthy closeness between big business and the British government during the Labour years. What was traditionally thought to be a Tory weakness is now palpably a Labour one, for the government is not just enthralled by polluters but also those international giants that are intent on selling surveillance systems; think of the expensive bits of hard and software which have been, or are being, purchased for e-Borders, identity cards and communications interception and storage.

It is these systems which form the heart of the surveillance state that now allows government agencies to track innocent protestors who happen to disagree with official policy. With automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras covering every major road and city centre in Britain and the police building a vast database of protestors — for which read dissidents — it is possible to know where activists are in real time, and make conclusions about their intentions — information that is very useful to a company like E.ON. Add in the data from emails, web traffic and mobile phone use and you can achieve a total lockdown on rightful protest and assembly.

That is exactly what we are now witnessing with climate change protest. This revelation, prised from the grasp of the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) by FoI requests made by Liberal Democrats, show us that the authorities and big business regard themselves as almost the same entity when it comes to dealing with protestors.

It is clear that many of the surveillance systems, which we are told by government supporters in the press are for our own good and present no threat to innocent people, have been turned on legitimate protest. Activism, as I pointed out in the Observer, is being encouraged by Ed Miliband as an important driver in gaining the right international agreements on CO2 emissions. Cif posters have noticed the same bizarre hypocrisy and it must be now incumbent on the energy secretary to have a word with the business secretary, Lord Mandelson, and make some kind of statement on government attitude to climate change activists. It is quite simple: are they regarded as enemies or friends?

Even if they are deemed to be enemies by E.ON, BERR and the police, they still have the right to privacy, assembly, and lawful protest.

What is especially galling is that the government and police are using taxpayers money to fund systems that undermine Britain’s rights and traditions of protest, without the slightest awareness that they are our servants being paid by our money. What a sorry state of affairs! What a disgraceful, unprincipled bunch now occupy the major positions of influence and power in this country!

But you know what really worries me? It is the meagre response of the Conservatives on all these great matters of principle. Apart from damning the affairs of the two Damians, which were about the narrow world of Westminster, there have been no statements or speeches doing the big analysis on the moral catastrophe that is now our government. They must acknowledge the totality of Labour’s corruption, and state that they understand the rights of those who oppose official policy, and will do so under any future Tory government.