This article originally appeared in our Elevenses newsletter.
There comes a point in any country’s history when it is wise to take stock of the path it is currently headed. We do it all the time with our own personal health, and I can’t see why the basic principles can’t be transferred. A tap on the knee to detect signs of latent authoritarianism. Blood work to test for oppression and ills of a similar nature. A prescription for a strong dose of fresh government with an intravenous GB News drip for those who need to be weaned off right-wing populism.
For Britain, it appears we have arrived at such a moment ahead of Armistice Day after the Metropolitan Police asked organisers of peace marches to cancel their weekend protests at the behest of the Home Secretary. Senior officers have told various groups behind the event to “urgently reconsider” and described the plans as “not appropriate” during a meeting on Monday, almost chiming word-for-word Suella Braverman’s latest attempt to galvanise core Conservative supporters with her unique brand of patriotism.
Of course, she added a dash more colour, saying anyone vandalising the Cenotaph on Armistice Day will be “put into a jail cell faster than their feet can touch the ground”. Her statement completely ignores the fact that organisers have pledged to avoid the Whitehall area where the Cenotaph is located. In fact, if you cared to look at the planned route, it starts at Hyde Park – about a mile from the Cenotaph – and ends at the US embassy in Vauxhall, south of the Thames and a further mile and a bit away from the war memorial, not that that seemingly important detail stopped politicians like Lee Anderson chiming in too.
So once again we find ourselves hitched to the back of the populist bandwagon, with not only the Daily Mail and the Express both leading with the non-story on this morning’s front pages but the country’s biggest police service caving in too. Which is a bit of a ‘pinch me’ moment. As Adam Bienkov wrote on social media, “in a democratic country police forces shouldn’t be telling citizens when they should and shouldn’t exercise their right to protest”, certainly not at the behest of government ministers. Tory peer Baroness Waris also called Braverman “dangerous and divisive”, adding that while some of her colleagues might project as a patriot, they are actually “arsonists” pitting “community against community”.
During the Donald Trump administration, Princeton academics developed an ‘authoritarian checklist’ in a bid to assess the country’s democratic vital signs, and I’m minded to raise a few of those points now to see how our own government stacks up. Can we confidently say they would never take sides with a foreign power against domestic opposition? I’m afraid not. Do they restrict press access to the government? They most certainly do. Do they defy the orders of courts, including the Supreme Court? See *Rwanda policy. And do they use a terrorist or other incident to take away civil liberties? Chillingly, yes.
Based on those markers, it appears we are long overdue a wake-up call, Britain.
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