Saturday night saw a peaceful vigil highlighting violence against women ending in scenes of women being forcibly restricted by men. It should have been a moment for women collectively to grieve the tragic loss of a life and publicly express their solidarity, but instead of a moment for reflection on the daily injustices faced by women, this weekend was a powerful reminder of the importance of our civil liberties and the right to protest.
Elements of the Bill are good. The Liberal Democrats support trauma-informed services and strengthening rehabilitation with the aim of reducing reoffending. We also support the police covenant, a measure that helps our police to be a better workforce. The Bill could be made even better by explicitly making misogyny a hate crime. We need to recognise the root causes of violence against women. In the same way that we recognise racial or religious discrimination and homophobia, we can recognise that hatred of women causes harm.
All that important debate is undermined by the part of the Bill on the policing of protests, which is an assault on our civil liberties and our democracy. The Government say they want to clamp down on the most destructive protests, but let us be clear that they aim quite literally to silence protest. The measure is a thinly veiled reaction to the climate protests that have taken place over the past couple of years around Parliament and in cities and towns across the country. The climate emergency has evoked strong feelings, particularly among young people, and it would be quite wrong to curtail their voices.
The whole purpose of demonstrations is to have one’s voice heard, to make an argument, to get the attention of those who make the law and to encourage change. Peaceful protest is at the heart of a liberal democracy. We have taken democracy for granted for a long time. Each generation has to fight for its freedoms. Each generation faces different challenges, but the diverse voices from all sections of our society should never be stifled or suppressed.
Liberalism exists to protect our freedoms, our democracy and our right to protest. If the Government were really serious about protecting women from violence, they would never attempt to silence their protests. That part of the Bill must go.