A thing of the past? Photo: Getty
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There is a threat to British values - the British government

The government's plans are among the greatest threats to our freedoms, spreading intolerance in the name of tolerance.

A Conservative government has been in power for less than a week, and already our fundamental human rights are under threat.

It has been announced today that the Queen’s Speech will contain plans for banning orders intended to limit the “harmful activities” of extremists. The detail of the plans are chilling.

They are part of a strategy to promote “British values” including freedom of speech and democracy, yet they’ll actually prevent people from exercising those very values. According to the proposals, anyone who undertakes activities that cause harassment, alarm or distress, could be faced with a high court order requiring them to submit anything they plan to publish online, in print, or even on social media, to the police.

That means actions like placing 200 body bags on the beach in my constituency of Brighton Pavilion, as Amnesty International did last month, could be prevented, and Amnesty subjected to police censorship. That act was distressing because it brought home the reality of the suffering endured by migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean. But it was also powerfully important in raising awareness, and encouraging moves to prevent further tragedies.

The planned banning orders for “extremists” are particularly concerning. They are intended to hit not only organisations that incite hatred on the grounds of gender, race or religion, but also those who seek to “undermine democracy”. Does that mean campaigners like the Electoral Reform Society, who call for an overhaul of our democratic systems as they stand, could be outlawed? The phrasing is simply too vague to rule it out.

The national extremism database currently includes the names of people who have undertaken such “extreme” activities as organising meetings on environmental issues. That suggests people like me, who push for strong action on climate change, could be outlawed if we so much as come together to plan a protest. The right to protest is vital to a functioning democracy. Theresa May’s claim that she will be promoting the British value of democracy by preventing people from planning and staging protests – just in case they cause alarm – would be laughable if it weren’t so dangerous.

David Cameron said today: “For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society”, before promising to promote such tolerant values as “Freedom of speech. Freedom of worship. Democracy. The rule of law. Equal rights regardless of race, gender or sexuality”. He uses a veil of tolerance in order to introduce an intolerant law.

I agree with the Prime Minister on the importance of all of those British values he seeks to promote. But we do not promote them by legislating for police censorship and control orders on people we disagree with. Our values are upheld when we are able to hear, and to challenge, views that run contrary to our own. The Green Party would actively promote values like democracy, freedom of speech, equality and tolerance by enabling people to exercise them.

We call for the reinstatement of funding for the Equality and Human Rights Commission. We demand that the cuts to legal aid that have curtailed people’s access to justice in the face of discrimination be reversed. We want Britain to fight for human rights overseas. And we would never scrap our Human Rights Act.

One of the definitions of “harmful” contained within the Conservatives’ plans is anything that may create a “threat to the functioning of democracy”. But more than groups of radical thinkers, more even than civil disobedience, it is legislating our rights away that poses the greatest threat to the functioning of our democracy. When the police must read an environmentalist’s tweets before she posts them, and groups of people who disagree with how our society operates are prevented from meeting, our democracy is broken. If we are to live by our “British values”, we must be given more freedom to speak out, to organise, and to stand up against attacks on our rights.

Caroline Lucas is the MP for Brighton Pavilion.

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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.