How will the Bristol protests affect the policing bill?

The prospects of the bill passing haven’t changed. But Labour’s political difficulties have been sharpened.

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What will the political repercussions be of the violent end of protests against the Policing and Crime Bill in Bristol, during which police officers suffered broken bones and police vans were set alight? As far as the prospects of the bill passing unamended, the answer is simple: nothing at all.

The Conservative government has a majority of 80 and the central provisions of the bill are and remain popular. What matters as far as the prospect of removing its restrictions on protest are concerned are whether there are enough liberal Conservatives who are willing both to defy public opinion and to forego the possibility of a ministerial job in the looming reshuffle: that hasn’t changed. 

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But it does further sharpen Labour’s difficulties with the bill: much of what is in the bill is, and continues to be, highly popular. When the question of the day is whether to give the police yet more power, then the debate at the moment suits the Conservatives.

The difficult truth for Keir Starmer is that he got lucky last week: events meant that the political debate moved from whether the draconian powers in the bill are good or bad, to the glaring absence of any new measures to tackle violence against women and girls. But no one in Labour can credibly claim that they had done much to move the debate on to more favourable territory. They simply benefited from a change in circumstances.

Now circumstances have again changed – and this time not necessarily to Labour's benefit. Starmer needs to find a more permanent way to turn law and order into a source of political joy for Labour, and discomfort for the government, if he is not to remain at the mercy of events. 


Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics. He also co-hosts the New Statesman podcast.

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