This week the Public Order Bill was debated in Parliament. It comes in the shadow of another unattractive protest in Dover – one that saw protestors bussed in from all over the place.
As with all such protests, a fun day out for people with strongly divergent political views comes at a heavy cost to others. I was contacted by residents and businesses ahead of the protests who were concerned for their safety. This was understandable given we have seen serious violence previously at such demonstrations.
I once worked at McDonalds in East Kent during a period of animal rights protests. They put razor blades in the corners of rubbish bins hoping that staff would be maimed. They made hoax bomb alerts to evacuate stores. It was terrifying, and really tough because I needed to work and depended on the money. When there are protests in Dover, I think of people who were working in nearby shops, hotels and eateries, often on minimum wage jobs.
These demonstrations inevitably cause fear, cost and disruption to others. They also come at a massive cost to each and every one of us. Kent Police deployed vast resources and numbers at the weekend. The last serious protests in 2020 saw Kent Police deploy 380 officers at a cost of £185,000. Political protesters march – but we pay.
It’s not just the cost. Is this how our police force’s time is best spent? I am frequently in contact with Kent Police around rural policing, drugs, anti-social behaviour and other issues of criminality which residents raise with me at my MP surgeries. That’s where those resources should go – on local community based policing, not on political demos.
That’s what this week’s Public Order Bill is considering. Where the balance is to be struck around the right to protest – especially when it causes harm, distress and financial loss to other people. I’m all for the odd march and walk down our High Street and seafronts. Indeed I have done so myself for our local hospitals and for our local jobs. But there is a difference when people are just set on causing trouble or serious disruption to the lives of others.
The Public Order Bill aims to tackle protests like Just Stop Oil who cause serious risk to themselves and others, as well as causing misery to those going about their work or trying to get to hospital. The cost of policing the Just Stop Oil protests over a period of just 9 weeks was a staggering £7.5 million. Does one group really have the right to spend that amount of our hard-earned money and put others at risk to attention seek for its cause? I don’t think they do. That’s why I’m supporting measures to tackle this sort of selfish extremism in Parliament this week.