Munira Wilson: Government has duty to facilitate safe protest

I’m feeling frustrated, to be honest, that Reclaim these Streets vigils over the country have been cancelled after Police made clear to organisers that they could be hit with heavy fines. The events have now mostly been moved online and I’ll be taking part at 6pm tonight, on my doorstep with a candle to remember Sarah Everard and the other women killed by men and to assert the right of women and girls to go about their business in safety – and, crucially, without the fear that it is clear we all experience.

Now I’m about as Covid-cautious as you could possibly get. I’ve barely been out in a year. But I’m also a liberal and my instinctive reaction is that our right to protest is a fundamental civil liberties. In these times, you need to be responsible and protest in a Covid secure way, but the right to stand up and be counted for a cause you believe in is vital.

In recent days, several Liberal Democrats have been talking more about civil liberties.

I’m glad to see that Munira Wilson, our MP for Twickenham and health spokesperson, has made some robust comments on the vigil bans:

Women and girls should be able to walk down our streets safely and without fear. I completely understand why people feel moved to attend vigils or protest about this. It is deeply disappointing that the Metropolitan Police have refused to help make it happen.
“No one wants to see crowds of people at a time when social distancing is so important to save lives. But Reclaim These Streets is committed to organising Covid-safe vigils and the High Court made it clear that such an event can be lawful.
“The Government has a duty to facilitate safe protests. The way the Government has curtailed protest rights and is trying to do so even after we emerge from the pandemic is deeply concerning. Liberal Democrats will always defend the right to protest.”

Earlier this week, Alistair Carmichael wrote on Times Red Box (£) that it was time to scrap the Coronavirus Act and preserve civil liberties.
It is time to scrap the Coronavirus Act and all its associated rules and regulations, and replace it with a new law that delivers on what we need without overreaching government authority. That is why the Liberal Democrats are backing Liberty’s “Protect Everyone” Bill. We need to move past the harmful, criminalising approach the government has used that has left so many communities behind, and left too many of us feeling the inequality of the law. It is time to take back powers from the government — powers that they do not need — and scrap protest bans, unlawful detention and sweeping police controls.
In that same article, Alistair pointed out the difference between liberalism and libertarianism, emphasising the liberal’s sense of responsibility to others.
Individual freedom is essential to our country but there is a difference between being a liberal and being a libertarian. For some, freedom is the right to do whatever you please. For a liberal, freedom is balanced against our responsibility to others — to do no harm to those around us.
Alistair and Munira are right and it is good to see that we are making some noise about civil liberties.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Brad Barrows 13th Mar '21 - 11:09am

    Sorry to disagree but I feel that regaining the right to visit family members comes ahead of the right to organise protests, whatever the cause. Hopefully a few more weeks and all these important things will become possible again.

  • I am as worried about the safety of women, men and children on our streets as anyone else. But a Vigil contravening the Stay at Home Order at this time sends all the wrong messages. There are many people trying to ensure the Country gets back to normal as soon as possible, what we do not want are meetings, demonstrfations and gatherings of any kind until this is all over. Over the past few days the number of virus cases has first plateaued and is now indicating a rise, esp[[ecially in London. The Police are in my view absolutel;y right.

  • Paul Barker 13th Mar '21 - 1:48pm

    The first 2 comments seem to me to be missing the distinction between a Vigil & an ordinary Demo, the former has a few people standing or sitting quietly & the latter inevitably involves crowding & shouting.
    Vigils can be done within the Covid guidelines while traditional Demos cant.

  • I see the Vigil has now been changed to an own doorstep one. Given part of this is about reclaiming the streets, I would hope that people take a few additional steps and hold their vigil on the pavement ie. in the street.

    It seems we need to get better at thinking up and organising same time different places flash mob style of protest.

  • Jayne mansfield 13th Mar '21 - 3:02pm

    @ Munira,
    I worry about this. My reason: that for many women the least safe place is in the home. Unless we address the culture where women are unsafe both inside and outside the home, I am not sure that any demonstration or vigil will lead to fundamental change.

    Also, I think the numbers will be unrepresentative given that many will be following covid regulations. This is a fight that should be sustained beyond covid restrictions.

  • Tony Greaves 13th Mar '21 - 9:32pm

    It seems that we have joined the ranks of the countries that are using the law to clear out opposition and protest. Compared with China (Hong Kong and the Uigurs), Myanmar, Russia and lots more we are at the low end of this list. But history is clear – once a Government uses the law rather than reason, it’s a long slippery slope. Every fascistic step however small is a step in the wrong direction.

  • Good that Munira Wilson said on radio this morning the police should have facilitated proper safe vigils around the country with clear guidlines due to Covid about what groups of people should not do. I think Ed over-reacted and should have made the same point as Munira and called for an investigation. Interestingly a Conservative woman on radio said the police got it wrong but did not support the call for Cressida Dick to resign.

  • Katharine Pindar 14th Mar '21 - 10:53am

    Well said, Alistair and Munira. Thanks for informing us on this, Caron. It’s time to regain our civil liberties and disempower excessive police action.

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