For the second time in less than 12 months, Harrow council has launched an attack on the democratic right to free speech and the freedom of political ideas.
On Saturday 11 February, several comrades from Socialist Appeal in Harrow were handed fines totalling £200. This follows previous fines of £200 imposed last summer. The alleged offence on both occasions was “distributing newspapers” in the town centre.
This is now a consistent pattern of behaviour by council enforcement officers, designed to harass, intimidate, and bully socialist activists.
Ravi, one of the comrades fined, recounted:
“I was holding some copies of Socialist Appeal and was speaking to a local man in his fifties called Bhavesh. We were speaking about the mess the Tories had left the country in, and how it was difficult for his children with inflation and the housing crisis.
“Out of nowhere, two PSPOs came and interrupted us and said that they were recording me via their camera for their safety and asked if I had a permit to hand out Socialist Appeal. After explaining I did not, they asked for my details and threatened to call over the police if I did not cooperate.
“I explained that I was simply standing here with copies of Socialist Appeal speaking to people about politics and Marxist ideas; I had no stall, and the paper was clearly political, which is protected by the law. After taking my details, they immediately handed me a ticket with a fine of £100.”
The council’s officers are carrying out this campaign of harassment under the ludicrous cover of Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs).
The stated purpose of PSPOs is to prevent anti-social behaviour, defined as activities which have “a detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the locality”. Typically they are used to prevent people making noise, nuisance, or trading illegally or unscrupulously. Activity for religious, political, and charitable purposes is explicitly exempted from PSPOs.
By no stretch of the imagination could distributing newspapers be considered anti-social behaviour. If this was the case, then every Evening Standard distributor, Big Issue seller, and newsagent should be cleared off the streets of Harrow by the council’s enforcement officers.
The fact is that Socialist Appeal comrades have been targeted by the council for no reason other than our political ideas.
As we know, in recent months and years, the Tory government has been trying to clamp down on the right to protest – particularly against activists opposing their policies.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act was a big step in this direction. The banning of ‘anticapitalist literature’ in schools was another. Anti-monarchist demonstrators have also been punished. Most recently, the government has been pushing through ‘minimum service’ legislation, which will severely undermine the right to strike.
Harrow’s Tory council is following the example of their friends in Westminster, using spurious legality to harass socialists and try to clear us off the streets.
Needless to say, they won’t succeed.
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