Thousands of protesters have marched through central London against the new police, crime, sentencing and courts bill, in the biggest protest under the “kill the bill” banner to have taken place so far.
After gathering in Trafalgar Square from midday, protesters marched past Buckingham Palace then through Victoria, past the Department for Education and the Home Office, and finally across the river to Vauxhall Gardens.
A number of social movements had united to protest against the bill, which critics say would place significant curbs on freedom of speech and assembly, by giving police powers to curb protests, among other measures.
Police took a relaxed approach to the demonstration, walking along with protesters but apparently making no arrests.
Pragna Patel, director of Southall Black Sisters, said: “The bill represents a massive assault on civil liberties and it’s part of a wider trend on the part of the government to shut down free speech, shut down protest, shut down dissenting voices. In a sense it’s an attack on a fundamental democratic value, which is the right to raise our voice in criticism, in protest, in dissent.
“We are really, really alarmed by the government’s thrust towards authoritarianism. This represents one in a long line of draconian laws which the government is bringing in which will impact on our fundamental rights.”
The leftwing journalist and writer, Paul Mason, was among those marching with protesters down the Mall. He said: “First of all, it’s May Day and everywhere else in the world working people celebrate May Day by protesting.
“Secondly, the wider point is that there is a new generation of people who really don’t give a shit about so-called official politics, especially the way Labour is going, stepping away from all the radical movements of last summer and this spring. I think that right now this movement – Sisters Uncut, Black Lives Matter, the renters movement and the rest – exists in a political vacuum.
“But I remember 10 years ago those movements were the movements from which the huge global squares occupations came. And there’s only one place to be if you are a socialist, if you are a leftist or an anticapitalist, and that’s with them.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “The right to protest is a cornerstone of our democracy, but over recent years we have seen an increase in the use of disruptive and dangerous tactics.
“It is totally unacceptable to smash up private property, block emergency vehicles and prevent the printing press from distributing newspapers. The government will not stand by as the rights and freedoms of individuals, businesses and communities are trampled upon by a minority.
“These new measures will not stop people from carrying out their civic right to protest and be heard, but will prevent large scale disruption – enabling the silent majority to get on with their lives.”