MP blasted for backing police bill

Hitchin and Harpenden MP Bim Afolami has been criticised for his support of Boris Johnson.

Hitchin and Harpenden MP Bim Afolami has been criticised for his support of Boris Johnson. - Credit: Archant

Hitchin and Harpenden residents have condemned their MP Bim Afolami for voting in favour of what they say are restrictions to peaceful protests.

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill passed its second reading in the House of Commons on Tuesday, March 16 with 359 ayes and 263 noes. 

The vote was catapulted into controversy in light of the policing strategy at the vigil held in Clapham on Saturday in memory of Sarah Everard.

People in the crowd turn on their phone torches as they gather in Clapham Common, London, after the

People in the crowd turn on their phone torches as they gather in Clapham Common, London, after the Reclaim These Streets vigil for Sarah Everard was cancelled - Credit: PA Wire

The legislation also changes sentencing rules, sexual offences laws and how offenders are monitored after release from prison on terrorism charges. 

In response to the vote, a petition has been posed on Parliament's Petitions website in an attempt to revoke several areas of the bill which originators believe criminalise peaceful protest.

'Do not restrict our rights to peaceful protest' has now surpassed 100,000 signatures, meaning parliament will consider the subject for debate.

Objections from Mr Afolami's constituency can be seen on the petition's map; at the time of publishing, 120,573 signatures have been registered; including 462 of Hitchin and Harpenden's 103,624 constituents.

In response to Bim's vote on the bill, Richard Scott wrote: "As Chair of Harpenden for Europe, I was proud to march with hundreds of constituents from Hitchin and Harpenden during the Brexit campaign.

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"These were noisy affairs. Some would say they were even “annoying”. But they were all peaceful, well-organised and, above all, an entirely legitimate expression of public opinion. This bill creates criminal offences that are clearly designed to suppress peaceful opposition to the Conservative government."

He continued to detail a series of Conservative initiatives that followed on this trajectory.

"As the Covid crisis recedes and the lockdown is released, we should expect an upsurge in public demonstrations against Brexit and other issues. If this bill passes into law then it is unlikely that we will be able to legally hold such large-scale events as the 2019 People’s Vote marches. 

"The government knows this. It is part of their plan. Afolami knows this too and is working with the government to suppress our rights to peaceful protest. This is totally unacceptable."

Another constituent told this paper: "Bim Afolami is in principle employed by his constituents. It is a usual courtesy to seek permission from your employer if you intend to seek additional employment, particularly when there is a potential conflict of interest.

"To the best of my knowledge, Mr Afolami presented his constituents with a fait accomplit. Not the way to win friends or influence people."

A Pirton resident shared her views: "It’s simple, Mr Afolami represents the Conservative Party, not his constituents. He does and says what he is told, but this bill is different.

"It threatens to criminalise ordinary citizens expressing their opinions and will bring them into conflict with the police service which is suppose to police by consent.

"The agenda is clear; silence opposition. Control information using the national press and disseminate government propaganda in newspaper and advertisements. Suppress scrutiny of government actions by refusing to hold enquiries.

She continued: "Where will this end? Are we heading for Peterloo? I’m not joking - is the response to the Clapham demonstrations a taste of the future?"

This paper reached out to Bim Afolami, who responded by saying: "This bill includes vital measures to crack down on crime and make our streets safer. It keeps serious sexual and violent offenders behind bars for longer and doubles the maximum sentence for assaults against emergency service workers. 

"It also widens important laws which prevent adults in ‘positions of trust’ from exploiting their influence, provides better protection for victims and witnesses in cases of violent and sexual offences and seeks to modernise existing court processes by promoting rehabilitation to steer young offenders away from a life of crime. 

"The right to peaceful protest is a cornerstone of democracy and it is important to be clear that this bill does not infringe on this. However, in recent years there have been instances with protestors heavily disrupting people’s everyday lives – preventing them getting to work or stopping ambulances being able to reach hospitals. Such acts have risked livelihoods, and even lives and this is unacceptable."