Criminalised or Legitimised?: It depends who your friends are

Updated: Jan 14

By Gully Bujak

''Call it chumocracy, call it cronyism, but be clear about what it is - corruption. At the highest levels of government. During a pandemic.''

I’m going to start this piece by listing just a few of the most prominent displays of corruption and criminal negligence we’ve been treated to by the British establishment in recent times. Sing along if you know the words.

The depressingly predictable PPE contract scandal. If you haven’t already, check out this handy little visualisation of the network of backdoor deals, greasy handshakes and inflated bank accounts of these wealthy corporate friends of the Tories. Call it chumocracy, call it cronyism, but be clear about what it is - corruption. At the highest levels of government. During a pandemic.

Next, we turn to the court system, the Supreme Court no less, the highest in the land. In December, on the very same day that Ella Kissi-Debrah became the first person to have air pollution officially listed as a cause of death (she died, aged 9, from an asthma attack), five Supreme Court Judges decided it was a perfect opportunity to pave the way for a third Heathrow runway. The Court of Appeal had already declared a new runway would be illegal as it would shoot us way past all of our climate commitments in the Paris agreement. But, the Supreme Court judges (supremely rich, old and white; av salary £226k) deemed this unfair, and, reluctant to damage the financial interests of the Heathrow corporates they ruled in favour of runway expansion. Such cognitive dissonance, from a country preparing to host the next global climate gathering, COP26, is astonishing. From where I’m sitting, what these judges did is akin to treason.

Speaking of air pollution, did you know 25 Londoners die every day, and 36,000 Britons each year, because of the toxic air we breathe? The levels of pollution with which we are forced to exist are illegal by even our own standards. The European Court of Justice and the World Health Organisation have both intervened, threatening legal action and setting strict guidelines. But still, the government has failed to comply.

London skyline
25 Londoners die every day as a result of air pollution

It would be good, then, with all this in mind (merely a cliff notes version of this epidemic of failures) if some legal action were taken against such criminals. If we had some leaders, some justice system, some sort of ‘democracy’ if you will, which would hold to account the powerful people who are destroying our future for a profit.

Well, we’re in luck, because Priti Patel is determined to crack down on such abominable behaviour and restore law and order to this land. Fighting back against the “criminals'' who “threaten UK way of life”, Patel is pushing over 1,000 Extinction Rebellion cases through the court system despite the pandemic (one wonders if the Home Secretary will feel her way of life is threatened when central London is underwater. Probably, but by then it will be back to being the immigrants' fault, for bringing cups of water across the channel in their dinghies). The majority of defendants are charged with minority public order offences - peacefully sitting in the road - and yet not only have the Crown Prosecution Service deemed it in the public interest to continue prosecuting these cases, despite the intense pressure the court system is under and the backlog of cases they are facing, in some cases people are even being forced to travel to London from across the country. In a pandemic.

Graeme Hayes, a sociologist from Aston University, agreed the dogged insistence on prosecuting so many people for minor offences was unusual, and deeply political: “What we are seeing looks very much like political decisions to charge people and to take them to court for very minor offences, and that is extraordinary. I can not think of a precedent [in the UK] where that has happened before on anything like this scale.”

So, when we look at the big picture before us what do we see? What kind of democracy is this? Whose particular brand of ‘law and order’ is being preserved? The answers are simple and yet not, but it’s time for everyone to acknowledge the truth nonetheless.

"It would be good[...]if we had some leaders, some justice system, some sort of ‘democracy’ if you will, which would hold to account the powerful people who are destroying our future for a profit."

We live in a country run by the elite, maintaining the status quo in the interests of the elite, and everyone else will be scapegoated into silence, gaslighted into acquiescence or criminalised into ruin. Peaceful, harmless activists - grannies, teachers, students, doctors - desperately imploring the world to take notice, to take action, to save itself? Nah, fuck those guys. Their truth-telling is dangerous to corporate interests, if enough people start listening to them we might have a resistance on our hands, and we must protect the holy trinity of economy, growth and power at all costs. But Etonians, giving out billions in shoddy contracts hand-over-fist to old school friends and brothers-in-law and gentleman’s club comrades, all for services which are deathly faulty, slow and not fit for purpose? Sounds about right!

Well, playground bully Priti Patel and her hostile environment homies can denounce us, stigmatise us, criminalise us and even steal our lunch money if they want. It won’t scare us away. What we’re doing here is right. It is hard but it’s right and for many of us it’s the only thing we can do in the face of this, humanity’s most imperative struggle. In fact, the more they prosecute us, the harder we will fight, and we will bring the fight into the courtrooms, we will speak our truth to the judges and the barristers and the juries, and we will fill up the prisons and the people will join us because they see that it is right, and we will bring this system to its knees to rebuild something beautiful in its place. Something greener and fairer. A democracy that serves the people. A society where corruption is punished, courage rewarded, and the demagogues of today are seen for what they really are.

Gully Bujak is an activist and environmental campaigner.

Disclaimer: All views expressed in this piece belong solely to the author and do not reflect the views of Demographica as a company.

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