There is a country whose corrupt politicians steal from the tax-payer and yet remain in power, whose people are taken by the police late at night for no obvious reason; a country whose young can be imprisoned for years just for creating a Facebook Page; a country whose elite and rich get richer and more powerful while its population can barely afford to heat their homes, and its councils cannot afford basic services to its most vulnerable. The country is not in the Middle East or in the Soviet East. The country is the United Kingdom. Something is very, very wrong here, and it’s getting worse.
In general, governments control their people in one of two ways: Ignorance or Fear. In the UK, ignorance was the favoured method; punishing countries whose leaders illegally imprisoned and attacked its people to scare them into submission. In today’s world, fear is still a controlling method, but with the proliferation of the Internet and social media, ignorance for the people is increasingly difficult to impose. Governments are no longer able to fool all the people, even some of the time. Pertinent questions get asked, dodgy dossiers exposed, illegal wars and corruption are condemned, simplistic ideologies of ‘black versus white’, where the West is always the good guy, are now ridiculed. Ignorance cannot survive the Internet, but one thing is for certain: Fear can.
In February 2013, ‘Don’ MacDonald, a youth-worker and a father of a young son in Newcastle, was taken away late at night and held in a police station, only to be issued with a fixed penalty notice under section five of the Public Order Act. Don’s crime? Critically engaging with a local politician in public some eight hours earlier. The petition and campaign, which demands all charges against him are dropped, goes with the slogan ‘If It Can Happen To Don, It Can Happen To Anyone’.
The similar fate experienced by Bethan Tichbourne, a teaching assistant who works with the disabled in Oxfordshire, who also alleged been beaten by Police after she criticised the British Prime Minister David Cameron, would suggest the campaign slogan is spot on. Being on the wrong end of a police truncheon and court summons simply for speaking out can happen to anyone – including you, if you live in the UK. Even the young and disabled are not exempt; only the rich and powerful are.
A British ex-pat returning to the UK after a long absence will not recognise their homeland. The values of fair-play and of supporting the underdog; as ephemeral as they always were, no longer exist. The British are now a nation of unhappy and resentful people. A British characteristic is to condemn others to the mis-fortune that we, ourselves, suffer as individuals. There are no pensions, no decent level of income, no affordable housing for me, so why should you have them?
Trade Unions, the unemployed, single parents, students, immigrants: We resent them all. Like rabid dogs locked in a cage, we fight amongst ourselves, too scared to bite the hand that no longer feeds us.
The UK will see rises in oppressive measures over the next few years. The future of the country is being played out before us. Despite Newcastle’s sweeping cutbacks, the city is set to see an increase in funds and staff for its Civil Enforcement department. As successive governments more and more lose the controlling power of ignorance, the power of fear will take its place: More penalty notices, more police action at the behest of the more powerful. It will specifically target those whose punishment brings the greatest publicity, to set an example, to discourage those speak-out. Fear is here to stay. We can no longer be ignorant of that fact.