Mariam Kemple-Hardy: The government has come again for our rights – we must not give them an inch

Charities, activist groups, unions and others must get out of their silos and defend the protections that fall within our mandates

Less than two months ago the government passed through parliament a hard-hitting tranche of bills that curtail basic freedoms.

The Elections, Policing and Crimes, and Nationality and Borders Acts – which will affect our ability to vote, protest and claim asylum – left human rights campaigners exhausted and on the ropes.

And last week, ministers lined up their knock-out blow – legislation to scrap the Human Rights Act and replace it with a diluted Bill of Rights.

Rights secured in the Human Rights Act are universal and their removal affects every one of us. It is one of the last structures for accountability we have left.

But there is no denying that the plans will disproportionately affect the most traumatised, the most marginalised and the most racialised people in our society.

Brilliant organisations such as Equally Ours, Amnesty International and Liberty will rightly lead the fight against this “Rights Removal Bill”. But it’s vital that other charitable organisations, even those that don’t normally campaign, support this work. We can be confident that defending these basic protections fits squarely within our mandates.

Stopping the government from doing harm has become a mountain that is almost too high to scale. And we campaigners have been far from complacent. Over the past year I have witnessed some incredible work to protect basic freedoms – to protest, to vote, to seek safety.

But we must quickly get off the ropes. We need to learn lessons as individual organisations, but we must not navel-gaze. We need to listen to each other. And we must be listened to. Those of us who lost in parliament in April were the canaries in the coalmine.

It’s uncomfortable to say, but too many of us still try to work with the softer parts of the political agenda, to find compromises and keep ministerial relationships.

Many organisations have been trying to walk this tightrope for years, but it’s hard to identify any part of the progressive movement that is, well, progressing. While some government pronouncements might feel amendable or like bluster, we must not be fooled.

If ministers say they are going to do something, take them at their word. Even if their plan is unworkable in practice. Even if it is unconscionable.

The Anti-Refugee Act is entirely unconscionable. Campaigners fought while the refugee protection system was destroyed step-by-step: a sham consultation, the ignoring of evidence and analysis, and then the disregard for all carefully considered and laid amendments from the House of Lords, including a parliamentary schedule curtailed to such a degree that MPs were given just a couple of hours to consider 11 clauses added by Peers.

With the Rights Removal Bill, the government is not even paying lip service to doing things correctly after it removed the proposed legislation from proper parliamentary scrutiny.

Campaigners need a plan to connect across sectors. Charities, activist groups, unions and others working on everything from migration, anti-racism and homelessness to anti-poverty, women’s rights and LGBTQI+ rights must get out of their silos.

Crucially, those with lived experience of the issues that we campaign on should be at the heart of any such conversations. They will always be the people most likely to know when compromise must end, and the fight must begin.

This is not about finding the broadest coalition for the sake of it – one so broad that its ability to speak truth to power is so softened that it can only say what those in “middle England” think.

If fighting the Anti-Refugee Act taught us anything, it’s that in this environment, you need a campaign with real teeth that can use many tactics and voices.

That will at times mean a softer message, delivered by unexpected voices to audiences that we can’t normally reach. But it cannot be just that.

We can’t shy away from making the case as strongly as those who are fighting against us. The mountain remains as high as ever, but working together we have a better chance of summiting.

Mariam Kemple-Hardy is head of campaigns at Refugee Action

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