A Conservative London Assembly Member has called for bans on protests in the capital, in order to save money.
Steve O'Connell, one of the highest paid councillors in the country, said yesterday that we could no longer afford the "luxury" of demonstrations:
"The point I'm making here is in the new era of very difficult financial choices are we able to continue with the luxury of demonstrations going forward in a very liberal manner with a small 'l' and commit the costs that we have in the past? I don't believe we can afford to go forward in that way."
Speaking to the Metropolitan Police Authority, O'Connell said that policing protests would no longer be seen as a "priority" by residents:
"Should we not actually be considering whether we can continue offering the [policing] service to these demonstrations? Should we not have a situation where we get to the stage where if the funding isn't there to provide the service, we should be having a conversation with the organisers where we say "you cannot have your event because we do not have the resources to fund it"?
The huge costs of the Tamil protests were widely objected to last year and the cost of managing the Parliament Square protests were also used as a justification for a ban.
And with 25%- 40% cuts on their way the Met Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson said yesterday that it would be "absurd" to suggest that the force would not shrink.
Yet O'Connell's comments come as the government anticipates widespread protests and civil unrest against these cuts.
As Labour MPA member Toby Harris wrote on his blog yesterday:
"The Coalition Government knows how problematic some of their policies are going to be, particularly as the massive cuts in public services start to take effect.They also know how convenient it will be if dissent can be suppressed in the name of cost saving.Steve O’Connell was clearly flying a kite on behalf of the Coalition. He certainly hasn’t been slapped down by more senior members of his Party."
Now Harris may be getting slightly ahead of himself here.
But with police cuts already coming could government austerity increasingly be used as a justification for restricting personal liberty?