The Shrinking Space for Dissent in Neoliberal Britain

The Shrinking Space for Dissent in Neoliberal Britain

The process of depoliticising Muslims has now been rolled out to the wider UK population, argues Afroze F. Zaidi. Whilst different sections of wider society are pitted against each other by government narratives that stigmatise, divide and rule, Zaidi argues that enough space still exists for dissent despite division, and argues for a united politics of opposition to oppression.

In December 2021, I wrote about ‘race’ as a protected characteristic in US and British law, and the associated limitations of legal systems in delivering justice. I had concluded: “Rather than falling in line, disruption, no matter how uncomfortable it may be, is the only recourse. Demanding the justice to which we are entitled, not just within the bounds of the laws that exist but in spite of them. In order to do so requires constant critical engagement with, rather than uncritical acceptance of, the power structures that govern us.”

A year on in the UK, parliament has passed the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Act and is currently debating the Public Order Bill, both of which will serve to throttle disruptive protest and criminalise protesters. This forms part of a wider culture of shutting down dissent, not just in the form of protest but also in the form of organised workers’ movements and views critical of the establishment.

Protest, freedom of thought, and the right to withdraw labour are widely considered to be cornerstones of democracy, and yet the leaders of an ostensibly democratically led nation are attempting to crack down on these. They’re normalising a focus on individual responsibility rather than collective wellbeing, and by closing in on the space to critically engage with the neoliberal narrative and visualise alternative solutions, they are effectively depoliticising the population. In this article, I argue that the UK, in service of an insatiable neoliberal hegemony, is executing an “epistemic shift” towards en masse depoliticisation of its citizens. This process is situated within the context of empire and white supremacy, so that those othered by the empire are immediately and pre-emptively recognised as a threat to the neoliberal status quo and are therefore disproportionately silenced. It’s also taking place as a multi-pronged operation in which several arms of the state are working in concert to serve its agenda. To evidence this multi-pronged operation, this article will examine how the police, media, and the Charity Commission in consort with other state institutions, are all contributing to the shrinking space for dissent in Britain.


Henry A Giroux has written about depoliticisation within a neoliberal context, saying “the depoliticizing conditions of our social order… strip individuals of critical thought, self-determination and reflective agency”. He explains:

“Operating under the false assumption that there are only individual solutions to socially produced problems, neoliberal pedagogy reinforces depoliticizing states of individual alienation and isolation, which increasingly are normalized, rendering human beings numb and fearful, immune to the demands of economic and social justice and increasingly divorced from matters of politics, ethics and social responsibility. This amounts to a form of depoliticization in which individuals develop a propensity to descend into a moral stupor, a deadening cynicism”

Giroux also talks about the role that repression via state institutions plays in causing this depoliticisation:

“Increasingly, education both in schools and in the wider cultural apparatuses, such as the mainstream and conservative media, becomes a tool of repression and serve to promote and legitimate neoliberal fascist propaganda.”

This article aims to provide evidence of the British establishment’s repression of spaces for questioning and protesting against neoliberal hegemony. It further suggests that this repression doesn’t just serve a neoliberal agenda, but rather, in service of empire, it extends to a wider and more pervasive homogenisation of thought that leaves no room for criticism of the establishment. In the British context, while depoliticisation leads to silencing, silencing further contributes to depoliticisation by shrinking the space for discourse, dissent, and critical engagement, thus forming a vicious cycle.

Militarised policing

Police forces have a long and brutal history of working to protect the state rather than citizens. When traced back to their role in the British empire as well as the slave patrols of the US empire, police forces also have a history that’s inextricably linked to white supremacy. Their current function, therefore, is simply a continuation of their historic role. And against this backdrop, the findings in Netpol’s 2020 report on the policing of Black Lives Matter protests come as no surprise. These findings directly support the notion that the police are working on behalf of the state to silence protests, and moreover that they continue to be agents of white supremacy by disproportionately targeting Black protesters.

The report added:

“Vitally, this racism and intimidation is likely to have broader effects [on] anti-racism and protest in Britain eroding the legal and democratic rights enshrined in Article 11 of the European Convention of Human Rights.”

This supports the argument that the police’s institutional racism, observed not just during BLM protests but time and again through various reported incidents, isn’t simply ‘discrimination’. Rather it plays the possibly deliberate role of eroding the right of Black people to protest and organise against racism and empire. Indeed, the report comments on how “intimidation” from the police has the effect of shrinking the space for anti-racist organising and agitation:

“Through their potential intimidation and further marginalisation of those who seek to challenge racism through protest, these draconian policing tactics and rhetoric deployed by the state have the potential to sap life and momentum from anti-racist activism and broader protest movements” [emphasis added]

The report also confirms that rather than reflecting on the justified reasons for protests and acknowledging their legitimacy, politicians, police, and the media collectively portrayed protesters as violent, antisocial miscreants:

“We also witnessed an increasingly stereotypical and racist portrayal of Black Lives Matter protests as violent from politicians, including Home Secretary Priti Patel describing the anti-racist activists as ‘thugs and criminals’. The police were also quick to highlight the allegedly violent nature of the protests and they were joined by much of the press, helping to justify the police tactics scrutinised in this report.”

It’s safe to assume that this was intended to turn public opinion against BLM protests and protesters, while not giving legitimacy to the fact that the protests were both justified and lawful.

Other clear examples from 2021 of the police’s role in shutting down dissent include heavy-handed policing at a vigil for Sarah Everard and protests against the PCSC Bill before it became law. At both the vigil in London and the Kill the Bill protests in Bristol, the police physically attacked and arrested protesters. Eye witness accounts in both instances, as well an inquiry by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Democracy and the Constitution, confirm how the police were the ones to instigate violence. Yet when it came to Kill the Bill protests, once again the media and then-Home Secretary Priti Patel framed protesters exercising their right to free speech and assembly as thugs and hooligans.

Similar is the case with environment activists such as those from Extinction Rebellion, Insulate Britain and Just Stop Oil. In November 2022, the Met Police’s Assistant Commissioner said on BBC News about an action by Just Stop Oil: “This isn’t protest, this is crime”. Furthermore, Netpol has published a report titled Respect or Repression, extensively documenting police repression during COP26 protests in Glasgow in November 2021. The report states that protesters found the police’s behaviour to be punitive, disproportionate, intimidating, and aggressive. Particularly relevant is that the report cites Neil, Opitz and Sebrowski (2019) to explain how ‘kettling’ at protests – widely practised by police in the UK – has the effect not only of “stifling dissent” but also of “exhausting… political energies” which can be put towards dissent, thus having “a deterrent effect on protest”. As one legal observer noted:

“It was telling that when the kettle started the chants were about climate change and social justice. After 2 hours in the kettle it turned to I want a pee and a cup of tea. [This was a] deliberate tactic to get people to go home.”

We can therefore see in real time the way in which policing tactics have a depoliticising effect on protests. Moreover, the report cites guidance from the Venice Commission and details the ways in which police officers contradicted this guidance. When it came to surveillance, for example, the report describes how, in contravention of Venice Commission guidelines:

“Police Scotland consistently filmed crowds, speakers, protesters, Legal Observers and locals intrusively, with one evidence gathering officer ominously telling kettled protesters “we have plenty of time to get your faces”. This was particularly targeted at racialised groups, including a group of Muslim protesters who appeared particularly uncomfortable and one woman of colour speaking at a migrants’ rights demonstration, while police ignored her white counterparts.”

The report goes on to explain how the Venice Commission guidelines emphasise that use of digital recording devices during a protest can have “a ‘chilling effect’ on freedom of assembly and curtail the exercise of this right” [emphasis in original]. Again, it would appear that curtailing protest is indeed a deliberate aim of the police. Moreover, this “chilling effect” and depoliticisation disproportionately affects people of colour.

The state’s neoliberal agenda is particularly evident when it comes to the crackdown against climate protesters. In particular, climate protesters have been using the tactic of ‘locking on’, i.e. attaching themselves to a structure or to other protesters, as a form of direct action to disrupt business as usual and call attention to the climate crisis. But the Public Order Bill, if passed, would make it an offence not only to lock on an but also to carry equipment that can be used to lock on. A look to the fossil fuel industry will explain why, in a neoliberal state, cracking down on protests against fossil fuels and climate inaction is high on the agenda. Especially since lobbyists for fossil fuel companies are operating in Westminster without needing to declare their involvement in official parliamentary transparency records.

The aforementioned examples, combined with the PCSC Act and the Public Order Bill, support the claim that while the police are working in the service of the state, the state is working to expand police powers, thus forming a coordinated effort to curb the right to protest and consequently close in on the space for dissent. Alongside legislation, a report by Campaign Against Arms Trade and Netpol released in August 2022 highlights the extent of militarisation of police in the UK. So the police are being empowered not just in the legislative sense but also in terms of equipment, resources, and militarised modus operandi.

British establishment media

While police are working to actively curb the right to protest, this isn’t the only aspect of the British state’s depoliticisation project. We saw, for instance, with wall-to-wall coverage of Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral in September 2022, particularly on the BBC, there was little room for views that were critical of the monarchy – or indeed any other reporting. This was particularly evident on social media where any response that was less than approving of the late monarch was greeted with a great deal of public contempt. Black women, in particular, such as academics Uju Anya and Zoe Samudzi, received a barrage of abuse for expressing views that were critical of Elizabeth II’s colonial legacy. While misogynoir made them easy targets, several individuals, all white, have also since been arrested for anti-monarchy protests.

Meanwhile, prominent British Muslim organisations went out of their way to express their condolences and portray themselves, and British Muslims by extension, as loyal subjects. It’s difficult to say whether this response was motivated by a need to mark these organisations, and all Muslims, as safe and non-threatening in the eyes of the establishment, or whether it was down to perceived pressure to appear as such, or whether narratives around ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Muslims have been internalised to the extent that this response was a true reflection of the views of these organisations.

While Prevent and anti-terror legislation has worked to depoliticise British Muslim civil society, militarised policing and a brazenly pro-establishment mass media are working to depoliticise British society at large. As such, depoliticisation of the population serves not only a colonial agenda, such as through Prevent, but also a neoliberal one. The response to views critical of the monarchy on the occasion of Elizabeth II’s death exemplified the limits on both freedom of speech and freedom of thought in the UK. The media narrative works perpetually in service of empire and leaves little room for critical thinking. Looking at the BBC in particular, analysis of its coverage of striking workers can demonstrate its role in providing a singular narrative to depoliticise the general public for the sake of a neoliberal agenda.

During the twentieth century, unions and the right to strike became a cornerstone of working-class political organising in the UK. But the BBC’s coverage of strikes in the latter part of 2022 could be interpreted as an undermining of workers’ right to strike and provides a snapshot of the BBC’s neoliberal leanings. Upon examining forty-five articles on the BBC website covering strikes between 1 November and 8 December 2022, several similarities emerge. These articles covered rail workers, other transport workers, healthcare workers, teachers, university staff and Royal Mail staff.

A recurring trait of these articles was that they mentioned how much workers in each respective sector earned. This information was always presented without any acknowledgment that wages haven’t risen in line with inflation for at least the past thirteen years. Despite the cost-of-living crisis being among the prime motivators for the recent strikes, only twelve articles (27%) mentioned cost of living, of which five articles also mentioned the effects of the pandemic and rising overheads for employers. With the minimum wage being £9.50 an hour, and without accompanying context on wage stagnation, it’s easy to see how, for example, a teacher’s starting annual salary of over £25k might appear generous to many people and diminish in their eyes the necessity of striking for teachers.

Articles often also mentioned pay offers that had already been made but were rejected by unions. But alongside this, none of the articles mentioned the profit margins of private companies where workers were striking, or, for instance, pay rises and benefits received by MPs and ministers in comparison to public sector workers. While there was an appearance of ‘balance’ as articles generally mentioned the views of both workers and employers, several articles also talked about “both sides”. This framing implies that the struggle of workers to get paid a wage on which they can afford to live is equal to the struggle of employers who are profiting from lower wages. Describing the strikes as a conflict where ‘both sides’ have legitimate grievances and simply can’t come to an agreement erases the power imbalance at play, thereby fundamentally undermining the justification for strikes.

Aside from these, two major, related themes stand out in the BBC’s coverage of strikes. The first is disruption to customers or service users, and the second is the impact the strikes, because of their timing, will have on Christmas. Out of seventeen articles reporting on transport strikes, 16 mentioned ‘disruption’ or effect on travellers; 16 out of 17 also mentioned ‘Christmas’. Out of ten articles reporting on Royal Mail strikes, 100% mentioned Christmas, while 80% mentioned disruption to customers and retailers.

Media narratives about ‘cancelling Christmas’ and ‘saving Christmas’ exemplify the moral panic regularly created around what is the single most important holiday for most of the UK population. It would seem that framing something as a threat to Christmas is a tried and tested way of turning the British public against it. The narrative pushed by the BBC on strikes disrupting Christmas plans has been no different. Mention of how the strikes are happening in the Christmas period, and will disrupt people’s plans during this time, is a prevalent theme, One headline, referring to RMT head Mick Lynch, read: I’m not the Grinch, says union boss ahead of Christmas train strikes. Two articles on Royal Mail strikes also mention one of the company’s top executives saying the union was “holding Christmas to ransom”.

But a handful of articles, in particular, stand out for their ‘strikes are anti-Christmas’ narrative. One of them, titled Train strikes: Pub boss warns walkouts could ruin Christmas plans, features concerns from pub owners about how the strikes will affect business during “a “vital” Christmas period”. Pub chain owner Simon Emeny urged the RMT to cancel strikes to ensure the hospitality sector “can have the Christmas it deserves”. Emeny, whose company employs 5,000 people, went on to pit striking workers against lower paid hospitality workers, saying:

“these train strikes are going to impact the hospitality sector – but more importantly, hospitality workers… They will probably have hours cut, see tips significantly reduced if these train strikes still happen.”

This divide and rule tactic continues as the article goes on to feature Charlie Baker, owner of two pubs. The article says Baker “estimates about £200,000 of business has been cancelled” since strikes were announced. It goes on to point out that Baker is “a smaller business owner” and losing this much business was “scary” for him. As Giroux says, neoliberalism pits people against one another through  “hyper-competitiveness”, which inhibits “the ability to act politically, responsibly and with civic courage”. He adds:

“This predatory culture furthers the process of depoliticization by making it difficult for individuals to identify with any sense of shared responsibility and viable notion of the common good.”

Baker laments how pubs, cafes, and restaurants are on a “cliff edge” because of rising energy prices, and goes on to say:

“I totally understand the cost of living is going up, and empathise with the rail workers, but it’s really tough for us too”

This is immediately followed by comments from UK Hospitality, the trade body for the sector, warning that “strike action will cost the sector about £1.5bn”. Only 9% of the article (77 out of 843 words) featured comments from RMT, with the rest being from business owners, UK Hospitality, and Transport Secretary Mark Harper.

Another prominent example was an article reporting Tory Chairman Nadhim Zahawi’s comments, in a TV interview with the BBC, that strikes at Christmas are “unfair” and “damaging” to people’s lives. Later that morning on Sky News, he infamously said strikes ‘play into Putin’s hands’ and that nurses should accept a lower pay offer to “send a very clear message to Putin” – but the BBC article makes no mention of these particular comments from Zahawi. While it says Zahawi told the BBC that strikes are “what Putin wants to see”, the video clip included at the top of the article doesn’t include Zahawi’s reference to Putin. The article also mentions demands for pay rises to match the rising cost of living, but immediately follows this with the caveat that cost of living “is increasing at its fastest rate in 40 years, largely as a result of rising food and energy prices”. This latter statement entirely absolves the Tory government of at least three things: its role in failing to increase wages in real terms for public sector workers; its role in refusing to effectively regulate or subsidise energy prices and energy production; and the role of Brexit in rising food prices. It also frames pay demands as ‘unaffordable’ and, consequently, striking workers as unreasonable for making these demands.

Finally, among the most blatant examples of the BBC’s anti-strike coverage was an article published on 8 December, initially titled ‘Rail strikes mean I won’t see my son over Christmas’. The headline was a quote from Owen, whose picture also featured as the article’s main image. The article, written by BBC reporter Michael Race, claimed Owen wouldn’t be able to visit his 12-year-old son on 27 December because of rail strikes. It went on to say:

“Having supported strikes earlier in the year, Owen says he’s now against them due to the festive strikes “ruining” his Christmas.”

But as many, many Twitters users pointed out, there were in fact alternative routes that Owen could easily have taken if he did indeed want to visit his son. The original tweet from the BBC, which was later deleted, got quote-tweeted at least 1,637 times (compared to only 110 retweets), with many of the quote tweets picking up on Race’s poor journalism and the BBC’s anti-strike bias. Sports journalist Jay Motty described it as “The BBC doing the Tories propaganda for them”. Writing for the Canary, Steve Topple also described the BBC article as “anti-RMT propaganda”, saying: “Overall, it shows the entrenched pro-government bias of the supposed ‘public service’ broadcaster.”

Topple also pointed out that the original article didn’t feature comments from anyone who supported the strikes, and Race’s failure to verify Owen’s claims contravened the BBC’s own reporting guidelines. The BBC later changed the headline and main image and removed Owen from the article, with a note at the end saying “This story has been updated to remove a case study whose travel plans are unlikely to be affected by the strikes”. The note, added as an ‘update’ rather than a ‘correction’, was then changed again to replace “a case study” with “an interview”.

Mainstream media outlets in the UK have, for the most part, consistently pushed ‘strikes vs. Christmas’ reporting. The BBC’s contribution, however, demonstrates its role as a propaganda tool for a government that appears to be trying its best to narrow the range of acceptable views and stifle critical thinking, thereby depoliticising the public. One measure of this is a YouGov poll that showed 45% of people supporting striking rail workers in October 2022 against 42% who are opposed, which had changed to 41% in support and 47% opposed in November. As Topple pointed out in another article for the Canary, “it seems that the media narratives around striking and Christmas may have swayed some people’s opinions”.

Systematic disempowerment and silencing of racialised minorities

Examining the cases of the police and the BBC shows their role in narrowing the space for dissenting opinions in the UK, thus contributing to a depoliticisation of the general population in service of an all-encompassing neoliberal hegemony. However, as discussed with regard to the policing of protesters, racialised communities disproportionately face the effects of this stranglehold on dissenting voices. With the silencing impact of heavy-handed policing on protesters of colour, it’s important to recognise that this harm isn’t just caused by the police as an institution. Rather it forms part of a systematic targeting, silencing and disempowerment of racialised communities.

Writing for Tribune Magazine, Jason Okundaye talks about the criminalisation of BLM protesters and, in particular, the role of the Home Office and the PCSC bill (still a bill at the time of writing) in facilitating this. He also mentions in the same vein the criminalisation of Black youths following the London riots in 2011. While the Tories in general, and Priti Patel in particular, have often been painted as caricatured villains when it comes to issues such as immigration or racism, Okundaye’s article brings home the point that a Keir Starmer-led Labour party is no less complicit in upholding the white supremacist, neoliberal status quo in the UK. He mentions Starmer’s role in expediting prosecutions for young Black people with no prior criminal records who were arrested at the riots, thereby denying them due legal process.

The state and media narratives around the riots likely contributed to a documented rise in racist attitudes in the UK. As in the case of the BLM protests, there was little recognition by the state or the general public of the justified frustration of rioters or the social and political causes that directly created the circumstances in which people felt the need to riot. Okundaye goes on to add:

“The Home and Justice Secretaries are deliberately seeking to antagonise Black families, many of whom are still living with the long-term consequences of the cruel legal proceedings which followed arrests of their young family members.”

What Okundaye alludes to here is the long-term impact of systemic racism. More specifically, the impact of the riots on Black people’s mental health reflects the broader idea of ‘black fatigue’ as discussed by Mary-Frances Winters. Described as “the toll of living with racism”, it’s not too far-fetched to conclude that the emotional and psychological weight of black fatigue can have a disempowering effect, reducing collective capacity for political dissent.

This concept of a collective fatigue in response to racism could also be applied in varying degrees to other groups affected by racism. A study by Billy Wong et al, published by the Cambridge Journal of Education in April 2022, examines the effects of “racial battle fatigue” specifically on “minority ethnic students in UK higher education”. The study notes the fatigue caused by repeated instances of racism among the students interviewed. While this causes a desensitisation and “tolerance” to racist incidents as a coping mechanism, crucially, the authors note:

“The emotional work, namely detachment and desensitisation, as practised by our minority ethnic students, seem to grow out of frustration and resignation that the status quo can be meaningfully challenged.”

Where this “resignation” can be seen as having a depoliticising effect on people from racially minoritised groups, it can be argued that this effect is the desired outcome of the state’s racist targeting of people of colour. Another, deeper study which supports this assertion was published by Julien Talpin in the Ethnic and Racial Studies journal in February 2022. The study is titled Why French racial minorities do not mobilize more often. Disempowerment, tactical repertoires and soft repression of antiracist movements. Focusing on six French towns, it notes a “collective disempowerment” among working class people from racial minorities. Importantly, Talpin says:

“Rather than apathy, French working-class neighbourhood residents seem marked by a deep sense of powerlessness. While they frequently interpret their situation as unjust, they see few ways of transforming it, since politics or collective action rarely appear as effective means.”

It’s particularly significant that Talpin identifies “repressive” practices of public institutions as one of the factors which cause the “demobilization” of racial minorities in France and “fuel collective disempowerment”. He adds that along with “violent forms” of repression, such as the police:

“the collectives studied in our research… face more ordinary forms of soft and symbolic repression and disqualification (Marx Ferree 2004), which, although less violent, have a direct impact on their mobilization capacities.”

Meanwhile, one of the manifestations of the British state’s repression of mobilisation against racism is the criminalisation of BLM protesters. Moreover, following the toppling of slaver Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol, it also manifests in the criminalisation of damage to statues via the PCSC Act – a move that disproportionately impacts anti-racist protests, given this country’s colonial legacy. And when it comes to repressing support for Palestine – one of the cornerstones of anti-racist struggle – repression takes violent forms, such as counter-terror policing, as well as more subtle forms. The latter include mass surveillance via Prevent and the systematic, multi-institutional targeting of organisations supporting Palestine.

In November 2021, UK parliament passed an amendment to the Terrorism Act of 2000 proscribing Hamas’s political wing as a terrorist organisation. At the time, Muslim leaders in the charity sector raised concerns regarding how the legislation would “hinder charity work inside the besieged Palestinian territory,” but their calls made no impact. However, with the military arm of Hamas being proscribed in 2001, Muslim charities had consistently come under scrutiny from the Charity Commission long before the 2021 amendment. A 2009 BBC Panorama programme on Interpal prompted a Charity Commission investigation into the organisation’s possible connections to “the militant or terrorist activities of Hamas”. Other charities the Commission has targeted for their work in Gaza and/or alleged links to liberation groups in Palestine include Education Aid for Palestinians, Medical Aid for Palestinians, Muslim Aid, and Human Aid. Investigations invariably led to either a threatened or actual loss of funding for the respective charities. At least one of these charities, Human Aid, publicly raised concerns about the Commission for “being excessive in its approach and effectively acting as an extension of police and security services harassment policy” [emphasis added].

In June 2022, the Commission also opened an inquiry into the National Union of Students’ (NUS) charitable arm due to antisemitism claims against NUS president-elect Shaima Dallali, a vocal pro-Palestine activist. The inquiry was prompted by a letter sent by Tory MP and Education Select Committee Chief Robert Halfon in collaboration with Campaign Against Antisemitism. A working paper titled Dominant Counter-Narratives to Islamophobia – United Kingdom published by Arzu Merali in 2018 calls attention to the toll of these Charity Commission inquiries, which happen to affect Muslims disproportionately. As one respondent notes:

“this has resulted in the very least, charities against whom no wrong doing has been found finding themselves… bogged down in endless rounds of correspondence with the Charity Commission caused by repeated complaints by the same members of the commentariat. At worst they have trustees removed and replaced by trustees chosen by the Charity Commission and or had assets frozen.”

In particular, Merali notes:

“Muslims are not only denied the ability to define Muslimness in any of its diversity but also are defined by state and institutional discourse and praxis that is a form of violence against them. It disempowers them from having any role in the development of wider society.” [emphasis added]

As noted earlier, this disempowerment manifests in a lack of critical engagement within the Muslim community and particularly Muslim civil society organisations. And following the systematic clamping down of minority-run organisations and movements, as Talpin noted in the case of France, either fear of, or fatigue caused by, state repression can lead to a mass silencing and depoliticisation of racialised minorities in the UK.

An irresistible force

This article provides a mere snapshot of the level of repression, silencing, and establishment propaganda being normalised in the UK. However, amidst these tactics and despite them, the so-called cost of living crisis has mobilised workers in particular to an extent not seen this century. Possibly, and entirely in keeping with the trajectory laid out in this article, these developments will lead to what PM Rishi Sunak has described as “new tough laws” to restrict strike action. But along with the rising cost of living, the climate crisis will continue to worsen and colonialism will keep fuelling the need for anti-racist struggles. As such, the population’s urgency to protest and the state’s authoritarian control over dissent may reach an impasse.

If the state insists on becoming an immovable object, rigid and unrelenting in its establishment of a neoliberal, colonial hegemony, then the only recourse for dissenting voices is to become an irresistible force. Awareness-raising movements and alternative media narratives could help to counter the state’s depoliticisation project, as long as these are made accessible across social divides and particularly at the grassroots to working class communities. Crucially, we need a radical rejection of the “hyper-competitiveness” and hyper-individualism Giroux mentions. Collectively embracing a commitment to the common good is the ultimate antidote to neoliberalism’s economic imperative – the fact that it raises the hackles of those in power is just an added bonus.

Afroze Fatima Zaidi is a writer, editor and journalist. She has a background in academia and writing for online platforms. She tweets at @afrozefz

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