Campaigners in Brent are incensed by news that the local authority is planning to introduce a bye-law which would penalise those handing out free leaflets in the Borough. The report to the council which justified the measure stated that it was “being sought now to assist with the effective control of literature distributors anticipated during the Olympic period.”
Under the proposals, an organisation who wanted to hand out free literature would have to apply for a licence costing £175. There would be a minimum notice requirement of two weeks. A re-submission fee would cost a further £75. Each individual person who handed out leaflets would also have to pay a fee depending on how which days of the week they proposed to do this: £75 per person if during office hours on weekdays, rising to £165 per person on Sundays or Bank Holidays. The new restrictions would not materials promoting charities, religious organisations or “for political purposes”.
At a meeting of the Brent Trades Council on Wednesday, which voted to oppose the proposals, delegates gave examples of the sorts of activities which would be subject to this charge. BNP canvassers would not be punished by the rules; anti-fascist protesters would have to show that their purposes were “political”, otherwise they might be required to pay the fee.
Campaigners against library closures (a key group in Brent in the last year) would probably have to pay the charge, as presumably would trade unionists, and as (certainly) would trade unionists trying to leaflet quickly (i.e. without waiting for 2 weeks’ notice) in support of a dispute that arose suddenly.
Typical of the present period is Brent’s insistence that the new scheme, which will last indefinitely, has to be rushed through in order to be in place by the Olympics. Brent is an Olympic borough. It renegotiated its street cleaning contract last year, reducing the frequency of collections, and no doubt the council is wary of critics dubbing Brent the dirtiest Olympic borough.
But all over London there are other petty, authoritarian measures of this sort which are being introduced simply because they are convenient for various local authorities (councillors, the police, businesses etc). The Olympics is being used as an excuse to generalise the worst of London.