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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Lola Christina Alao

What is mob rule? Rishi Sunak warns police over MPs' safety

Rishi Sunak was criticised on Thursday for alleging that “mob rule” is breaking out in Britain after weeks of protests over the Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza

Mr Sunak's comment came in a meeting with police chiefs where he demanded they get tougher with protest powers and outlined new guidance to protect elected officials.

Schools Minister Damian Hinds was asked whether he agreed with Mr Sunak that “mob rule is replacing democratic rule" in broadcast interviews on Thursday morning. He declined to repeat the phrase “mob rule”. But he said that picketing an MP’s home “absolutely crosses the line”. 

Mr Sunak has been accused of exaggerating the threat of “mob rule” to justify restricting protests.

“It’s an increasingly desperate move for a party that has been in power for 14 years to complain of an alleged descent into mob rule,” said the Labour peer and former director of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti, in response to language used by Sunak in a speech on Wednesday night.

Tom Southerden, Amnesty International UK’s law and human rights director, said: “Talk of ‘mob rule’ is extremely dangerous and detrimental to the rights of peaceful protest.

“Freedom of expression and assembly are absolutely fundamental rights in any free and fair society.”

The Met has been under particular criticism after declining to take action over the beaming of a sign on the Houses of Parliament last week that urged freedom for Palestinians “from the river to the sea”, which Jewish groups say is a call for Israel’s extinction.

Two serving MPs – Labour’s Jo Cox and Conservative Sir David Amess – have been murdered in the past eight years. 

The Jo Cox Foundation is campaigning for a new civility in politics, a call echoed in a Commons motion being debated on Thursday tied to International Women’s Day next week.

But what is mob rule and what are the origins of the term?

What is mob rule?

Mob rule is defined as "the fact or state of large groups of people acting without the consent of the government, authorities”.

Where did the term originate?

Mob rule, or ochlocracy, was first recorded in English in 1584, believed to originate from the French ochlocratie (1568), which stems from the original Greek okhlokratia, from okhlos ("mob") and kratos ("rule", "power", "strength").

Ochlocracy is synonymous in meaning and usage to mob rule or mobocracy.

‘Mob rule’ in the UK

A row broke out in November 2023 after Suella Braverman criticised the Metropolitan Police for its handling of pro-Palestinian protests.

Writing in The Times, she claimed aggressive right-wing protesters were "rightly met with a stern response", while "pro-Palestinian mobs" were "largely ignored".

Her comments were condemned at the time by former police officers and MPs.

One senior Conservative MP said: "The home secretary's awfulness is now a reflection on the prime minister. Keeping her in post is damaging him."

This came after the planning of a Pro-Palestine march on Armistice Day in the UK was branded as "disrespectful". The march did go ahead, and hundreds marched through London calling for a ceasefire in Israel's war in Gaza.

In May 2022, Priti Patel proposed a bill to introduce measures that include a new offence of obstructing major transport networks, which carries a maximum penalty of six months in jail, an unlimited fine, or both.

She told MPs that “we do not make policy through mob rule in this country” and urged them to support the bill. 

In October 2022, MPs passed the bill by 276 votes to 231.

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