The Guardian’s Perspective on Insulate Britain: The Art of Protest | Editorial
A The draconian police and crime bill is making its way through parliament, and Home Secretary Priti Patel told her party conference on Tuesday that she plans to take even more rights away from protesters policies. New offenses of disturbing highways and national infrastructure will be added to the legislation which already significantly expands the powers of the police. Conservative members loudly applauded their illiberal Home Secretary as she denounced Isulate Britain protesters who repeatedly blocked roads.
Many others, including former Prime Minister Theresa May, have raised concerns over a bill that creates a new criminal offense of trespassing, lets police dictate protest times and restrict protests considered (by them) as causing noise and “nuisance”. . These are shocking restrictions, clearly designed to make impossible the kind of actions anti-racist and environmental protesters have taken in recent years, including those following the murder of George Floyd. The six-month sentences for new offenses that were previously treated as civil cases are excessive. But Ms Patel isn’t afraid of the charge of authoritarianism and knows it plays well with her local audience. His speech aimed to present the desperate migrants crossing the Channel and the protesters blocking the roads as enemies of the law-abiding Britons, as well as the pedophiles and murderers whose sentences will also be increased.
Isulate Britain’s statements have been provocative. In an open letter to Ms Patel last month, the group said: “You can deny us our freedom and put us behind bars. But shooting the messenger can never destroy the message: that this country will go to hell unless you take emergency action to stop releasing carbon into the air. With at least 115 protesters and more than 400 arrests – some protesters have been arrested multiple times – for now, this disruptive form of direct action is expected to continue until its organizers decide to stop (at l Police are unable to keep the arrested protesters in pre-trial detention at present). – another thing that Ms. Patel plans to change).
Anyone who shares activists’ deep anxiety over the climate emergency and deep frustration over the government’s failure to address it is likely to feel at least some sympathy for the protests, even if they disapprove of the tactic. Climate experts agree that the UK is lagging behind in house insulation, as well as transport. So far, most of the UK’s carbon cuts have come from the energy sector. And while buildings are responsible for around 17% of emissions, our homes are among the most drafty and least energy efficient in Europe. For years, environmental activists and Green Party politicians have made housing renovation a policy; now direct action has put isolation in the headlines and kept it going for weeks.
But activists aiming to influence politics through protest power must always be mindful of public opinion. And the reaction to the M25 and other blockages should be sobering – as Insulate Britain presumably decided when it proposed a qualified apologies. Tactics which anger a large part of the public carry political risks. And while the vast majority of the public supports policies to reduce emissions, many also believe they have the right to choose when and how often to drive.
The last few years have seen environmental protests flourish, from the divestment movement and challenges to sponsorship of fossil fuels, to strikes in schools. Campaigners are right that the climate issue cannot be left to politicians; it has been tried and it did not work. With their protests, environmentalists are performing a kind of public service. But in preparation for next month’s crucial UN negotiations, and with a grave threat to civil liberties hanging over it, their movement should aim to remain a large church.