Last Friday, as I walked to my office through Trafalgar Square, I was impressed at the tenacity of the Extinction Rebellion protestors camped out in the driving rain. Fast forward a week, and my sympathy and that of the public is vanishing at the speed of the Bullet train after protests which turned violent yesterday.
ER protestors decided to stand on the roof of a total of three tube trains (one of which was electric) in the middle of the rush hour. One was caught on camera kicking a commuter in the head who tried to pull them off. Scuffles ensued with some of the protestors being attacked before being arrested. By the evening, Trafalgar Square was full of police anticipating more potential problems as a result of ER demonstrations.
The scenes from yesterday are a stark reminder to those politicians who have supported the Extinction Rebellion that they need to be very careful who they get into bed with. Deciding to make it harder for people to go to work by public transport was an act of sheer stupidity when climate change is the key concern. Anyone in a rush to get somewhere could have decided to jump into a taxi instead. Imagine the nurse coming back from a night shift after saving lives, or the office cleaner who has no child care and needs to get home to take their children to school. These are the people that the left claim to care about, but yesterday Extinction Rebellion was making their lives impossible.
Several weeks ago, parts of the ER movement were even considering launching drones around our airports, putting at risk the safety of passengers and those on the ground and giving succour to terrorists. When planes are delayed, the reaction from ER and those who support them is flying is bad, who cares if someone’s flight is delayed? But what if those people are taking a plane to be back with their dying relatives. Someone else missing their final moments with their mum or dad is easier to put to one side when it does not impact you personally.
It would not have taken more than a couple of minutes for Jo Swinson or Caroline Lucas to tweet their outrage at the behaviour or to put out a statement as Sadiq Khan did, condemning the violence and the disruption to ordinary Londoners. But they didn’t, which was deeply disappointing, given that they regularly (and fairly) complain about the coarsening of political discourse and threats of violence towards MPs.
Whatever people’s politics, most people do not wish to be stopped from going to work to earn a living, visit their family, taking their children to school or going to hospital. If those on the left are not careful, and the scenes we saw yesterday continue, Extinction Rebellion and politicians who support them will be playing directly into Boris Johnson’s hands. The Conservatives record of swingeing cuts to the police will quickly be forgotten by a thankful public who will inevitably tire of Extinction Rebellion protestors gluing themselves to trains, blocking roads or stopping people flying.
Those who support the ideals of Extinction Rebellion cannot be seen to turn a blind eye to disruption and violence just because it is on their side of the culture war.
The angry commuter will not be thinking about the comparisons with Emmeline Pankhurst’s fight for women for as long as Extinction Rebellion are causing mayhem on their daily commute.
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