Wednesday, 9 September 2020

Newspaper column 9 September 2020 - Extinction Rebellion's attempt to stifle the press


The ‘cancel culture’ – which seeks to shut down views and voices that don’t subscribe to a particular, narrow, political agenda, took another concerning twist this weekend when Extinction Rebellion blockaded several newspaper print factories in order to prevent them from being printed and distributed.

The fact that it was only some newspapers, and not those who generally support a more left-wing political view, shows once again what the thinly veiled agenda is behind this campaign.

This latest stunt in the undemocratic campaign to bring down capitalism should be a cause for concern for many reasons.

Firstly, it is illegal, and I was pleased to read that the Police did actually take action and there were 58 arrests of those who were protesting. To seek to prevent companies from going about their lawful business in this way should never be accepted in an open and democratic society. It is worth noting that by preventing newspapers from being printed and distributed it is not just the owners of the papers that pay the cost. It is also thousands of businesses across the country, many of which are small family businesses such as newspapers and convenience stores, who stock and sell these papers who would have felt the consequences. At a time when many of our businesses are struggling to recover from the lockdown this type of action is the last thing they and our economy needs.

But probably more serious is the blatant attempt to shut down those who do not concur with the narrow and extreme agenda of Extinction Rebellion. A free press is one of the hallmarks of freedom of speech that is the foundation of our democracy. Listening to opposing views is a healthy part of any open democratic society. As the saying goes you do not win a debate by stopping debate from taking place.

When it comes to the issue of climate change and protecting our environment, we have been having a significant and constructive debate in this country now for many years. That debate needs to be allowed to continue. The issue is too important to be shut down now. But we also have to accept it is a very complex matter with a wide variety of views and opinions. Seeking to shut it down, particularly at this point in time, is the last thing we need to do.

The irony is now, that just at a point when we are making real advances in action being taken to limit and prevent climate change, those who claim to be the most focused, committed and vocal on the matter are in danger of being the ones doing the most harm to progress.

When Extinction Rebellion began their direct-action protest last year it was clear there was a fair degree of sympathy and support for their cause. People may not have completely agreed with all of their actions but there was a general acceptance that their cause was just.

However, as they have continued their protests and escalated their actions it is clear from my post bag that they are losing much of the good will they may have initially attracted. This latest action at the weekend appears to have lost them even more support. Even some leading politicians from parties who are known to be in support of more action to fight climate change are now saying these latest stunts by Extinction Rebellion are undermining the cause and counter-productive.

There is a fine balance between allowing protest to happen whilst remaining legal and respecting the views of others. Many people, and our society as a whole, has been on a journey in recent years and it is clear the general direction of travel has been towards a greater understanding of the importance of protecting our environment, and a greater acceptance that more needs to be done to reduce emissions and prevent further harm to our environment.

This government has taken more action than any other to put in place legislation to cut our carbon emissions, reduce pollution including things such as plastic waste and promote clean energy and sustainable growth. Yes, more needs to be done and more will be done. But as in any significant change the government, and politicians in general, have to take the public with them. That is where our democratic mandate for the action required will come from.  

The vast majority of people I engage with now accept that we need to take more action to reduce pollution and the impact of climate change. My concern is that the actions of a few extremists is now damaging the cause they say they are fighting for. It is becoming more and more clear to me that their consistent criminality and disruption of the lives of law-abiding businesses and hard working people is losing them the support of much of the public. Support we are going to need if we are to make further progress.