Shadow Justice Secretary Steve Reed’s call for injunctions against Just Stop Oil protestors, “Motorists were already being hammered by prices at the pump, and now millions can’t even access fuel. The Conservatives need to stop standing idly by and put an end to this disruption that is causing misery for motorists” is posed by the Party leadership as “where the voters are” and “a commonsense position. Our position on climate change is strong and this doesn’t change the fact we think it’s the most pressing issue facing the planet, but we’re recognising you don’t solve it by annoying workers.”
If climate change “is the most pressing issue facing the planet”, that should have been flagged up as “the most pressing issue” in Reed’s comments; along with recognition that what Just Stop Oil is doing is a desperate response to an emergency that the government is not addressing. Especially in the week following the IPCC report described as “frankly terrifying” by former UN climate secretary Christiana Figueres. As one expert put it “It’s not about taking our foot off the accelerator anymore—it’s about slamming on the brakes”. Motorists take note. Jamie Reed take note. As Tyneside Mayor Jamie Driscoll noted, “these protests should not be necessary”. The government should not even be fantasising about opening new oil and gas fields, as doing so puts us in even greater danger, but they are actually going ahead and doing it.
Instead of condemning them for that, and talking up Labour’s alternative, Reed lets them off the hook, turns all his fire on the protestors, outflanking the government in authoritarianism; and thereby reinforcing Priti Patel’s narrative that the argument about climate is between the mass of people on the one side – who just want to get on with their lives – and a “criminal”, “woke minority” on the other; who are self indulgently warning that if we carry on with our lives in the way we currently are, there will be no livable planet sooner than we think.
This is taken further in “light news” programmes like Good Morning Britain, where campaigners are routinely ganged up on by the two presenters – who say things like “we don’t want to keep talking about the facts” and “this is a complicated issue. Just Stop Oil is a simplistic slogan, a bit Vicky Pollard” – reinforced by right wing headbangers who call them “fascists” and “terrorists”.
This is a bit beyond the parallel that a lot of commentators have drawn with Don’t Look Up. The presenters in the film are trivial minded and ignorant, incapable of taking on board the scale of the disaster that’s coming. On GMB, they claim to be aware and worried, but not enough to take any action themselves – perhaps by devoting sections of their programme to exploring this “complicated” issue in a way that mobilises people to act on it and requires political leaders to set up systems to enable that. Instead they are actively and cynically trying to undermine the need for rapid changes; and replace discussion on how to do it with belittling ad hominin attacks designed to make the most active and concerned people look mad. And, seriously…Vicky Pollard? If anyone is saying “Yeah, but No, but Yeah, but No” its a government that is expanding offshore wind while going for new oil and gas at the same time.
The logo for programmes like this should be a suicidal ostrich.
Reed and the Party leadership might think this good electoral politics, but the dynamic of comments like that is to take us away from dealing with climate change, towards just locking up and shutting up the people who are most motivated and concerned about saving all our futures. A disagreement on tactics with Just Stop Oil, that the targets for their actions should be those most responsible for causing the crisis, is a second order disagreement. “Workers” should not only not be being “annoyed”, but its the job of everyone who takes climate breakdown seriously – whether that’s JSO or the Labour Party – to mobilise them as active participants and leaders in the transition to a green society.