Just Stop Oil are disruptive, but Sir Keir Starmer and others are pretending that isn’t the point - Alexander Brown

A long time ago, in a criminal justice system far, far away, a young lawyer was looking for interesting cases.

As comradely as they came, Sir Keir Starmer was a self-confessed republican, and wanted to fight for causes he believed in. Representing striking lawyers for free, as well members of London Greenpeace who had been protesting outside McDonald’s, the eventual Labour leader seemed to understand some causes go beyond the laws of the state.

But now, perhaps as near power, something has changed. Sir Keir no longer opposes the monarchy, and has since decided protest is bad, actually.

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Asked this week about Just Stop Oil, a group of what appear to be well-intentioned teenagers and pensioners, Sir Keir accused them of “arrogance”, saying they were “interrupting iconic sporting events that are part of our history and tradition”.

Not only does this sentence read like it was written by an AI yet to have its coding, it also seems so at odds with who he is or perhaps was, and what Sir Keir always seemed to believe in.

I am not naive enough to expect our leaders to defend protest, that is obviously a trap, especially given Dale Vince, a donor of Just Stop Oil, has also given £1.5 million to the Labour Party. But to outwardly attack those he should be inspiring seems unlikely to convince them to stop.

The Tories aren’t much better, passing policy that makes protest harder, empowering an already untrustworthy police force that arrested people without evidence during the coronation.

I’m not saying these activists aren’t annoying, making most of us yearn for the days of Extinction Rebellion, and blocking cars is really unlikely to win hearts and minds. But these people are desperate and not the enemy. It might not convince anyone, but we as a society can do better than attacking people risking their criminal records to try and save the world. Besides, we are talking about it, which is literally the point.

Being irritated isn’t going to kill anyone, the climate crisis is and will. The UN has said climate change has caused two million deaths in 50 years, with more than 90 per cent of those happening in developing nations. Raising awareness of this, opposing this, and trying to deliver change is arguably worth missing five minutes of tennis.

Rail workers striking, NHS workers doing the same, Just Stop Oil protesting, these are all people feeling helpless in the face of the state, resorting to direct action. I am not going to make some crass comparison to the Suffragettes, but that’s only because there won’t be a world for women to vote in.

Instead of condemning these compassionate activists, politicians should be searching for ways to address their concerns. If the public don’t believe in the system to change things, authority figures need to convince them otherwise.

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It also comes in the face of concerted campaigns to undermine and scrap the goal of net zero by 2050. Whether certain media groups, or simply politicians, there are those who value the money to be made in the culture war more than the long-term prospects of having a planet Earth.

Pretending those pushing back against that are doing it for anything, but themselves is either dishonest, or fundamentally misunderstands the scale of the crisis.



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