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The power of protest – Insulate Britain: disruptive or for a good cause?

Is the government’s response to these protests fair or are they infringing on freedom to protest?

One of my favourite Tik Toks says the following: “Roses are red, bees live in a hive. If you live in Britain, you’re probably stuck on the f***ing M25!” This Tik Tok was originally a piece of humour poking fun at the constant stream of traffic that collects on this cursed motorway. Since September it has however taken on a whole new meaning.

Insulate Britain is a climate activist group with a special focus on the energy inefficient insulation of most housing in the UK. Their protests have recently taken the form of blocking big motorways, such as the M25. Some think these people are disruptive and awful, pointing to ambulances that were stopped from taking patients to hospitals and innocent citizens who were unable to take their children to school. Others point to the dire need for climate action and argue that Insulate Britain is perfectly right for protesting this way as asking nicely gets you nowhere.

I am inclined to agree with the latter. Just look at the differences between the British and Swiss votes for women movements. The former, made up of women who chained themselves to the Parliament’s gates, obtained the vote in 1918. The latter, made up of petitions and failed referendums, received the vote much later in 1971.

I do think however that Insulate Britain will fail if they continue to pick easy targets, for which any jail time or fine isn’t likely to be anything too heinous, considering most arrested protestors are let go or ‘de-arrested’. In this way, they fail to gain media support, a vital tool for any and all protests.

So what is a good way to get support? If we look back to those that gathered on Clapham Common to mourn Sarah Everard, we have our answer. The police’s actions were seen as unreasonable because the general public could sympathise with those arrested. Similarly, Priti Patel’s policing bill, released days after the protest, was seen as a step too close to a far-right restriction on freedom because it tried to vilify protestors when the only thing harmed was the government’s pride. This then led to mass protests to ‘kill the bill’. We will not see this with Insulate Britain if their targets continue to be the people most likely to support them. If they were to glue themselves to Ms Patel’s driveway however, instead of a vital motorway, they could turn media perception around. Not in the least because the punishment is likely to be far greater, despite harming far less. 

Without media support, Insulate Britain will only be used to present dangerous restrictions on freedom as protection of our way of life. This is precisely what occurred at the Conservative Party Conference, where Priti Patel committed to giving police emergency powers, including extended powers of stop and search. Because of this, minorities will continue to suffer further. For those who disagree, look at how the police dealt with Wayne Couzens before Sarah Everard and then see if you can honestly say the police will hold their own accountable for an abuse of power. More emergency powers make men like him more powerful and if Insulate Britain doesn’t start trying to win over the public soon, they will be aiding the loss of freedom.

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