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12 April 2022

Labour’s crackdown on climate protesters is a political necessity for the green cause

Those struggling to fill up their cars might vote for parties promising petrol rather than clean power.

By Philippa Nuttall

Since the start of the month, the Just Stop Oil campaign has stopped tankers entering, filling up or leaving to deliver fuel at 11 terminals. Petrol retailers say the protests are not having a serious impact on deliveries but local reports suggest certain petrol pumps are running dry. In response, the Labour Party is demanding an immediate nationwide ban on the demonstrations, claiming they have caused “misery” for motorists.

The Just Stop Oil demonstrators are on the right side of history, I would argue in normal times. Never has there been a better time to end the world’s oil addiction on climate and geopolitical grounds. Labour’s call for a ban on activists invading fuel terminals in England appears misguided for a party generally supportive of protests and the net zero target. But people are fed up. There is a danger that those struggling to fill up their cars will decide climate action is not for them and vote for parties promising petrol not clean power. I don’t agree with Labour’s stance, but I understand the political necessity of it.

The inclusion of new oil and gas fields in last week’s energy security strategy from the UK government was deeply troubling. Headlines suggesting Westminster could give a green light to a new coal mine in Cumbria are a dirty distraction. The International Energy Agency and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have warned that no new fossil field infrastructure must come online if the worst impacts of climate change are to be avoided.

My colleague India Bourke has written that Labour’s call is wrong-headed and diverts attention away from the government’s record, but we also need to think strategically and in the longer term. Voters are tired of energy bills going through the roof. Food bills are increasing. Patients are waiting up to 12 hours in A&E. And let’s not forget it is the Easter holidays; families trying to leave the doom and gloom behind have seen their flights cancelled. Others have missed their Eurotunnel trains because of huge Brexit-related traffic jams. 

Labour must show that it empathises with the plight of voters, and is ready and willing to protect them as well as the planet. The party’s demand for an injunction banning protests looks harsh and misguided. But winning local and future national elections has to be the party’s priority if it really wants to act on the climate; ignoring voters’ day-to-day frustrations will not help this cause. 

And this quandary is not limited to the UK. As I argued last week, climate-sceptic Donald Trump could be back in the White House if Joe Biden puts a foot wrong on energy. In France, the renewable energy-hating Marine Le Pen could end up in the Elysée. These are difficult and dangerous times.

[See also, India Bourke’s counter argument: Labour’s attack on climate protesters is wrong-headed]

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