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Extinction rabble

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MOTORISTS in Cardiff were slightly inconvenienced this week, when Castle Street was closed to traffic for three days by a boat painted bright green, placed there by a number of demonstrators with similarly-coloured political views, and – in many cases – hair.

Protesting under the banner of Extinction Rebellion (XR), the Cardiff demonstration was part of XR’s ‘summer uprising’; a series of protests in cities around the UK. XR made a spectacular entry onto the political stage in April this year, when its demonstrations brought much of central London to a standstill and resulted in more than a thousand arrests. The actor Emma Thompson took XR’s message of climate emergency so seriously that she flew five thousand miles in first class, just to be there.

XR only came into being a year or so ago; initially formed of a disparate rag-tag of the usual anarchist suspects. Previously, its founders had participated in the Occupy movement, and run an obscure fringe anti-capitalist group called ‘Rising Up!’

Its ideological leaders are Julian Roger Hallam, once a very unsuccessful two-organic-goats type smallholder in the Carmarthenshire village of Gelli Aur, who claims to have been persuaded towards eco-activism when extraordinary weather events –rain, possibly– spoiled his crop. Hallam makes no secret of his political ambitions for the movement: “We are going to force the governments to act. And if they don’t, we will bring them down and create a democracy fit for purpose… and yes, some may die in the process.”

His colleague Gail Bradbrook’s inspiration to become a full-time activist was less meteorological and more pharmaceutical. On a trip to Costa Rica –be fair, perhaps she walked there– the ‘neo-pagan’ took mind-bending quantities of ayahuasca (a potion brewed up by shamans in the Amazon jungle) and the psychoactive shrub iboga. This experience, Bradbrook relates, ‘rewired’ her brain and gave her ‘the codes of social change’. Soon after, she left a no doubt relieved husband and began her vital work to save the planet.

XR’s demands on the Government are not modest: a halt to extinctions, the establishment of citizens’ assemblies, and the total decarbonisation of the UK economy by 2025. To achieve this latter goal, there would need to be a total ban on commercial aviation, 38 million cars sent to the scrapyard and gas boilers removed from 26 million homes.

To bring this utopia about, XR advocates an economic model of ‘de-growth’; or what conventional economists would more baldly term permanent recession. They see economic resources on the planet as finite, and –despite the experience of European economies that increased prosperity leads to population reduction, and that technological advance leads to a cleaner environment– believe that only mass impoverishment can save the Earth.

In any democratic system, that ain’t going to happen. People will never vote to make themselves that much poorer.

This may be why XR’s founders have little confidence in achieving their political objectives by traditional means. Democratic politics don’t work for them. Roger Hallam stood as an independent candidate in London in the recent European Parliament election, sweeping up a miserable 0.04% of the vote and making even ChangeUK look wildly popular.

The people behind XR are cranks and dangerous cranks at that. XR’s great success is in hiding the cranks behind the banner of a cause that has real merit and dressing up the old anti-capitalist movement in green clothes. Alongside the predictable anarchists, hippies and conspiracy theorists, XR gets on board a load of yummy mummies for whom a more typical act of environmental activism is buying something from Waitrose with a butterfly on the label.

Previous anti-capitalist activism has always looked a bit too lairy for the middle classes. It was also ineffective. The police developed effective crowd control responses to disorder like the May Day riots of 2000 and 2001; the tactic of ‘kettling’ demonstrators, making them seriously uncomfortable for a while, then letting them go in dribs and drabs while ensuring obvious organisers get nicked, effectively put a lid on the more riotous kind of demonstration for years.

By contrast, XR have done a good job of keeping the scumbags at arm’s length and putting a friendly, non-violent middle-class face on their protests. They are promoting just as hard a political agenda, more effectively, without – for the time being – smashing shop windows. Their organisers recognise that people aren’t hugely enthusiastic about the central message of ‘smash the system’ but might be prepared to engage in a little light system-smashing if they see themselves as heroes saving the planet in the process.

Compared to April’s traffic meltdown in London, the Cardiff demo was small potatoes. Cardiff isn’t a huge place and Castle St is easily bypassed. As usual with such protests, any economic damage it caused was felt most by low-wage workers –taxi drivers; tradesmen trying to get to a job – rather than the big corporations it affected to target.

Climate change is real, and the Government are doing something about it. Effective pressure groups are a necessary part of any democratic system, but ultimately so is respect for the system itself, and for the rule of law.

XR’s founders don’t respect our system of democracy and want to destroy it. That isn’t in the interest of any of the middle-class people who now offer XR their uncritical support. It is to be hoped that a few of those thousand who were arrested in London get to experience the ghastly mortification of being frogmarched to a holding cell at JFK and summarily repatriated, next time they attempt to pop over to New York for the weekend.

Extinction Rebellion’s anti-capitalist manifesto represents exactly the wrong way to fight climate change. Economic growth, not a neverending recession, will develop renewable, clean technologies that allow people to live in prosperity without harming the environment. If they really want to make a difference, rather than sitting down in front of Cardiff Castle XR should go and sit down in Tiananmen Square, and tell that country’s government to take climate change seriously.

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Damaged pipe found to be the cause of the Afon Lliedi disappearance

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A DAMAGED sewer pipe is now thought to have halted the flow of the Afon Lliedi in the Llanerch area of Llanelli on 16 August.

Natural Resources Wales officers have been on site continuously in shift pattern monitoring the dam and the pumps they had installed to pump water around the hole and back into the river channel downstream.

Coal Authority officers attended the incident early on Tuesday (Aug 17) morning and found that the hole was not a sinkhole as had previously been suspected.

After receiving confirmation that the site was stable, NRW officers investigated and found that a damaged pipe was at the base of the hole that was taking the water flow. After working with Welsh Water colleagues, it was confirmed that the pipe is a sewer pipe.

Ioan Williams, NRW Duty Tactical Manager for South West Wales said: “By pumping the river flow downstream and beyond the hole, our officers on site have been able to restore a good level of flow to the Lliedi. I’m very grateful to them for their quick and effective work.

“We will carry out a fish assessment of the river see if further fish have died due to a lack of water flow. We know that approximately 50 fish had died before we installed the dam and pumping equipment, and we expect that our actions have limited further damage to fish and other aquatic life in the Lliedi.

“Although unusual, a pipe such as this could well be capable of removing a large majority of river flow when the river is in low flow as was the Lliedi. Once the repair is in place, we will monitor water levels in the river.”

Discussions are ongoing between NRW, Welsh Water and Carmarthenshire County Council on the best way to repair and protect the damaged pipe and on when the closed bridge can be reopened. Once repaired, the dam and pumping equipment will be dismantled which will allow the natural flow of the river to resume.

The pumps and lights are expected to be operating overnight and are due to be removed on Wednesday 18 August.

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A question of power

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by Matthew Paul

For anyone who stood as a candidate for ChangeUK in 2019, and watched over the course of the six-week European Parliament election campaign as mild enthusiasm on the part of the British public cooled into vague embarrassment before crystallising into disgust, it’s nice to see the Remoaners on the rebound. Brexit is back in the news, and causing big trouble for Boris Johnson.

“But Brexit”, you exclaim, “is done! Didn’t we have a General Election to sort that out? Didn’t our MPs vote for an oven-ready deal, back on 20th December last year?”

They did, but if the deal was supposed to be oven-ready, Boris left the plastic bag full of giblets inside and it is causing a terrible stink. Those unpalatable entrails are the ongoing and irreconcilable tensions between wanting our own laws and trade arrangements, and  maintaining an open border between the UK and the Republic of Ireland.

The United Kingdom is one single market; Wales cannot exclude or impose tariffs on goods from Scotland, England or Northern Ireland, and vice versa. This was the case for nearly three hundred years before the UK joined the EEC in 1973; when it did join, UK citizens swapped one single market of (then) 56 million for a single market that grew to ten times that size. The advantages of this, to our exporting economy, were obvious. 

Leaving that wider single market creates a problem, which is also obvious. There is a land border between the UK and Ireland, which international law (the Good Friday Agreement) says must remain open. If the UK uses its freedom from EU tyranny to strike new trade deals and to remove ‘foreign laws’ around food safety and product standards –which was the whole point of Brexit– it compromises the integrity of European product standards by allowing chlorinated chicken etc etc to pass, unchecked and untaxed, into the EU.

There is no reason why the EU should put up with this, and throughout Brexit talks the Commission made it clear that retaining an open border in Ireland is non-negotiable. There is only one straightforward alternative: a customs border in the Irish Sea between the island of Ireland and Great Britain. In June 2018, Theresa May was leaning in that direction, but this proposed solution –breaking up the territorial integrity of the UK to protect the integrity of the EU single market– was so detestable to the Spartans of the ERG that they passed a law specifically to stop May from doing it.

Fast forward to December 2019, and the same Spartans, cowed by Boris’ ruthless public execution of the 21 Remainers who rebelled against his Government’s Brexit policy, followed the PM like sheep through the Ayes lobby to endorse his oven-ready deal with an Irish Sea border as its defining characteristic. Boris said at the time that this would not create paperwork for businesses exporting goods from NI to the rest of the UK. He lied: the deal dictates that the UK keeps the NI/ ROI border open, implements the EU customs code in Northern Ireland, and obliges exporters to fill in declarations on goods going between NI and the rest of the UK.

Perhaps Boris just thought no-one would notice, even though everyone did. Perhaps he thought the EU would quietly back down on imposing the customs code. If this was the Government’s plan, it reinforces the impression that the Government is incapable of planning past lunchtime. The EU continued to insist stoutly on the terms of the deal being honoured. Finding himself well down in the game, Boris kicked over the card table. He presented the House of Commons with the Internal Market Bill, section 45 of which gives the Government power simply to ignore or override the Northern Ireland Protocol, to allow seamless trade and consistent regulation between all constituent parts of the UK. 

M’learned friends, blanching at the idea of tearing up treaties, were the first to cry foul. The government’s top lawyer, Sir Jonathan Jones, walked out of his job in despair. On Wednesday Lord Keen –the Government’s law officer for Scotland– resigned too, rather than adopt the intellectual contortions necessary to support the Bill. Even Robert Buckland, the likeable if impressionable Lord Chancellor, who previously mounted a sorry-faced hostage-video defence of Boris’s prorogation of Parliament and would be about as likely as the woolsack he sits on to rebel against Government policy, is shuffling uncomfortably. It’s not just the Remoaners, either; unless dark Lord of the Sith Michael Howard, and former Attorney-General and basso-profondo Brexithorn Sir Geoffrey Cox are now to be classed as Remoaners. 

Some of the pearl-clutching over the sanctity of international law is misplaced. As De Gaulle observed, “Les traités, voyez-vous, sont comme les jeunes filles et les roses: ça dure ce que ça dure.” The EU regards any emanation of international law that questions the acquis Communautaire with withering contempt, and owes zillions of dollars in WTO fines for breaching international law with state aid to Airbus. 

It comes down to a question of power, to a clear-headed assessment of whether or not you are going to win, and to whether the prize to be gained offsets the reputational damage of reneging on international obligations. Tearing up a treaty signed only months before is crass and looks weak. Kicking over the card table when you’re losing isn’t a great move if the other player then shoots you dead.

If the Government really wants to scare people about the effects of the Coronavirus, it could do worse than loop videos of Boris in December compared to Boris now. The hoo-ha over the Internal Market Bill is one more unforced mistake; the thickening miasma of incompetence and bad judgement is weakening this Government like a nasty dose of the Covid. On Tuesday, Boris fiddled with his phone through PMQs while Ed Miliband –Ed Miliband!– cut the hopelessly depleted Prime Minister to bits in front of a drolly amused House; Boris put up less resistance than a bacon sandwich.

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Opinion: The Big Question Facing Kier Starmer – Jonathan Edwards

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In the midst of the Coronavirus crisis the election victory of Sir Kier Starmer as Labour Leader didn’t achieve the column inches one would normally expect.  As is customary, I would like to wish Kier well in his role.  I can not claim to know him as a person having only conversed on a few occasions, however I have respect for his debating ability, his considered tone and his eye for detail.  I consider him a serious politician.

The challenges he faces are enormous of course.   Labour have now lost four Westminster elections on the bounce.  His decision making must quickly shift from efforts to unify his party to the far more important task of presenting a credible challenge to the Conservative party at the next Westminster election.

Labour has a defining choice to make, and this decision will have far reaching consequences for all political parties operating in the British State.  On the one hand, Labour could revert to its usual tribal inward-looking tendencies.  However, essentially this would mean writing off the next election as a part of a wider rebuilding strategy aimed at the 2029 election.  A stark admission as it would mean Labour having been out of power at Westminster level for twenty years at best.

Alternatively, Kier Starmer could acknowledge that Labour on their own will not be able to challenge the Tories for power at the next Westminster election.  This path would then require Starmer reaching out to all the other opposition parties in Westminster apart from the DUP.  I am talking about more than just coordination of parliamentary activity in Westminster.  In a first past the post electoral system we are talking about the need for non-aggression pacts, and a joint programme of government.  I would go as far as to suggest that the government itself would need to be a unity administration delivering on the agreed programme.

Parliamentary boundary changes makes the task even more pressing.  Whatever one thinks of his opportunistic politics, Boris Johnson has succeeded in unifying the right of the political spectrum.   However, the centre and left have a host of parties vying for support.  In a political system based for two horse races, the end result is brutal as we saw in December.

What sort of programme could Plaid Cymru, SNP, Green, Liberals, SDLP, Alliance and Labour unite around?  There would be little difficulty in agreeing a progressive economic and social policy platform.  A proportional voting system would be a must to enable all parties to compete equally in subsequent elections.  The big challenge for me seems to be the constitutional question when it comes to Scotland and Wales.   For Plaid Cymru and the SNP there would need to be a commitment for a fully Confederal system leaving only foreign affairs, defence, and macro-economic policy reserved – the sort of settlement promised by Cameron and Brown on the eve of the Scottish independence poll.  This should be supported with House of Lords reform into an elected Senate of the Nations of the British State.   Both Wales and Scotland would also require the statutory right to hold independence referenda at time of their own choosing.  This should be uncontroversial as it is the policy of the Labour Welsh Government.

This is the very simple choice facing the new leader of the Labour party.  Does he want to be Prime Minister, or effectively a plumber performing a re-patching job on a tired and insular party.

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