Lancashire councillors condemn Just Stop Oil tactics, as Greens call for action against climate change rather than demonstrators
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The demand came in a motion brought by a backbench member of the ruling Conservative group, which also won support from the Labour opposition.
County Cllr Matthew Maxwell-Scott – who represents Lancaster Rural East - said that nobody should doubt the authority’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions and maximising the opportunities of the green economy.
However, he condemned the way in which Lancaster city centre had been “brought to a standstill” by a go-slow march by Just Stop Oil protestors on a Saturday morning back in May.
“Right now, we need oil and we need gas if we are not to wreak entirely avoidable havoc on our economy [and] on our public services.
“While we of course accept legal protests and people’s right to make them, these should not cause significant disruption to our residents’ everyday lives. Wherever this crosses the line into illegality and even criminal damage, everything possible must be done to just stop this.
“I’m sure we all want to see a public debate led by thoughtful, moderate, practical ideas – not by the noisy narcissism [of] the self-indulgent, apocalypse-obsessed few.
“Attempting to ruin events such as the Chelsea Flower Show, Wimbledon and the Ashes test at Lords shouldn’t just be dismissed as childish antics,” said County Cllr Maxwell-Scott, alluding to recent high-profile Just Stop Oil protests nationwide.
The government introduced new legislation in April, under which police were empowered to intervene in what it described as “highly disruptive slow marching tactics used to block roads and cause chaos to the lives of the hard-working public”.
The move involved clearly defining what is meant by the phrase, ‘serious disruption to the life of the community’, which the Home Office said would “give police the clarity they have asked for on when to use their existing powers to break up the slow marching tactics protesters have used to halt traffic across the UK”.
Labour’s Matthew Tomlinson said that the current government’s commitment to the environment had been rightly traduced in the resignation statement of the now former foreign office minister Lord Zac Goldsmith last month.
However, he told the meeting that the Conservative motion appeared to imply that Lancashire’s Tory Police and Crime Commissioner, Andrew Snowden – to whom the authority will now write with its push for uncompromising policing measures – was “not doing a very good job”.
“It seems to be that the Conservatives are encouraging him to make sure the police apply the law as it exists, which…infers that they are not applying the law [currently],” said County Cllr Tomlinson, adding that the Labour group would back the Tory call.
Andy Fewings, one of County Hall’s two Green Party members, tried to amend the resolution by inserting a raft of changes – including reference to the impact of “extreme weather environmental events caused by human-made climate change” and contrasting that global inconvenience with the “slight disruption” that resulted from the Lancaster go-slow march.
His revised motion also called on the government to properly fund its climate change pledges to avoid people “feeling they have no choice but to take direct action”.
County Cllr Fewings told the debate: “I’m in full agreement [with] stopping those protests and the disruption that occurs. However, the route to getting there, I believe, is actually tackling climate change – tackling the cause rather than the symptom.
“Protest remains an important part of our democracy and has been a vital tool for social change for hundreds of years. Protest, by its nature, is disruptive and just because something has recently been made illegal does make it immoral.”
His proposed amendment was ultimately ruled inadmissible by county council vice-chair Tim Ashton, because it was so radically different to the original.
Fellow Green Party member Gina Dowding tried to secure support for her own amendment – and while that was allowed to be put to the vote, it was heavily defeated.
The Lancaster Central member said that the hottest global week on record earlier this month was a threat to food supplies and called on the government to “take some action that will actually meet the needs” of the planet.
Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat John Potter said that he considered Just Stop OIl “naive” and that they “do as much damage to their cause as good”.
“However, as a liberal, I will defend their right to protest peacefully. You’ll notice I said ‘peacefully’, rather than ‘legally’ – why? Because this government has disgraced itself…[by passing legislation which means that] what it now classed as an illegal protest in England and Wales is outrageous in a modern democracy.
“History teaches us that you can’t have social progress without some sort of protest against those in power. Today, under your [Conservative] rules, people can be banned from protesting, having never been convicted….and be sent to prison if they breach the conditions imposed on them.
“This is a massive draconian overreach,” said County Cllr Potter, while stressing that he did not believe anybody wanted to see protests that resulted in ambulances being blocked.
In a statement following the group’s protest in Lancaster, a spokesperson for Just Stop Oil said: “In moments of emergency, we must stand up and be brave, we must stand up for good over evil, life over death, right over wrong.
“Just Stop Oil is calling on everyone to pick a side. Either you are actively supporting civil resistance, fighting for life, or you are complicit with genocide.
“The time is now. Join us and slow march while you still can. Our indefinite campaign of civil resistance has begun and will not end until our government ends new oil and gas.”