Yesterday I attended, as a visitor, the County Council’s budget planning meeting. I was supporting a Green colleague who wanted to ask a question about the County’s cycling infrastructure. He was concerned that the transport budget was disproportionately tilted towards the needs of car drivers rather than cyclists. As appears to be rather often the case, he did not get a very clear answer! Somebody, a recently retired Green Councillor, also asked a question, this time about the proportion of the budget that was being allocated to deal with climate change.
As soon as she had finished – whether there was any collusion I don’t know – a demonstration kicked off organised by the Extinction Rebellion group. I must say this was great fun and enlivened the proceedings immensely. It was also well organised. There was a mock trial, plenty of (fairly tuneful) singing, and a people’s convention. Some of the participants glued themselves to the benches. The Councillors took themselves off and the police arrived. After some time it all ended peacefully with the press and the demonstrators ushered from the building. The event also appeared as the first item on BBC Points West in the evening, though the pictures were rather disappointing, and perhaps not enough was made of the main message the protesters wanted to get across. The Council leader defended the Council’s record pointing out that the recently refurbished Shire Hall was now carbon neutral!
Did all this mean very much? There are some obvious points to be made and then some difficult ones. The demonstrators clearly felt that they were not getting their message across by the traditional channels. (On the evidence of the first part of the morning they were probably right.) They had therefore resorted to more direct methods, though it should be stressed that this did not include violence. If publicity was their main aim then at least they got on the local news. Whether any of their specific demands – there was a whole list of them – were recorded and taken seriously, with a view to possible implementation, we simply do not know, though future responses may tell us something.
Now consider the situation of the one Green Party councillor present at the meeting. This is somebody who has committed herself to the political pathway and by dint of what was no doubt a long and arduous process has managed to get herself elected. Her main purpose would be to promote Green policies. The budget debate would be an opportunity to do so. I wonder what she felt about the demonstration. The ‘politicians’, and there are several of them in the County who are forwarding the Green agenda, might wonder whether the demonstrators’ evident contempt for the political process and their attempts to undermine it by direct action, are poor reward for their labour. Presumably they still feel that working through politics might in the end prove to be a more effective method. On the other hand – to say it again – Extermination Rebellion and the like evidently feel that the situation is becoming desperate. The traditional methods have proved a failure. We simply do not have time to go on knocking at the same door from which we get no answer.
I have sympathy for both parties. I wonder what other people feel about this.