We do ourselves no favours by treating the current Policing Bill just as an outrageous assault on a public right to protest. It is…Of course it is. But the violence targeted towards the police in Bristol (and the preceding violence by police themselves towards peaceful protesters) masks the scale of the assault on civil liberties currently underway. It is this bigger picture that should worry us most.
Disaster capitalism is racing into ‘surveillance and control’ politics. This provides the government with cover for its continuing addiction to all the problems that have created the current crisis. If the government plan succeeds, life will become immeasurably harder … for all of us.
The whole of Britain longs for Covid constraints to come to an end. Spring is coming. We want to say ‘hello’ to each other in public again; to socialise in ways we used to regard as ’normal’.
Disaster capitalists know that the new normal is going to be anything but normal. So they are busy constructing a new control framework for the corporate feudalism they expect to follow. Covid provided the ideal cover for doing so.
Realistically, we have only the ﬂimsiest of answers to the problems Covid has thrown up. Successive waves of new ‘variants’ will wash disruptively around the planet for years to come. Improved vaccinations will limit their impact, but national frontiers oﬀer no long-term answers. Constrained social movement, (nationally and internationally) will be with us for some time to come. So too will the monitoring strategies needed to contain further Covid ‘waves’. But the politics that begin with Covid quickly spill into climate and into corruption. This is where the real issues are being played out; in the tug-of-war between public safety and private accumulation.
Deﬁning the enemy
Consider for a moment some of the diﬀerent ‘threats’ to society. The Oﬃce of Budget Responsibility estimates that Covid will knock 3% oﬀ Britain’s GDP and Brexit will hit it by another 4%. But as the Stern Review warned back in 2006, our unpreparedness for climate impacts could crash GDP by up to 10%p.a. The urgency of such forewarnings lies behind much of today’s climate activism.
This is what brought Helen Burnett before London Magistrates. She faced civil disobedience charges for ‘wilful obstruction’ close to Lambeth Bridge during Extinction Rebellion’s ‘climate emergency’ protests. Helen symbolises the disruptive climate activism that Home
Secretary, Pritti Patel, now seeks to criminalise.
Helen, herself, hardly ﬁts the picture of a major threat to social order. An Anglican vicar in leafy Surrey, she simply felt compelled to protest against the societal implosions climate collapse would bring about. Some of her fellow protestors are already in detention following similar non-violent protests.
Of course the protests are disruptive. Unless we ‘wilfully disrupt’ an economics that over-consumes, criminally
wastes, and loots and pollutes on a catastrophic scale, there will be little more than chaos for our kids to inherit.
If the Welsh ‘Well-being of Future Generations’ Act applied across the whole of the UK, such protests would be regarded as acts of conscience (or of eco-system and inter-generational solidarity), not actions to be criminalised. None of this will deter the Home Secretary from doing so.
In their drive to close down democratic rights, Conservative MPs will doubtless line up behind her; denouncing climate protestors as unacceptable threats to society. It is what the Right have longed to do all along. How diﬀerent from the government’s response to their own criminal disrupters.
A Conservative majority on the House of Commons Treasury Committee has voted not to summon former Prime Minister, David Cameron, to answer questions about his blatant lobbying for government bailout money for the (now collapsed) Greensill ﬁnance company.
Corrupt access to the corridors of power is obviously not corrupt if it is for the government’s friends. This shouldn’t come as a shock.
Unaccountable and self-rewarding patronage became a cornerstone of government contracting throughout the pandemic. But what goes unchallenged in government will soon become unchallengeable through public protest.
Those resisting Britain’s drift into the disinformation society look set to become its newest criminals. The right to protest (and disrupt) remains the most important public counterfoil to the centralised disinformation and manipulation of the internet economy. That is why it is under attack.
The insecurity of e-everything
Tomorrow’s political and economic battles must lift the veil on what ‘economic recovery’ really means to the new Right. Those eulogising about the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ and ‘The Great Reset’ have an agenda all of their own. Forget Johnson’s talk of ‘levelling up’. It is about how the rich would carve up tomorrow’s e-economy. Klaus Schwab, one of the World Economic Forum’s current gurus, summed up their vision –
“During the lockdown, many consumers previously reluctant to rely too heavily on digital applications and services were forced to change their habits almost overnight: watching movies online instead of going to the cinema, having meals delivered instead of going out to restaurants, talking to friends remotely instead of meeting them in the ﬂesh, talking to colleagues on a screen instead of chit-chatting at the coﬀee machine, exercising online instead of going to the gym, and so on.
Thus, almost instantly, most things became “e-things”: e-learning, e-commerce, e-gaming, e-books, e-attendance… As social and physical distancing persist, relying more on digital platforms to communicate, or work, or seek advice, or order something will, little by little, gain ground on formerly ingrained habits.”
The more we rely on Amazon the more detached we become from the working conditions of those Amazon employs. The more we supermarket shop on-line, the harder it becomes to organise collective boycotts of GMO products in the food chain, or insist on low ‘food miles’, or demand decent pay and conditions for supermarket workers. All too soon we then forget to ask when it was that we began to live in Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ or Orwell’s ‘1984’.
Some will argue that social movements can use this new world of electronic social media just as eﬀectively as corporate lobbyists. But the evidence is not on their side. Look at the impact false news and insularity lobbying had on the Brexit campaign. Look at how Putin and China and Myanmar block the airwaves to
protests they disapprove of (and then send the police in). You can even picture Home Secretary Pritti Patel banning internet campaigning as it becomes ‘too loud and disruptive’ to be tolerated.
Reconnecting with climate
This is what makes climate campaigners important. They know that whilst Boris can defraud the public, he cannot lie his way past the planet. His new licences, issued for extraction of gas and oil, will turn Britain’s ‘net zero’ Carbon commitments into ‘not-zero’.
The simple truth is that Britain must end its fossil fuel subsidies. Instead of £16bn going into new oil and gas extraction partnerships, it should go into energy saving and smart grids. Even a glance at the Climate Change Committee’s warning about UK emissions slipping behind its carbon reduction targets would tell you how urgent this change of direction is.
Climate protesters – middle class and respectable, young/old and intractable, internationalists and localists – see this and take to the streets, demanding a change of plan while there may still be time. Soon they will be criminalised for doing so.
The more we lose the right to peaceful, collective protest – the more police are told to ‘disrupt and disperse’, to protect us from ourselves – the more alienated from each other we will become. E-solidarity will rarely make it out of the armchair.
… Except for Bert
The one notable exception right now seems to be Bert. Strictly speaking, ‘ClimateBert’ is not a person but an AI programme invented by Swiss and German academics. Bert’s programmed task was to monitor the performance of over 800 major businesses, supposedly signed up to the principles of the ‘task force for climate related ﬁnancial disclosure’ (TCFD). The brainchild of former Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, the TFCD was supposed to drive carbon reduction strategies in the business and ﬁnance sector.
Stripped of technical jargon, Bert seems to have come back with a bleeping verdict that “Its all a scam. It’s all a scam”. The whole panoply of current obsessions with carbon oﬀsetting and emissions-trading turns out to be largely ‘greenwash’. Almost every element of Boris Johnson’s climate strategy is structured around duplicitous dishonesties: urgent becomes distant; essential becomes peripheral; the non-negotiable becomes a maybe.
In the face of such Armageddon insanities, Bert may become the last voice with any right to proclaim “Its a scam. It’s a scam”. So, right now – be you priest or parent, pensioner or pupil – we all should be out there loudly repeating Bert’s message. It won’t be long before Pritti Patel demands we’re all unplugged.
Alan Simpson March 2021