The Wokingham Paper

WESTMINSTER DIARY: With protest rights come responsibilities

Dr Phillip Lee
Dr Phillip Lee

There are two things that are always true about demonstrations – the people taking part are passionate about their cause (why else would people give up their free time?)… and they will cause some level of disruption.

Over recent weeks, London has seen its fair share of demonstrations.

I even took part in one of them myself – marching with, and then speaking at, the million-person march to request a final say, confirmatory referendum on the final Brexit deal.

A few days later demonstrators from the other side of the argument took over Parliament Square, on what was planned to be Brexit day itself.

Both these events were coordinated in cooperation with the police and both of them passed off peacefully.

And the key words here are ‘passed off’.

Within a few hours of their ending London was returned to normal, the brilliant Westminster Council cleaning teams had worked their wonder and everything was back up and running again.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the latest wave of demonstrations in the capital – those protesting about climate change.

They are undoubtedly peaceful, but rather than passing off, they are determined to bring London and its transport system to a halt for as long as possible.

This is not the way to win friends and influence people.

Nobody disputes that they are protesting for a worthwhile and important cause. Likewise, no one disputes their right to protest.

However, with rights come responsibilities and, for the avoidance of doubt, in a democracy that responsibility is to cause as little harm as possible to their fellow citizens.

I use the word harm here deliberately.

By taking the action they did, day after day, and especially by disrupting public transport, they are making it more difficult for the shopworkers, the office staff, the delivery drivers (including those who use bikes to get the deliveries done in London), the cleaners, to get into work or causing them to get into work late.

For some of these people, if they don’t turn up for work, they don’t paid.

If you are a well-know actor, who can afford to fly in for the demonstration, losing a day’s wages may not be important to you.

But for most people it is.

So to these demonstrators I say “You have a valid argument.

“You have made your points.

“Governments of all colours have already done more than in any other country and will do more in the years to come.”

But now is the time to go home and, when you come back, resolve to make your case in a way that doesn’t damage in the short term the people whose long-term futures you are seeking to protect.

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Truly lacking an understanding of the magnitude of the problems humanity and the planet faces. Our children will look back and dispair at the petty concerns of a bit of inconvenience for a few days when their world is a living hell. Wake up and smell the coffee!

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