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It’s a government-declared emergency – so why the arrests?

10 October, 2019

Camden Unison convenor Liz Wheatley said the council should act quickly

THERE has been a marked change in the police response to Extinction Rebellion’s “autumn uprising”, when compared to what activists faced in April.

Protesters were cleared, for example, from Lambeth Bridge within hours of occupying the space while in the spring they occupied sites across central London for almost two weeks.

The Met has used stop-and-search powers while territorial support units have raided a building storing XR’s equipment. They have imposed Section 14 orders, banning demonstrations right across the city, while in April these just covered protest sites.

Officers have not been reading orders out individually, instead shouting them on megaphones across crowds and telling people to consider themselves warned. Protesters appear to be being photographed, possibly to be kept on a “watchlist” for future demos.

The Met’s crackdown is clearly politically motivated and no doubt Cressida Dick has received stern instructions from the Home Office.

Is it not a great hypocrisy from the government, which has declared a so-called “climate emergency”, that it also seeks to arrest hundreds of people for the same cause?

The reason the protests have returned to central London is that Parliament did not match its bold words with action. The XR group wants to know what is going to change. So far, all it has heard is empty slogans. It is the failure to act on the crisis that has caused the protesters to return. Poli­ticians ought to be joining in.

Camden was among the first authorities to declare an emergency, but it too has been criti­cised for a lack of ambition on tackling climate change. The Town Hall is now saying it will listen to “any suggestion” and they have been presented with one from Unison’s Liz Wheatley.

There is an argument that “big asks” such as hers will not win support if they appear impractical. Banning cars from Camden roads for days on end is inconceivable. Yet Extinction Rebellion’s success so far has been to expand the debate by demanding the unthinkable.

Councillor’s pay

THERE is an argument that the work of councillors has become more complicated in the past 20 years or so. More time and more expert knowledge is required to make important and professional decisions. It was New Labour that began professionalising council work and it led to a sort of feeling among councillors that they are like MPs, part of a cabinet.

The council leader, who doesn’t have a second job, perhaps has the best argument for a pay rise. But should her cabinet colleagues be cashing in as well? There has not been any pre-publicity or consultation. At the very least, there should be a structure that means they don’t have to vote for their own pay rises in this unpalatable way.

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