Colin Brazier: The campaigners who blocked Britain’s M25 don’t believe in democracy

Stopping commuters doesn't win arguments, it merely succeeds in turning apathy into rage.

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Were you stuck on the M25 today? Thousands of motorists were, for hours. Not because of a jack-knifed lorry or fatal collision. But because a small group of activists decided that their view of the world is one you must share, whether you want to or not.

If you missed a job interview or a cancer scan. If the kids missed school or the builders missed a deadline. If a delayed lorry meant a ship sailed without its container, or a plane flew without its passenger. Well, that’s just tough.

If you were an office worker, heading-in for your first day at work following furlough, sitting in your car, worrying about how the boss would view your late arrival. Well, hard lines. If you were one of the victims of a crime in London who couldn’t find a police officer because dozens of them were scrambled to unblock the M25, well that’s just your bad luck.It’s 20 years since the free speech campaigner Toby Young published his best-seller ‘How to Lose Friends And Alienate People’. And that title is a pretty good summary of the evaporation of goodwill that Britain’s hard-core of environmentalists face right now.

Many people of good faith, myself included, share their worries about global warming. But direct action which targets ordinary working people, without warning, is counter-productive. It’s also deeply illiberal. While it’s still legal to quote Winston Churchill, I intend to fill my boots. About democracy the great man said that it was the worst form of government…apart from all the others that have ever been tried.

Democracy has its faults, but it is a fundamental check on its alternative. An anarchic free-for-all, where the squeeky wheel gets the oil, or where might is right, or where the devil takes the hindmost.

Judged by their actions, the campaigners who blocked Britain’s busiest road today don’t believe in democracy. Stopping commuters doesn't win arguments, it merely succeeds in turning apathy into rage. You’d think, given their target, that the campaigners of a hitherto unknown group called Insulate Britain, were protesting about vehicle emissions. Perhaps sitting down and blocking five junctions of the M25 was their way of flagging up the evils of the internal combustion engine.

But no. Nothing to do with cars, or lorries or getting commuters onto trains and cycle lanes. The protests were against the government’s apparent lack of action when it comes to insulating domestic properties. I won’t rehearse their arguments, that would be to reward their law-breaking with publicity. Suffice to say they claimed today’s protest was the first of many.

But what will stick in the craw of many Britons is the aggrandizing, self-glorying tone struck by protesters. One told BBC Radio that they were “a group of ordinary people who’ve come together and put their bodies on the line”

They must be confused. The M25 isn’t Kabul. They didn’t put their bodies on anyone's line. As footage shows, there’s nothing death-defying about a dozen people in fluorescent bibs, waiting for traffic to stop at a set of traffic lights and then sitting down. And then waiting for the police to arrive, which they did before the assorted van drivers, scaffolders and HGV drivers could vent their spleens. A word of advice to Insulate Britain. Look out for the “ordinary people” you claim to be.

The people who derive a living plying the roads, it’s a job that takes patience and some fortitude, year after year, often for low pay. These drivers are not likely to respond with equanimity to another act of disruption, particularly one perceived to be an act of middle class escapism. As we saw when protesters from Extinction Rebellion were dragged by commuters from the top of a train carriage they tried to stop last year, there is a limit to the patience of “ordinary people”. That’s the Brazier Angle tonight.