When I read that police were invoking emergency powers at an Extinction Rebellion protest in Cambridge I thought: about time, too. It meant, I presumed, that they were not going to make the same mistake as the Met Police last April, when they were too slow to stop this bunch of anarchists closing down public thoroughfares.
But one should underestimate the plods at one’s peril. The ‘emergency powers’ being used by Cambridgeshire Police instead allow them to close the roads without giving any notice. Yes, they are actively facilitating the protest. They turned up in their yellow vests and closed a local road on the activists’ behalf. It will remain shut all week, affecting bus routes and requiring ambulances to make a detour. It isn’t the only way in which the police are indulging the group’s activities in Cambridge. Officers have turned a blind eye to criminal damage being undertaken by the group in digging up the lawn in front of Trinity College.
— Bernie'sTweets (@berniespofforth) February 17, 2020
XR are digging up private property unchallenged at Trinity college Cambridge.Because they have the audacity to sell a farm they own to Felixstowe Port, so they can develop the land into a bigger lorry park, creating Jobs and extra capacity.pic.twitter.com/pOYxZhRyJL
What is it about Extinction Rebellion that has public authorities pathetically in thrall to it? The group gives the outward impression of being anti-establishment, yet it seems to have deep tentacles inside the establishment which has allowed it privileges not enjoyed by other groups of protesters. Needless to say, like spoiled children (well, many of them are spoiled children) once indulged they merely come back demanding more, pushing boundaries further. They blocked Oxford Circus last year demanding the government declare a ‘climate emergency’ and set up a ‘citizens' assembly’, and Theresa May’s administration duly obliged. Now, the Cambridge bunch is demanding that the university and colleges divest from fossil fuels and that the county and city councils set up their own citizens' assemblies.
As a Cambridgeshire resident and a member of Cambridge University, I say to the police, council, university and college authorities this: Everyone from now on is going to take it for granted that we have the police’s permission to close down any street, for any reason, any time we like. Does anyone in Cambridge think council tax is too high? Okay, let’s go and close down the M11. Think police are not doing their job in tackling crime? Let’s seize the A14. Just try and stop us, when you have granted that right to Extinction Rebellion. You can forget, too, trying to collect your £60 fines for straying into bus lanes – you have given the green light for a group to obstruct buses for a whole week and you cannot try to deny that right to others. To the university and colleges I say: don’t give into this bullying by Extinction Rebellion and divest from oil companies. If you cave, then you can do without donations from those of us who do not share Extinction Rebellion’s collectivist aims – you can sing for your supper.
Police recently grovelled before Extinction Rebellion for putting them on a list of extremist organisations. Given that they are blockading streets and causing criminal damage, that was hardly an unreasonable thing to do. The price of indulging this group will be to make it far harder to enforce public order in future. If police lose control, they will have only themselves to blame.