Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Should the Left Back Insulate Britain or Condemn them as an Elitist Hobbyists?

with 13 comments

Desperate woman following mum's ambulance begs Insulate Britain protesters  to move as they block four corners of London

Climate Protest as a Disruptive Hobby.

“For Hobbyists, their left wing politics are their identity, their raison d’être, and the source of much of their self-worth. But unlike earlier radicals, they are not at the vanguard of any movement, but are instead largely removed from the groups they seek to represent.”

David Swift. A Left for itself, Left-wing Hobbyists and Performative Radicalism. Zero Books. 2019.

Swift harked back to groups that claim to stand for a variety of inter-sectional struggles, and he made a sweeping judgement. But you can’t help feeling that the Climate Change and Insulate Britain movements fit the hobbyist bill.

Following the set back to the governing prospects of Corbynism and distant from the mass labour movement they also mark a return to the leftist folk politics of direct action.

A difference with the identity left or right is that they claim to stand for the whole human race and planet, if not a few more things besides. This is the basis on which to act in elitist vanguard ways. They have so far succeeded in alienating ordinary people without an express interest in their cause but have also cut them off from a large section of potential supporters.

Today it is blocking roads. Not long ago it was a variety of counter-produtive actions.

Such as this one:

One of the most ridiculous actions of Extinction Rebellion in East Anglia was the defacement of Ipswich Borough Council’s Offices in Russell Road. In February 2021 a spin off from the movement, Burning Pink, they sprayed the front of the building with large graffiti. Ipswich Council has a Labour majority and takes the issue of Climate Change very seriously.

Two women have been arrested after the main office of Ipswich Borough Council was daubed in pink graffiti by members of a political party.

The council’s Grafton House office in Russell Road was targeted by environmentalists on Monday morning, February 15.

A message in bright pink paint reading “tough love” and “12 demands ultimatum” was sprayed on the front door and windows and the Burning Pink party has claimed responsibility.

Several police cars attended the scene, while the council’s graffiti team removed the message early Monday morning.

A spokesman for Burning Pink confirmed the party were behind the vandalism, which came as part of a move against 15 councils nationwide who in their opinion have failed to act on their promises after declaring a climate emergency.

This is what the left of centre and Green conscious Council said,

The group that is thought to have carried out this vandalism is making demands around climate change. However, the council has already declared a climate emergency, has been reducing its carbon footprint for years and has a plan to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030.

“Just last week the council’s executive agreed to acquire a site for a new carbon neutral depot to run key services from; we’ve already spent millions on new electric and lower emission vehicles, made thousands of council houses more energy efficient through solar panels and better insulation and have planted hundreds of new trees.

“Climate change is everyone’s responsibility – while the council is playing its part, the government and others need to do their bit too.”

Burning Pink, campaigning on climate change and plans to abolish democracy and replace it with a system of citizens’ assemblies chosen by lot to reflect the’ real’ poulation, got these votes.

Date of electionConstituencyCandidateVotes%Position
2021 London mayoral electionLondon-wideValerie Brown5,3050.2%20th (last)
2021 Bristol City Council electionWindmill HillRachel Lunnon901.7%9th (last)
2021 Ipswich Borough Council electionSt Margaret’sSue Hagley781.2%5th (last)
2021 Oxfordshire County Council electionHanborough and Minster LovellDave Baldwin340.9%5th (last)
2021 Suffolk County Council electionSt Margaret’s and WestgateTina Smith1682.1%7th (last)

The latest incarnation of this mouvance is Insulate Britain, ““set up by people in XR and related networks”.

This elitist group is shy about how its internal decisions work. It is suspected that it works by ‘consensus decision making’ between a handful of activists. There is no democratic membership structure. Those prepared to engage in the vanguard politics of blocking roads are largely self-selected. The nature of the protests, which involve potential physical harm to motorists and demonstrators, as well as arrests, excludes mass participation and promotes those willing to ‘sacrifice’ themselves.

Socialist Worker argues that the left should support the campaign.

Climate activists are right to block roads (21st September.)

The Tories and right wing media have launched huge attacks on the climate action group, Insulate Britain. But Sophie Squire argues that in the face of government inaction and repression it’s right for protests to be disruptive.

But the Tories and the right wing press have whipped up a backlash against the “eco mob” and “enviro zealots”.

The left must not line up behind this onslaught and has to defend the need for protests to be disruptive.

The SWP does however note, “Direct action is most effective when large numbers of people take part. Thousands participating in this kind of action at the Cop26 protest could not only block a road but have the power to shut down a whole city.”

This is what people are increasingly saying,

But with their actions causing further division rather than instigating positive change, what are they actually trying to achieve? If it just to raise awareness of climate change – then the vast majority of people agree that something needs to drastically change. However, blocking roads is clearly causing nothing but harm to everyday working people’s lives.

The below are reasons why Insulate Britain are getting spurned:

Few are going to listen to this,

 Insulate Britain released a statement saying: “We share the frustration of the people being delayed on the roads today. Does our government know what to do? The disorder on the roads today suggests otherwise.

“The Insulate Britain protests could end immediately, the government has a choice: make a meaningful statement that we can trust on insulating our homes, or make the decision to imprison those people who are more scared of the destruction of their country than they are of fines or a six-month sentence.”

The self-regarding final sentence says it all.

The voice of would-be martyrs stands out as that of elitist hobbyists.

Written by Andrew Coates

October 4, 2021 at 5:30 pm

13 Responses

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  1. The SWP have found another passing bandwagon to try and leap on. Expect a new front; something like ‘Stand Up to Carbon” But that merely masks how they have evolved from a group who proudly backed the miners in the 80’s and fought against pit closures in the 90’s. All forgotten now if it wasn’t for the pesky internet. See ISJ http://isj.org.uk/thirty-years-on-the-socialist-workers-party-and-the-great-miners-strike/

    David Walsh

    October 4, 2021 at 6:18 pm

    • The anarchists and left libertarians of Libcom also noted this when they began:

      Andrew Coates

      October 4, 2021 at 7:07 pm

    • The SWP will “tail” whatever fad will help them recruit. At the moment they are in one of their periodic “ultra left” phases were they eschew elections and everything is about demonstrations and direct actions (although they are careful to protect their own members from arrest….something they have always done). Everything is structured to recruit young
      Students and disaffected Corbyn supporters.
      No doubt this will change once a worthwhile electoral front presents itself but that won’t be until the next Labour government. In a vertical Leninist Party that is so dependent on leadership from the top it has never effectively replaced the likes of Cliff and Hallas. “Comrade Delta” was deemed such a leader and that was why they fought so hard to retain him. That crisis in leadership still effects that Party today. With no fresh ideas and a paucity of any kind of initiative it doesn’t look like changing and it appears to be in survival mode.


      October 5, 2021 at 3:06 am

  2. What do you mean by ‘the left’? Any ‘left’ organisation which hopes to win elections or take control of any part of the national or local state stands only to lose from identifying with these protests. But ‘the left’ also contains other organisations and movements which might be much closer to IB and the like. The problem with this tactic is that sooner or later a bunch of irate motorists is going to meet ‘non-violent direct action’ with ‘violent direct action’, and I doubt the protesters would acquit themselves very well in such a situation.


    October 4, 2021 at 10:57 pm

    • It all depends by what you mean, as C.E>M. Joad would have said.

      It’s pretty obvious what it meant by the left, that is a very broad group of organisations and groups.

      What struck me was, apart from the oddness of the Insulate demand, insulations being as Libcom point out, something promoted at one point by the government, is their targets.

      Hanger Lane and Arnos Grove to take but two. Absolutely non-descript places, like all the roads they go for. The latter I take to be the bit of the North Circular by where I grew up, where New Southgate meets Arnos Grove.

      What a centre of global warming and international capitalism….!

      Andrew Coates

      October 4, 2021 at 11:08 pm

  3. Actually, David, you are a bit too kind in saying the SWP “proudly backed the miners in the 80’s”: in fact the group largely abstained from active solidarity work until about six months into the strike, sneering at the miners’ support committees that sprang up around the UK as “left wing Oxfam” and “the baked beans brigade”. The link you provide from the ISJ is thoroughly dishonest and misleading on this, although it does mention, in passing, the organisation’s “downturn” theory which accounts for their initial defeatism and passivity in 1984. The article, however, doesn’t quote Tony Cliff: “The miners’ strike is an extreme example of what we in the Socialist Workers Party have called the ‘downturn’ in the movement.”
    (Tony Cliff, Socialist Worker, 14th April 1984).

    Jim Denham

    October 5, 2021 at 8:17 am

    • I think it may depend where one was. From the rarified heights of North London, or the Cliff home in Stoke Newington and the Shoreditch printshop / national centre, that may have been the case. However, from personal observation, in Co Durham and on Tyneside and Teesside the local SWP members played a supporting role from the off (although their membership in this region has always been low for some reason) backing up the heft given by the mining communities and the local LP network on the ground (mainly around local councillors and the newer breed of 80’s CLP activists). Actually, I thought the ISJ article was interesting that it actually admitted the internal debate – it is rare for the SWP to open up to internal dissent – as in recent years on Brexit where I guess a fierce battle was on.

      David Walsh

      October 5, 2021 at 12:24 pm

      • I’m sure you’re correct that some individual SWP members in your area defied/ignored the “line” and engaged in solidarity work from the outset (a very small number of individuals did this in Brum), but nationally, the picture was SWP’ers standing back from the solidarity committees until about 6 months into the strike, when the “line” suddenly changed (I think the “explanation”, in so far as there was one, was something about Orgreve having “changed everything). I can still remember Paul Foot, just after the change of “line” expressing himself in a pub after a meeting in Brum along the lines “Thank god we’ve dropped that mad sectarianism – I’m not sure I could have stayed a member if it hadn’t changed.” When someone pointed out to him that I was a member of the AWL and had heard everything he said, he recoiled in shock and said something like “Oh my god!” A most enjoyable encounter.

        Jim Denham

        October 5, 2021 at 3:06 pm

        • A similar thing happened in the anti Poll Tax campaign. The SWP was initially dismissive of the community don’t pay campaign championed by Militant and proposed a Don’t Collect strategy in workplaces. When they saw the Momentum Militant was gaining they switched the line to support Don’t Pay. Ironically the SWP grew after the Poll Tax Riot of March 1990 while Militant (who did most of the running declined).


          October 5, 2021 at 7:00 pm

      • On a visit to England at the time I recall walking down the even more rarified heights of Belsize Park/Haverstock Hill via Chalk Farm to Camden Town Tube station during the height of the Miners’ Strike and seeing people with stalls and collection buckets for the miners.

        Looked SWP all over to me.

        Andrew Coates

        October 5, 2021 at 7:30 pm

  4. I don’t know but I suspect they were blocking the junction where the North Circular Road swings round intoBowes Road. As for Hangar Lane, presumably the part where it turns into the motorway, leading to Heathrow. Yes, Insulation was greatly encouraged in the days before private energy firms. I had friends who worked on Community Enterprise make work schemes installing insulation in old people and single parent households, but that’s not to say it is still not a laudable aim. Somebody do something, as somebody said.

    Sue r

    October 5, 2021 at 11:24 am

  5. “to open up to internal dissent – as in recent years on Brexit where I guess a fierce battle was on”

    In the summer of 2019 the SWP was signaling that it would support an abstentionist vote on a second referendum on EU membership (effectively reversing its previous Lexit line). Once the following Election happened it quickly forgot all that and Callinicos and Kimber said the party was correct all along.
    The anti EU line was never that popular with actual SWP members. It’s telling that the small number of high profile people who are not members but who look to the SWP for political direction (Dr. Louise Raw for instance) are noticeable for their opposition to Brexit.


    October 5, 2021 at 4:24 pm

    • And more on the SWP. In a truly bizarre coupling in the inside pages of the new Socialist Worker the main analysis editorial on page 6 is entitled “Defend David Miller and academic freedom” under the by line of Alex Callincos, thus with the full majesty and imprint of the CC. A couple of pages on, the main review section on page 13 gives an effusive welcome to the new BBC Sunday night serial ‘Ridley Road, all about the fight of the Jewish 62 group against would be British fuhrer Colin Jordan and his goons. To paraphase the old song title “Any Old Irony”…..

      David Walsh

      October 5, 2021 at 5:16 pm

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