Mike Isherwood speech in response to Just Stop Oil motion

Speech by Cllr. Mike Isherwood in response to the Conservative Just Stop Oil motion, Shropshire Council, 15 December 2022.

This video is extracted from the public live-stream of the Shropshire Council meeting on 15 December 2022 and is the speech given by Green Party Councillor Mike Isherwood is response to the following motion from Conservative Councillor Richard Marshall supported by Conservative Councillors Garry Burchett, Steve Davenport, Geoff Elner, Hilary Luff and Dan Morris.

Just Stop Oil Motion

Shropshire Council notes

  1. That the United Kingdom are leading the way on climate change, with 90% of the world’s economy covered by net zero targets, a significant increase from just one third before the UK’s COP 26 presidency.
  2. As a council we are supportive of the UK Government’s ambition to make this country a clean energy superpower and is proud of the UK’s overall record on cutting greenhouse emissions.
  3. We recognise and understand the need to act on the environment but believes that cooperation with the UK Government and our residents is the right way to pursue our objectives.
  4. We are concerned with the impact of illegal protests on residents and threats against nationally important infrastructure.
  5. We recognise the right in the United Kingdom under our democracy, for peaceful protest. However, we are vehemently against protests that include wilful vandalism, the disruption of individuals attempting to earn a lawful living, the blocking of roads that impedes parents taking their children to hospital for vital lifesaving appointments and in the utterly selfish act of depriving a son attending his own father’s funeral by stopping the flow of traffic on the nation’s highways.
  6. This is an issue that has impact on Shropshire residents and businesses caught up in these protests. Local Shropshire businesses have lost many hours over the past few Months with the disruption. This is at a time when both residents and businesses across Shropshire are already being hit with higher costs and can ill afford the additional costs of unlawful protests.
  7. Barclays bank in Shrewsbury were subjected to a disruptive protest in November by an Extinction Rebellion group. Again, created additional inconvenience to the residents of Shropshire.

This council Resolves to:

  1. Publicly condemn all illegal protests organised by Just Stop Oil or similar groups.
  2. Demand the permanent cessation of all illegal protests and request these groups work constructively with both local and national government to achieve our mutually desired Net Zero Targets.

Mike Isherwood's Speech

The following is a transcript of Cllr Mike Isherwood's speech in response to this motion.

First, let me put on record that I do not condone any acts of law-breaking or criminality specifically, nor am I expressing support for any individual protests or campaign groups. But equally I find it impossible to condemn across the board, with no knowledge of context or reasoning, every protest which might be classed as illegal under UK law. I am amazed that anybody would suggest such a bald statement be put to members for endorsement unless the aim is simply to grab headlines, by pandering to climate-emergency deniers and the multi-national companies (and their shareholders) which benefit financially from the status quo.

Shropshire is hardly the epicentre of the climate movement. The movers of these resolutions seem to want to conflate, maybe for purely political purposes, large protests which have happened in other parts of the country with the rather smaller, less disruptive actions we have seen by local groups.

But what I really take issue with is the call to oppose all illegal protests by environmental groups. Because the word ‘illegal’ does not just mean violence, destruction of property, vandalism, etc, but increasingly it can be used to suppress anything this authoritarian Tory government want it to. They have just tightened the laws on protest considerably, highlighting that legality in this sense is a fairly arbitrary standard controlled by the government of the day. Indeed, ministers now have the right to change legal definitions at will, without consulting Parliament, and have given the police much greater discretion to rule a protest illegal. These days a protest simply has to be one person being noisy and it can be declared illegal. The legislation and other recent measures was criticised by the UN’s special rapporteur for human rights and the environment because it shrinks the civic space and makes human rights violations more likely to occur and less likely to be sanctioned. Activities which were legal just ten months ago are now arrestable offences.

Illegality does not automatically equal immorality. Suffragette protests were often illegal. Some Civil Rights protests in the US were illegal. Even the original right-to-roam protestors, the Kinder Trespassers of the 1930s, were breaking the law just walking up the Duke of Devonshire’s hill. So many turning points which we today would not dream of reversing; rights, freedoms, the enacting of just laws and the abolition of unjust ones; they only happened due to disruptive or illegal protests; and protestors, vilified in their own time, are today held up as examples of heroes to our children. History is full of people who risked and lost their own freedom – even their lives – in order to progress society, despite often being in a minority. So a rather mindless blanket condemnation of the sort proposed is not only an unintelligent response to a complex and nuanced issue, it is historically illiterate, and will, in my opinion, put this Council on the wrong side of history.

The police have enormous powers to stop illegal activity and those powers were strengthened specifically in terms of protests in April this year. People breaking the law is a police matter. Would it not be more sensible to call on the them to simply do more to enforce the law if Cllr Marshall et al find the effects of the protests intolerable?

I could never imagine condoning every act which protestors commit in the name of their cause either within or without the law – how could I without looking at each case on merit – and so neither can I condemn every action which might fall outside the scope of what this week’s Home Secretary deems acceptable and calls the law. It is a ridiculous proposition and will achieve nothing. So I will not support this motion because to do so condemns too many of our heroes.

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