Extinction Rebellion: A catalyst for change or excuse for chaos?

Ever since its inception in May 2018, Extinction Rebellion has taken the world by storm. Their extravagant protests have forcefully placed the spotlight on the imminent “ecological collapse” and “mass extinction” we face, which world leaders have desperately attempted to sweep under the rug. Although historically, this inaction has partly been due to the mute reaction of the public towards climate change, viewed as an issue for the future, not the present. In the lead up to the 2017 election, YouGov polls stated that only 8% of the public considered the environment as one of their top three issues. However, in the run up to the December election, 25% of Brits believe that the environment is a highly salient issue, placed in their top three concerns. This can almost certainly be attributed to the impact Extinction Rebellion has had, changing the politics of climate change from being merely a formality that was spoken about by bureaucrats to appease activists, towards an uncontrollable uprising that has invigorated the wider public to enforce real change.

Extinction Rebellion’s initial protests outlined their aim to use “non-violent civil disobedience” to spark outrage and stem away from the traditional, ineffective systems of redress of grievances. On October 31st 2018, in one of their first protests, over 1000 XR campaigners blocked roads around the Houses of Parliament, locking themselves together and bringing London to a temporary standstill. Whilst this may be seen as a tame attempt in bringing attention towards the climate crisis when viewed in an isolated form, the continued widespread disruption serves as a hallmark to the success of the group. Less than a month later, the protestors struck again with an army of 6000 on what was dubbed as “Rebellion Day”, blocking 5 landmark bridges in London – with the Guardian highlighting it as “one of the biggest acts of peaceful civil disobedience in the UK in decades”. The explosive growth may have surprised many politicians and activists alike but is simply down to its disorganised and chaotic nature. Its decentralised nature, the lack of formal hierarchy, the promotion of grassroots campaigning and the formation of protests in short time periods culminates into a perfect storm of unforeseen disorder, which underlines the premise of XR.

Its decentralised nature, the lack of formal hierarchy, the promotion of grassroots campaigning and the formation of protests in short time periods culminates into a perfect storm of unforeseen disorder, which underlines the premise of XR.

Arguably the catalyst for change was the continuous 10-day protests held in April 2019, which was reflected both in the UK and across the world. In the UK, activists glued themselves to trains, staged “die-ins” outside the London Stock Exchange and the Treasury, and aimed to sever the traditional institutions who they felt have ignored their key demands. Over 1000 people were detained at the protests, cementing it as one of the biggest civil disobedience events in British history, eclipsing that of the anti-nuclear protests at Upper Heyford in 1982 and Thatcher’s poll tax riots in 1990. Another two-week series of actions in October 2019, dubbed as the “International Rebellion”, took place in over 60 cities worldwide, further cementing their global and domestic influence. It seems this overwhelming pressure has prompted politicians into action, with Parliament declaring a “climate change emergency”, less than a week after the end of the spring protests – which met XR’s first demand to “tell the truth”. Their second demand to “act now” hasn’t been met in its entirety – with Labour vaguely committing to “reaching net zero by 2030” and the Conservatives remaining rigid to their 2050 target, a far cry away from the group’s radical 2025 ambitions. However, there has been a fundamental shift in public opinion, and acts as the predominant reason for their success. The vast support for the pressure group during the April protests, despite its disruptive activities, is the underlying reason for its success.

The recent Channel 4 Debate on the climate may also show increasing public support for the issue. 

Without this public furore, politicians are more than content to stick to short term electioneering tactics, rather than implement long lasting climate policies. Celebrity endorsements don’t hurt either, ranging from Benedict Cumberbatch to Steve Coogan to Mel B, garnering over 100 signatories in an open letter to the media for their support towards Extinction Rebellion, despite allegations of hypocrisy due to their high-carbon lifestyles. Donations tend to be a prerequisite for a pressure group’s success, whether it is either an insider or outsider group. Extinction Rebellion is no exception, receiving over £2.5m in the past 12 months, dispelling the notion that outsider groups fail to garner significant donations due to their unorthodox methods of campaigning.  It seems that Extinction Rebellion has redefined the description of a successful pressure group, mixing a variety of factors that previously were unavailable to a group without any access points within government.

However, the successes of Extinction Rebellion have begun to wane in recent months, particularly over the debacle at Shadwell Station and Canning Town in October. Extinction Rebellion protestors climbed onto trains, causing widespread delays and were forcefully dragged down by members of the public. This stunt alienated ordinary commuters and created internal divisions within XR, being described as a “huge own goal” by one XR spokesperson. YouGov’s findings that 54% of the public opposed the October protests only further highlights the debate has inadvertently turned into a class war, with activists ignoring the substantial impact they are having on minority communities. Protests should target the issue, not the people, yet Extinction Rebellion has failed to understand this fundamental difference. Damning reports of XR costing the Met Police £37m as of October 2019 – over double the amount spent on reducing violent crime in London – surely further divides public opinion, with police funding already severely strained. The need for balancing the right to democratic protest and disruption is one that XR must consider, ensuring that they focus on the institutions at the heart of the environmental problem rather than the general population. Extinction Rebellion must also address their lack of diversity, being labelled as a “white middle-class ghetto” and criticised by other environmental organisations for not being inclusive of ethnic minorities. Their mass-arrest strategy, whilst effective at gaining attention to their cause, is one that exacerbates this issue, with Metropolitan police statistics showing that nine in 10 of the 1,100 activists arrested in the group’s April protests in London were white. Inclusivity and diversity are vital to progressing the climate cause, as not appealing to the communities hit hardest by environmental degradation only halts further progress.


Extinction Rebellion must also address their lack of diversity, being labelled as a “white middle-class ghetto” and criticised by other environmental organisations for not being inclusive of ethnic minorities.

Despite concerns that Extinction Rebellion has aroused, the chaos they have caused has undoubtedly changed the climate debate for the better. Would such accelerated progress have been seen without drastic civil disobedience measures that they have employed? The emphasis on peaceful protest must be maintained for XR to have a tangible impact, although the Suffragettes proved that violence can work to get their voices heard. More must be done to ensure that the general public are not simply collateral damage and are part of the wider conversation to bring about drastic change to the current inaction by governments across the world. Whether failures in democracy justifies non-violent breaches in law is up to personal opinion, but Extinction Rebellion certainly believe it’s the only way forward.

The public are split over whether they are a catalyst for change or an excuse for chaos. Maybe a better description is the amalgamation of both, with Extinction Rebellion using chaos to be a catalyst for change.

Dominic Cummings: The new real deputy prime minister

Special advisors have always been a contentious topic within British politics, but none more so than within Number 10 itself. The nature of Alastair Campbell’s appointment within Tony Blair’s team ahead of the 1997 election would change the influence of special advisors for years to come. The extent to which even Cabinet members titled Campbell as “the real deputy prime minister” highlights the disproportionate influence an unelected advisor has upon government affairs, being credited as the spin doctor due to his overbearing and intoxicating approach to the media in order to protect Mr Blair’s image at all costs. Malcolm Tucker in the TV series “The Thick of It” by the BBC was loosely based off the former director of communications, giving a weirdly accurate portrayal of the liberal use of profanities by Campbell behind the scenes, with the heated 2003 interview with Jon Snow on Channel 4 regarding the “dodgy dossier” displaying hints of the short temper he held.

Fast forward to 2019, and a newcomer has emerged in the form of Dominic Cummings. Dominic already gained notoriety for his controversial role as the mastermind behind the Leave campaign, reportedly credited with fundamental aspects of the campaign such as the slogan “Take back control”, the campaign’s emphasis upon immigration and its informal links to the disgraced Cambridge Analytica. Cummings has followed in the footsteps of Campbell, depicted by the Channel 4 drama “Brexit: The Uncivil War”, unravelling him as the integral piece of the Brexit puzzle. This was the first time he was placed firmly in the public eye, and would turn out to be the first of many.

What differentiates Cummings from Campbell is the sheer number of controversies he has had within a small time period, making Alastair’s affairs seem trivial in comparison. Dominic has a knack for disregarding every founding principle of democracy, starting with the Electoral Commission stating that Vote Leave broke electoral law – yet faced a laughable fine of just £61,000 and a slap on the wrist. The same man who was found in contempt of parliament after failing to appear in front of the DCMS committee in relation to fake news has recently been given a security pass for the Palace of Westminster. Cummings is the epitome of anti-establishment, although that very same establishment is the one granting him unchecked and unlimited power. The “political anarchist”, as dubbed by former prime minister John Major, has not stopped there however.

Dominic has a knack for disregarding every founding principle of democracy.

Cummings has built upon his intimidation and use of obscene language from his days at the Department for Education under Michael Gove from 2010-2014, where he enforced a culture of “us-and-them” and bullying tactics. He was even reportedly involved in the attempted removal of a senior civil servant, which was likened to an episode from the aforementioned series The Thick of It. Cummings’ dictatorial regime is reflected in his involvement in the sacking of Sonia Khan, Sajid Javid’s media advisor. The audacity he had to escort the Chancellor’s advisor from No 10 by a police officer, merely over accusations of contact with Tory Europhiles, without Javid knowing prior to the sacking is beyond belief. This only serves to highlight inherent problems within the Downing Street machine, and where the real power lies. To make matters worse, the unfathomable decision to sack 21 Tory MPs was unsurprisingly linked with the vindictive chief of staff. Reports from Tory sources said Cummings threatened former Business Secretary Greg Clark to “purge” him and his colleagues that defied Boris’ plans. The outlandish behaviour that he has displayed, alongside the repeated remarks from prominent MPs about his conduct, only accentuates the destructive course he is leading the Conservatives towards.

The puppet meister (left) and the puppet (right).

Chaos has been normalised under the duo of Johnson and Cummings, throwing Parliament, MPs, convention and every facet of the British political system into turmoil.  The polarising nature of Cummings and his programme has arguably achieved the exact opposite of his intended goal – he has only served as a source of universal agreement from opposing MPs, who equally despise the unelected SpAd. The frequent nature of controversial appointments such as Cummings has re-opened conversation about the power of special advisors. Irresponsible actions that he has undertaken provides endless conundrums with few answers, and it seems like everyone is powerless in stopping the tyrant that he has become.

I hope we can all take solace in the fact that the political career of these despicable advisors has ended abruptly in resignation – Alastair Campbell with the Iraq Dossier and Hutton Inquiry, as well as Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill after the 2017 election. With an impending election around the corner and the Tories’ possible ousting as government, surely political history defines that Dominic Cummings’ time as the real deputy prime minister may soon be up.

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Brexit: Lies, Hypocrisy and Boris Johnson.

When David Cameron announced his plan for an in-out referendum regarding EU membership in January 2013 at Bloomberg, no one could have envisioned the impact it would have for the several years after that infamous speech and for many years to come. What was widely viewed as a move to swing UKIP voters to the Conservative Party eventually ended his own premiership abruptly, alongside his former Home Secretary Theresa May.

The Leave campaign went against all the odds and achieved their goal. However, their win was tainted against a backdrop of lies and hypocrisy, already unravelling the day after the referendum. Nigel Farage immediately disowned the £350m pledge to spend on the NHS on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, despite never raising any concerns before the referendum. The argument that the British public had always yearned for change and it being the ‘will of the people’ is farcical. Evidenced in 2015 by YouGov, Europe was seen as the 7th most important issue for the electorate, highlighting how Euroscepticism had been curated and manifested within the minds of British public.

Even after the referendum win, lies have been spread by the proponents behind the Leave campaign and its supporters. The persistent message had been about the UK’s ability to negotiate its own free trade deals, no longer bounded by the shackles of the EU and its restrictive policy towards independent free trade agreements. Former Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox had promised in 2017 that “we’ll have up to 40 ready for one second after midnight in March 2019”. Two missed deadlines later, this so-called promise spectacularly failed. As of August 2019, only 13 deals have been agreed, with only 1 deal having been signed with a top 10 trading partner. In June 2019, Boris Johnson said that the chances of a no-deal Brexit are a “million-to-one against”, yet allocated an extra £2.1bn to no deal spending and has not made any significant progress towards renegotiating the “defunct” withdrawal agreement. The lies continue, with Boris Johnson and David Davis floating the idea that the UK could withhold the divorce bill payment if we left with no deal, as we would no longer be under the jurisdiction of the European Courts of Justice. Yet, the EU would almost certainly sue the UK in the international courts in the Hague, as the UK has entered into an international commitment as a sovereign state to pay the money. The most vocal critics of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill in Davis and Raab raises a confusing question – how is it possible for the general public to have confidence in a bill that is opposed by two of its main curators?

The hypocrisy is endless, only amplifying under Boris Johnson’s leadership. Back in April 2016, Johnson criticised David Cameron spending £9m on EU leaflets sent to every household as a “complete waste of money”. However, under the guidance of Johnson, Sajid Javid green lit a £138m public information campaign about a no deal Brexit. Given the economic position the UK is currently in, ring fencing a ridiculously large sum of money towards an issue that was entirely made by Boris is beyond belief. The main premise of leaving the EU was to save money and create new opportunities for the UK outside of the EU. However, the endless bureaucracy, delay and uncertainty it has caused due to the actions of incompetent Brexiteers has decimated any hope for these aims to be achieved. Rather the UK has become a laughing stock, with the chaotic nature of its withdrawal cementing the erosion of its status as a key sovereign state.

Brexit was meant to economically benefit the UK, yet any hope of a prosperous post-Brexit economy has subsequently been destroyed. The irony of Michael Gove’s interview with BBC Four’s Today programme on 21st June 2016 is as amusing as it is depressing, stating that “the pound is at a higher level now than it was at the start of the campaign and I think that reflects certain robust truths about the British economy which if we vote to leave, we will be able to build on.” Fast forward to 9th August 2019, where the pound crashed down to €1.07. UK’s crippling position has been further undermined by its consistent pandering towards the US. Boris Johnson plead with the US to “compromise” in order to better any trade deal for the UK – the UK is now at the mercy of other nations, with any notion of regaining sovereignty a thing of the past. Johnson’s adamant and unwavering position on the backstop could lead to a hard border in Ireland. This could see the return of the days of the Economic War from 1932 to 1938, which severely impacted cross-border trade between the UK and Ireland.

Brexit is no longer a symbol of political reform and change in political discourse as it was back in 2016.

What was once dubbed as Project Fear has now become Project Reality, with the current government led by a divisive Brexiteer implicitly admitting to. The leaked Operation Yellowhammer report highlights possible queues for lorries lasting up to 2 and a half days at the channel crossing, shortages of medicine supplies and rising food prices to name just a few of the damning concerns. Brexit is no longer a symbol of political reform and change in political discourse as it was back in 2016. Now it has become the staple of chaos and a breeding ground for irrationality and stupidity. Johnson’s first speech as prime minister mentioned how he would “restore trust in our democracy”. However, requests from Boris surrounding the legality of proroguing Parliament to get Brexit across the line sets a dangerous precedent and immediately creates distrust towards his ability to act upon this quote. The weakening Brexit mandate cannot be passed via undemocratic means, serving as a paradox to the idea that it was a democratic decision. Bypassing the House of Commons, the cornerstone of British democracy, would defeat the very purpose of the people electing MPs to serve on their behalf.

Brexit has been lost in the sea of lies and hypocrisy, serving as a catalyst for division within the nation and its own demise. The charlatan PM has caused what was a relatively insignificant issue prior to 2016 to consume the future of the UK. The writing is now on the wall.