Wednesday, November 30, 2005


A break from the norm today. Leaving Chomsky aside, in today's Times Oliver Kamm expresses what many of us who listened to yesterday's events at the CBI conference unfold on BBC Radio 5 Live were no doubt thinking: Thuggery with a green gag.
The intention of yesterday's Greenpeace protest at the CBI conference was, the organisation's spokesman said, "to stop Tony Blair delivering his speech". Not since the author of Tarka the Otter, Henry Williamson, evangelised for the English landscape and wartime fascism has British political debate seen a more explicit identification of the ecological cause with contempt for democracy.

Some might be tempted to treat seriously Greenpeace's objections to nuclear energy, or GM crops, while not necessarily endorsing its tactics. That is misguided. Greenpeace's determination to shut down debate is not aberrant hotheadedness but deeply held conviction. Its is an obscurantist illiberalism more appropriate to a cult than a pressure group.
He rounds things off nicely by concluding:
While all pressure groups are vulnerable to the charge that they advocate policy while insisting someone else picks up the tab, Greenpeace is a case apart. Its campaigning extends to vandalising GM crops and now a thuggish disregard for free speech. Another campaigning group, Fathers 4 Justice, neatly demonstrated, by hurling projectiles at the Prime Minister and handcuffing a minister, that some of its members were entirely unsuited to the responsibilities of fatherhood. Greenpeace has likewise given definitive evidence that its voice should be discounted and derided in public debate.

In my mind Greenpeace lost any credibility they possessed after the infamous Brent Spar debacle. Although Shell actually had the facts on their side, they buckled to the pressure of public opinion against them, much of that having been stirred up by Greenpeace's false claims whixh, as it turned out, were based on extremely shoddy data. One could argue that in doing so Shell bought themselves some well-needed credibility (at least in the eyes of the public) but the real damage had been done. Greenpeace had shown that, regardless of the facts, direct action and an effective propaganda campaign could bend the will of its opponents.

On the surface it was a classic "David and Goliath" - cuddly environmentalists triumphing over an evil, multi-national corporation, intent on polluting the Atlantic. But it was more than that. Greenpeace had found that if they shouted and stamped their feet long enough, they would get their way: "survival of the shrillest" if you will.

Yesterday's events were merely a continuation of this policy. Direct action followed by threats to rain missiles on Blair if the protesters were not given the opportunity to make a ten-minute speech at the conference. That they refused to compromise, despite Blair offering them the first question at the subsequent press conference, only highlighted the level of their extremism. In doing so he invited them, albeit in a small way, to become part of the democratic process. They refused.

For them there is no debate: they are right and that's all there is to it. Anyone who disagrees may find themselves being pelted with missiles, their fields on fire or a victim of whichever ugly method of "justice" the activists choose to dish out on any given day.

Democracy is not about small pressure groups imposing their will on the rest of us. If Greenpeace have a valid point to make, it is up to them to convince the rest of us of its merits via reasoned debate. We can then pressure the government of the day to act and if they do not we are free, to put it bluntly, to boot them out of office. (I can't believe I am having to justify the democratic process. You'd have thought it would be rather difficult to think otherwise given the blood spilt trying to defeat the scourge of totalitarianism in the last century. But there we are.)

I shall wait to see what stance Greenpeace takes on this, but I have a feeling I know already.


Oliver Kamm has added comments regarding the missile-throwing threats that for some reason didn't make the Times article.


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