As a tiny minority of the electorate get set to choose the next Conservative Party Leader, and therefore our next Prime Minister, the political Landscape in Britain has not been bleaker since World War II. The Stormont stalemate leaves Northern Ireland in limbo, Holyrood are calling for Indyref2, Wales could follow suit and Westminster has made scandal the norm as the nation heads towards an environmental and cost of living catastrophe. But what can the British public do about it?
The next General Election is not scheduled until the latest date of 24th January 2025. Whoever replaces Boris Johnson will not voluntarily call a General Election early as it would no doubt be political suicide; the potential number of lost seats would be huge and guarantees that the Conservatives would lose power. So, worst case scenario, we have another 2 and a half years of Tory rule before election, so the public en masse need to make sure that the current Government actually do something meaningful to ease the burden on the country’s most vulnerable people. If we do not all act, for a number of people, an election will come too late.
So how do we do that?
We need to take lessons and inspiration from equality pioneers of yesteryear. How did Suffrage, the Labour Movement and Civil Rights movements achieve their success? How did these movements, amongst staunch resistance and relentless smearing from authorities and media outlets, force the change they were committed to bringing? The reality is that these movements had huge swathes of followers and supporters, whose collective voice changed the way the world worked. There were numerous different tactics used by groups ranging from peaceful protest to dissentive disruptive behaviour. So would this work again?
I don’t think violent disruption will work in the 21st Century, as the lives and/or livelihoods of bystanders are not worth the risk, and would be used as ammunition to crack down even harder. The Government already has proposals to make the right to protest very difficult, and for Trade Unions to have little to no power to stand up for its members. Any moves forward need great care and attention. But these proposed law changes are a good place to start. The public need to, in larger numbers than ever, stage peaceful protests across the country just to exercise those rights. By protecting the right to peaceful protest and for the support of worker’s unions we keep the two most important tools in our arsenal against the Government and its lack of direction in solving the crises. Any union strikes need to be backed by the public in an overwhelming majority stance.
The RMT and CWU are the two unions who have staged the largest pickets in recent weeks and a few more are threatening to follow. We need to understand that these protests are not just for selfish reasons of the individuals, but that there are numerous reasons as to why these strikes are happening, and to our benefit. Some workforce sectors who are in the same boat as RMT and CWU workers who aren’t striking need to look at their unions and ask “why aren’t we involved too?” The fact that some unions seem unwilling to take action should be of concern, expecially when the UK workforce as a whole are facing extreme hardships not experienced since Victorian times. Nobody is meeting them at the negotiating table and giving incentives not to strike. Educating ourselves on how and why these strikes happen will give us a better insight, and a higher probability of supporting them.
Another aspect are Government petitions. Whilst this is a good way to force topics into Government debates, it is highly unlikely to lead to any action or legislation change. They are a great tool for gauging public opinion however they are unlikely to have any real impact on lawmaking.
One social media proposal for protesting against the Energy crisis in particular was to stop paying bills. This is inspired by the Japanese public transport workers “striking” technique of running services as usual, ut refusing to take any fares thus thwarting the income of the service providers. The reality is that not only is this unlikely to work, but is also incredibly damaging and frought with risks.
– Firstly, the big energy companies can survive without a couple of month’s bills from many people, so even a unilateral refusal to pay up would not force them into action. Government tenders, tax rebates and commercial revenue form a large part of an energy company’s income. This is also likely to give companies incentive to artificially inflate prices further, in order to offset any loss of income and yet still legally demand the money owed from participants.
– Secondly, people with prepayment meters would be unable to take part in such a protest, as they would not have access to energy and be the first so be squeezed for more money by reactive price hikes.
– Thirdly, anyone who participates puts themselves in financial arrears that could have serious consequences. A huge proportion of adults in the UK are currently undertaking finance from credit cards and buy-now-pay-later schemes on domestic goods to automotive finances and mortgages. All it can take is for one black mark to change someone’s credit score for a finance company or bank/building society to decide to terminate a loan agreement, leaving people to either pay up in full, or face repossession of goods and/or property.
The only winners in any case, would be the bigwigs at the top.
The Government’s plan to deal with the energy bill crisis will never solve the root cause of the problem. The failure of the energy cap should have been prevented through proper regulation of the energy sector, not allowing the big companies to grow exponential profits whilst pretending to struggle alongside the smaller energy firms who have gone bust in their droves. The next step would be windfall taxes and renationalisation of the grid in order to re-regulate the sector, however neither a Conservative government, nor the current Labour leadership would be willing to take such measures. It is easy to understand why taking such tactics as a mass non-payment seems like a good protest, but we need a more effective push on the Government system.
The public needs to back the Utilities union Prospect, and general unions UNISON and UNITE to form national strikes on their behalf over the handling of the energy crisis. Having the energy sector shut down seems scary but the Communication Workers Union managed it without excessive disruption to services. This is more likely to make both the energy companies and the Government take note.
When these strikes are happening, avoid driving as much as possible. Avoid public transport too, as demand for services during RMT strikes will weaken their own stance at a time where unity is needed. Be as conservative as possible on your utility supplies so as not to overload the network. By being smarter about how we disrupt the status quo, we can show our support for others and yet continue living our daily lives.
It’s not just Energy and Transport where we face challenges, nor is its impact on food. It’s industry, hospitality, healthcare, childcare and education, finance; every single aspect of our lives we need to protect the now and the future. In the case of Northern Ireland, National Security is also at stake. We cannot allow the dispute over the Protocol (and lack of meaningful discussion to solve its unique difficulties) send us back into the time of the Troubles.
It isn’t just going to be a few thousands who make the difference. It needs to be in the millions, pretty much every UK adult to play their part in stopping the rot. Perhaps a mass outdoor camp in Tunbridge Wells where we cover every inch of public space with protesters. It’s vocalising support for union strikes and participating in peaceful protest where possible. It’s not buying into the media hyperbole that ordinary people are to blame for what are institutional failures, of which they are the victims of. But most of all, it’s understanding that by uniting our voices in collective bargaining, we will be heard.