By Allan Todd.
On the afternoon of Monday 24 October – just as it became clear that Rishi Sunak was to be the latest incumbent in this on-going and constantly-changing succession of Tory PMs – I was one of over 30 Greenpeace activists who occupied Parliament. The purpose of this protest was to send a clear message to Sunak and the Tory government: that their ‘Coalition of Chaos’ is costing lives around the country. Purely unintentionally, our protest took a little of the edge off the media’s reporting of Sunak’s victory, as these clips show, with the police moving quickly to stop Sky News and other TV reporters from filming us:
Fortunately, although initially threatened with arrest for criminal trespass on a protected site under the 2005 Serious Organised Crime and Police Act – an offence carrying a maximum penalty of 6 months in prison! – once a Greenpeace spokesperson had read out a statement at the end of the protest, the police allowed all of us to leave without arrest. Sadly, though, the police officer escorting me out refused to let me pop into the café and buy their much-praised vegan chocolate brownie – she claimed it would be more than her job was worth to let me out of sight!
In the months leading up to that action, Greenpeace groups across Britain – in conjunction with Disabled People Against Cuts and Fuel Poverty Action – had collected testimonies from just some of the many people currently struggling with the rising energy and food bills of this ‘Cost of Living’ Crisis. Those real – and extremely moving – testimonies were then read out in turn by the Greenpeace activists during Monday afternoon’s protest. One of those testimonies was from Neil, an OAP in East Surrey, who said:
“As a pensioner I am worried whether I will be able to pay next spring. I’m trying to live without heating until Christmas.”
Hearing all those – genuine – testimonies being read out, one after another, was extremely powerful and upsetting. Although I wanted to stand up and shout that: “In the world’s 5th.richest economy, this is f**king disgusting!”, I was able to restrain myself and thus stay within Greenpeace guidelines for non-violent direct action! Because, as was stated by one the activists as we were escorted out of Parliament:
“Fuel poverty will cost lives – the UK has the coldest and oldest housing stock in Europe and, for a decade, the government has done nothing about insulating homes. We need an emergency programme to insulate properties all around the country that can be paid for by the excess profits made by the oil and gas companies.”
Those ‘excess profits’ – ie, profits over and above their normal rate of profit – now amount to over £170bn! As a consequence, almost a quarter of the country are now living in fuel poverty. Greenpeace – along with charities helping people cope in this energy and ‘Cost of Living’ Crisis – are adding their voice to those organisations which are also demanding that the government bring in a proper windfall tax on the ‘dirty energy’ companies to lower bills, insulate homes and thus keep families warm this winter. And let’s not forget – those greedy energy companies are the same ones which, by their greed for profits, are driving the planet ever-closer to Climate and Ecological Breakdown. All compelling reasons to take those companies into social ownership, before it is too late.
Meanwhile, with those fossil fuel companies continuing to rake in record-breaking profits, and thus forcing millions more into fuel poverty, it really is time to say that ‘Enough Is Enough!” Sunak needs to be clear: he has to take real action to lower bills – immediately. Ultimately, It is his duty to ensure that tens of thousands of people do not die of cold this winter.
Allan Todd is a member of Left Unity’s National Council, and an ecosocialist/environmental and anti-fascist activist. He is the author of Revolutions 1789-1917 and Trotsky: The Passionate Revolutionary – and the forthcoming Che Guevara: The Romantic Revolutionary
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