JANET STREET-PORTER: Insulate Britain are just punishing working folk

JANET STREET-PORTER: Some of Britain’s poorest people DO live in disgracefully energy inefficient homes but letting a bunch of middle-class do-gooders punish working people trying to go about their business is not the way to fix it

Does anyone drive around the M25 at 8am for fun?

You’d have to be a bloody masochist. You drive if you’re desperate to get to work, to a hospital, to get the kids to school or to make a delivery. Driving the M25 at 8am is not a choice but a necessity for millions of ordinary workers.

Since Covid, I’ve spent hours on motorways commuting between Norfolk and work in London. It’s a stressful experience.

It’s scary fending off legions of white van men trying to overtake on the inside whilst ignoring BMW drivers in my rear view mirror flashing their lights in frustration at 85 mph.

I regularly gasp in fear as pairs of lorry drivers block the traffic for mile after mile of the M11 in a Neanderthal battle of wills for pole position in the fast lane.

Motorway driving in rush hour is a life-shortening, nerve jangling, sweaty palms experience – and now we face a new danger.

Insulate Britain – a small group who have broken away from climate change activists Extinction Rebellion – have decided to get their environmental message across to the world by GLUEING themselves to motorways in the morning rush hour.

Insulate Britain – a small group who have broken away from climate change activists Extinction Rebellion – have decided to get their environmental message across to the world by GLUEING themselves to motorways in the morning rush hour.

The result? Rage, and despair. One driver’s mother allegedly suffered a stroke and struggled to survive as her son fought to get her to a hospital after being delayed six hours. On LBC Nick Ferrari fought a battle of words with one of the protestors who seemed unrepentant.

At 8am pretty much every weekday, a small group of determined people have been running on to the M25, the A1 and the M3- narrowly avoiding death and serious injury, bringing the traffic to a standstill.

The result? Rage, and despair. One driver’s mother allegedly suffered a stroke and struggled to survive as her son fought to get her to a hospital after being delayed six hours. On LBC Nick Ferrari fought a battle of words with one of the protestors who seemed unrepentant.

Initially, the police seemed unsure of how to handle these unforeseen human road blocks. They chatted to the demonstrators and (bizarrely) asked if they needed a drink or help. 

The cops were courteous, and considerate as they attempted to move the protestors on, pondering whether to arrest the eco-warriors or send them away with a ticking off. It didn’t work – these numpties have been back day after day, happy to be arrested over and over again. 

Not surprising when most of them have yet to be actually charged with anything and face only paltry fines even if they are.

Meanwhile, the long-suffering Great British Public sit marooned in their vehicles for hours on end, utterly impotent, spewing out countless tons of C02 as engines idle.

 The number of arrests is relatively low – just 38 on Tuesday and 41 on Monday – but it only takes a small handful of people to close down a huge road.

The targets of the protest are ‘guilty’ because they are drivers and nothing more. Forced to miss doctors appointments, getting their pay docked for being late, and annoying everyone in the South East of England waiting for a plumber, electrician or a builder.

We all have the right to organise a protest – I stand for the right to free speech and applaud anyone who feels so strongly about a cause they are willing to march for it – and even organise a sit in. 

Just as long as it’s not in the middle of the M25 when people are going to work. As a strategy, aggravating those you are trying to win over is never going to work.

The cops were courteous, and considerate as they attempted to move the protestors on, pondering whether to arrest the eco-warriors or send them away with a ticking off. It didn’t work – these numpties have been back day after day, happy to be arrested over and over again.

Insulate Britain have a single aim; they want the government to pay to make all social housing energy efficient by 2025, and to produce plans and costings to insulate all UK homes by 2030. 

They say that the poorest people in society live in the worst-insulated homes, wasting energy through no fault of their own and paying through the nose in the process.

Ironically, these annoying protestors have a point. Events this week will result in everyone – not just those on low incomes – paying higher fuel bills by the winter. Wholesale gas prices have shot through the roof (up 16% in one day) and Russia plans to restrict the amount of gas it will pipe to Europe during November, so supplies will be limited.

Dozens of smaller energy suppliers who offered us cheap deals will go bust because they will not be able to afford to honour their commitments. 

UK consumers will end up with half a dozen energy companies to choose from – meaning prices will never come down because competition won’t exist.

Insulating our homes so they are energy-efficient makes sense. The other month, the government announced they wanted us to dump gas boilers and switched to heat pumps or hydrogen (expensive to install) in order to meet the UK’s ambitious green targets. 

Now – mindful of the rising cost of living – Boris has shunted those plans onto the back burner until 2035.

Last weekend, 80 charities and businesses, from Age UK to Barnados, Oxfam, B & Q and IKEA all wrote an open letter to the government to protest at Fuel poverty, which costs the NHS a fortune in winter deaths. 

They want the government to provide grants and funding to enable low income families to make their homes more energy efficient.

Instead of focusing on green targets and leading the rest of Europe in fighting climate change, shouldn’t Britain be trying to bring its housing stock into the 20th (not even the 21st) century?.

For months now, ITV News has been showing a series of shocking reports into the appalling state of rented accommodation in Britain. 

Tenants in blocks in Croydon, south London, and Birmingham, have shown viewers the dreadful conditions they are forced to put up with as councils, private landlords and housing associations all claim they have no money for basic repairs.



The same activist seen at protests on three separate days on the M25 over the last week

These tenants diligently pay their rent and hold down lowly-paid jobs, grateful they have a roof over their heads- but the conditions they call home are unhealthy and frankly disgusting.

Raw sewage seeps through ceilings, down kitchen walls. Toilets leak, wiring is exposed and highly dangerous. This isn’t the third world, but a 15 minute train journey from the financial capital of the UK where the richest people have several homes and no raw sewage in their halls.

Boris Johnson has waffled on about his ‘levelling up’ process, asking Michael Gove to kick start the agenda – along with the four other jobs he seems to have. Looking at these appalling living conditions, it seems that providing a warm, clean and secure place to lay your head at night shouldn’t be a big ask for any socially-conscious government.

Of course the Insulate Britain mob are going about their mission in a completely wrong-headed selfish way

Of course the Insulate Britain mob are going about their mission in a completely wrong-headed selfish way. 

They are infuriating and alienate the very people- working class voters – the green lobby should be wooing. Young people are already on-message, weeping and hand wringing about climate change – but they aren’t the people paying the gas bills.

There a certain level of hypocrisy at play – look at the tons of rubbish, tents and sleeping bags this generation left to rot after music festivals like Latitude and Reading this summer. 

Clean up Britain say a plastic tent emits as much as 3.5kg of CO2 and can take 100 years to decompose.

In November, the UK will be hosting the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow. Insulate Britain say they will continue to disrupt our motorways until then – let’s hope that the police come up with a strategy which is a bit more successful than simply escorting middle class and middle-aged protestors onto the hard shoulder.

We all want clean air, more green spaces, less damage to the planet. Setting targets at a showy international summit, boasting about recycling and re-inventing plastic bottles as designer clothes, won’t mean very much to people living with raw sewage and cash-guzzling gas meters.

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