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There comes a moment for every protest movement when, instead of carrying the public with them, they alienate those that they are trying to persuade.

For the climate protesters of Extinction Rebellion (XR), that moment may have been reached when it targeted three east London Tube stations, Stratford, Canning Town and Shadwell, during Thursday morning’s rush hour. Commuters, desperate to get to work, many of them less well-off than the protesters, vented their anger.

For XR, which had previously regarded all publicity as good publicity, this was a big misjudgment. The logic of a climate protest targeting public transport was, it seems, lost on the organisers. And, as one activist put it: “We feel that the actions of a handful of protesters have jeopardised our movement, turning public opinion against us an creating a potential schism in our ranks.” It was not just the Tube protests. When XR protested on the streets of London in April, there was a novelty and curiosity value. Good- natured protesters created a carnival atmosphere, albeit alongside a £16m policing cost, and Londoners tolerated it.

This time, the protesters were still mainly good-natured but the novelty value was gone and XR appeared immune to the inconvenience it was creating, and a policing costs went up another million. When doctors said they were preventing ambulances from getting to hospitals, some protesters suggested this was a price worth paying for preventing hypothetical deaths over the longer term from climate change. The admission by jet-setting celebrity XR supporters that they are hypocrites for leading “high carbon lives” didn’t help either. Having reminded people of the seriousness of the climate challenge earlier this year, this movement has taken a step backwards.

Editorial, The Times, 20 October 2019