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Date: Tue, 20 May 1997 13:12:04 +0100
From: Road Alert!

Perhaps the Editor will be locked in a tunnel come the evictions?

The Times (London), Leader, 19 May 97


Protesters can be posh too

As connoisseurs of disaster movies know, airports can be the backdrop for the strangest alliances. Almost as odd as the friendships struck trying to save one of Arthur Haley's jinxed Jumbos are the new relationships fostered in the shadow of Manchester Airport. As we report on page 5 a shared opposition to a second runway for Manchester has created a second political revolution in Tatton. The Tory ladies who deserted the blackhearted Neil Hamilton for the white-suited Martin Bell are now walking, gingerly, arm-in-arm, with the authentically earth-toned Swampy. The middle classes of Mobberley, who would have imagined Vegans were characters from Star Trek until they met the eco-warriors, are now cooking macrobiotic picnics. My enemy's enemy has always been my friend but the anti-airport alliance may presage something broader: the rediscovery of rebelliousness among Britain's bourgeoisie.

Middle class has become a metaphor for all that is boring in Britain, but the privet hedges hide the nation's real rebels. The twentysomething leaders of the anti-runway protest are, in many cases, the products of middle-class homes. Their parents may be fighting to control prosperous middle-age spread, but thirty years ago they let it all hang out. As they moved from hippy to yuppy to mummy they may have lost their energy but many will have kept their idealism. Seeing their little darlings pick up the ideas, and then do something about it will have led many a Home Counties mother to rifle nostalgically through the record collection for the Joni Mitchell album.

Others, emboldened by their offspring's actions, have had a go at protesting themselves. Some of those campaigning against live animal exports at Brightlingsea harbour had accents as cut glass as any at Cowes. Previous protests against road developments at Twyford Down or Newbury saw the blue rinse brigade and the no rinse for days division standing together. It would be too much to suggest that the experience transformed the Berkshire WI into the military wing of Greenpeace but it did nudge some of the comfortable out of their complacency.

It helps that the causes today's protesters are championing chime with middle-class concerns. Greenery is more popular than Greenham Common could ever be. Cynics may, however, argue that the Cheshire ladies handing buns to the eco-warriors are really supporting Nimby, not Swampy. Certainly, some of the Mobberly middle classes will be more agitated by falling house prices than the fragile ecology. Others, however, will find, as anyone might, that once you get close to Swampy something rubs off. The all-encompassing fervour of the eco-warriors' vision is bound to have an impact on Cheshire ladies who have, hitherto, had more pressing concerns than the future of the planet to worry about. Permanent protesting can prove wearing but we all need, occasionally, to be reminded of the importance of being earnest.

road protests 1997   |   road protests (current)   |   movement links