18 April 2023

Snooker loopy: Just Stop Oil’s pointless stunt will only alienate the public


Robert ‘The Milkman’ Milkins and ‘Gentleman’ Joe Perry had barely dusted their cue-tips before two intrepid eco-warriors decided the tension of the opening round of the snooker World Championships at Sheffield’s greatest theatre wasn’t enough for them and decided to spice things up a bit.

Usually known for their love of all things green, these Just Stop Oil protesters decided that the best way to wean the UK off its addiction to the black stuff was to take it out on the baize by glueing themselves to one snooker table and throwing orange powder across the second.

Being an enormous snooker fan, I was immediately furious at the interruption to my evening viewing, albeit delighted to see my second favourite referee – yes, I have a top three – immediately tackle one protester, probably preventing damage which would have seen both tables’ games abandoned instead of just the one.

Would I have cared less if the golf had been interrupted? Maybe just a little. But in either instance, the link to climate-damaging industries would be tenuous at best. Rather than making meaningful change, these stunts are simply designed to attract attention – and given that more than 4 million people have watched the video on Twitter alone, you could say that they have been successful.

Whether there’s much sense in targeting a sport that has nothing whatsoever to do with the industries and companies Just Stop Oil object to is another matter, however. Disruption for disruption’s sake isn’t a strategy and surely something which will only increase the public’s frustration with these professional vandals.

Nevertheless, Just Stop Oil will always have their supporters because they are, largely, middle-class people espousing a fashionable brand of anti-capitalist catastrophism. Corbynite commentator Ash Sarkar, apparently without irony, tweeted that the protesters showed ‘real guts’ by taking action when people were screaming at them, and compared them to suffragettes.

Well, for one thing, most snooker fans have never screamed at anyone in their lives, bar the occasional fit of excitement at Alex Higgins or Ronnie O’Sullivan – we’re much more of a ‘disgruntled grumble’ sort of bunch. And in any case, what’s ‘brave’ about taking action in defence of a cause that has the support of elite opinion-makers, numerous politicians and, perhaps most alarmingly, a significant chunk of the criminal justice system.

As others have written on CapX, when you have judges describing protestors as ‘admirable’ and lawyers lining up to virtue signal about how they will no longer prosecute such defendants, the sense of faith in the justice system and the rule of law is eroded. It also sends a clear message to the likes of Just Stop Oil and Extinction Rebellion that they can carry on with these pointless stunts with near complete impunity.

Unfortunately these groups will be with us for some time to come. Not only are they not being punished for their criminal activity, but their campaign goals will not be satisfied for a long time yet, mainly because they range from the unrealistic – ending all licences, funding and approval for new fossil fuel projects – and the laughable, like new ’emergency citizens assemblies’ to finally come up with a way to solve climate change (something which no one else has given any thought up to this point).

Direct action is a cornerstone of British democracy, but so is the expectation that illegal actions will be met with punishment. Criminal damage is criminal damage, even if you are jumping on a fashionable leftwing hobby horse to engage in it. The police and the courts need to take their cue from the public, and remind themselves they are supposed to both uphold the law and deter people from criminality.

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Emma Revell is Head of Communications at the Centre for Policy Studies.