Self-regarding and possibly self-defeating

Climate Camp on Blackheath, August 2009

This year’s Climate Camp is happening now, in my manor. The camp is located no more than a few hundred metres from where I’m typing this post in Blackheath Village: a leafy suburb on the border of south east London and Kent, next to Greenwich and the River Thames, on a hill overlooking Canary Wharf and the rest of the city’s financial centre.

It was a surprise to learn that the mostly young and almost exclusively middle class eco-activists had decided to pitch tent on Blackheath, but with hindsight it is one of the more obvious places to hold such an event in Greater London.

While I can understand why Climate Camp is here, this doesn’t mean that I approve of the location. This is for reasons which I’ve been invited to present by a Greenwich local newspaper in an edition to be published shortly after the camp has upped pegs. I shall probably cross-post that short article here in due course. For now, all I shall say is that I do not see the squatting of ancient common land without warning, let alone consultation, to be appropriate behaviour for a group of green libertarians who we are told operate by consensus.

Blackheath is where the Lollard priest John Ball addressed a group of Kentish rebels during the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381:

“When Adam delved and Eve span, Who was then the gentleman? From the beginning all men by nature were created alike, and our bondage or servitude came in by the unjust oppression of naughty men. For if God would have had any bondmen from the beginning, he would have appointed who should be bond, and who free. And therefore I exhort you to consider that now the time is come, appointed to us by God, in which ye may (if ye will) cast off the yoke of bondage, and recover liberty.”

Blackheath today is a well-to-do area, but the majority of residents are of a left-liberal political persuasion, and there is a strong local awareness of the history of this land and its historical significance. The village school is named after the mediaeval anarchist quoted above.

I refer to Climate Camp’s modus operandi, but the truth is that the camp does not operate solely by consensus. Despite the insistence of campers who have spoken at public meetings such as the one held yesterday in Greenwich town centre, there is a core leadership with considerable financial backing and logistical support that makes the major decisions, dictates camp strategy and heavily influences its political philosophy.

I have visited Climate Camp on Blackheath, and shall no doubt do so again over the coming days. And I will do this as a journalist, not an active participant, reporting on what I see, and interviewing campers and local residents. But the results will not be published on this blog, as I honestly don’t think that the details of Climate Camp are of interest or relevance to my regular readers. In any case, you can get all that stuff from the Daily Mail, if so inclined. I jest, but the right-wing rag’s coverage of Climate Camp has so far been quite reasonable.

Of the broadsheets, the Guardian began by devoting much attention to Climate Camp. Since Thursday, however, the Grauniad appears to have gone off the boil. Maybe this has something to do with the camp continuing to antagonise journalists, including those who under normal circumstances would be friendly and uncritical.

The title of this post is derived in part from that of Peter Beaumont’s article in today’s Observer. Beaumont is a war correspondent, and I have no idea how much he knows about countercultural political movements in Britain. But today’s article includes a number of perceptive comments on Climate Camp and its increasingly incoherent philosophy. It’s well worth a read.