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Is direct action counter-productive?

Mike McCartney

10th July 2023

Some high profile figures have criticised methods used by protestors

First off, conservationist Jane Goodall spoke to the press about her feelings, specifically mentioning the likes of Just Stop Oil.

Then soon after, the multi-millionaire donor to Just Stop Oil and Extinction Rebellion Trevor Neilson said that the eco-activists are "performative" and "not accomplishing anything".

Therefore, this is a good opportunity to examine the nature of pg tactics and whether they are successful or not.

A quick recap on PG success, by the way...

How do some pressure groups achieve success?

  • It is worth defining ‘success’. This would mean the prevention of unfriendly legislation, the passage of friendly legislation, amendments to legislation, or raising public and political awareness of an issue. In the case of the train staff, it is improving pay and conditions - i.e. a salary increase that mitigates the effects of inflation and/or limiting layoffs by the train companies.
  • Achieving insider status (see above for methods) can promote success. Farming and environment groups in the UK are good examples.
  • A factor in success is finance. Wealthy groups, such as those representing industries or the professions such as the British Medical Association can afford to mount major campaigns, undertake research and access the media to campaign.
  • Good organisation can promote success. Organising major demonstrations is impressive and can influence both public and political opinion. Thus the Countryside Alliance put rural affairs on the political map in 2003 by putting 300,000 demonstrators on the streets of London. The use of the Internet and mobile phones mean pgs can organise demonstrations quickly and effectively – as the anti-fuel tax lobby has discovered.
  • Good use of the media is a useful tool. Joanna Lumley and the Ghurkha Justice Campaign is an oft quoted example.
  • Related to the above these points is good leadership.
  • Sometimes a group may be ideologically in tune with the party in government. Thus rights groups such as Liberty will prosper when the government has a liberal flavour - relatively more successful when New Labour was in power than after.

But groups who are not regarded as having policies that fit with government policy, but have a loyal and ideological following may have to resort to direct action.

On this sort of method, please see some of my earlier posts on direct action tactics. There is one here, for example.

Nice bit of video below, to prompt classroom discussion. Note that the f-word is audible at least once.

Mike McCartney

Mike is an experienced A-Level Politics teacher, author and examiner.

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