Thursday, 23 August 2007

A casual tourist's visit to the Climate Change Camp

I paid a lazy, day-tripper tourist’s visit to the Camp for Climate Change just north of Heathrow last Wednesday (15th August). It was a nice easy journey on which I didn’t even have to change trains on the Tube, in contrast to so much activism that demands a lot of hard work and sacrifice and hassle.
I knew I was approaching the site when I saw the string of cars parked in the lane, which all had bored looking corporate news journalists checking their emails on laptops plugged into the cigarette lighter. The Sky News lady was powdering her nose, and a Canadian journo at the ‘gate’ (it’s just a piece of thin rope strung across posts in some places) was asking if there were any Canadians in there he could interview. There was one guy in a car with a jacket over his head. Either he was one of the few photographers who still uses film, or he was the Evening Standard’s undercover reporter trying to keep a low profile.
There was none of the anticipated hassle from the cops getting in, apart from being photographed by the Forward Intelligence Team – the FIT team of the Metropolitan police. Happy campers told me that thirty ‘FIT’ officers – which is about the total strength of the FIT, had barged onto the site the night before. About two hundred campers ‘kept pouring out of tents’ and pushed them back off the site, according to this source. At about this time, ‘silver,’ the copper in operational command of the whole operation on the ground, reportedly showed up and ordered the FIT to withdraw. It seems as if the FIT’s action was not authorized by their overall command. This is an accusation that activists often been make against FIT by – that they deliberately wade in, sometimes against specific orders from on high.
By the time I arrived, it was a happy peaceful camp with a really nice vibe. Old sofas were out by the ‘gate’, and a pair of police constables were taking a slow stroll around the camp with their Climate Camp minders. It didn’t seem to be any kind of inspection or search, just a ‘routine’ foot patrol. I was told that Commander Richard Broadhurst – the man in charge of public order for the entire Met – had come to take a stroll around the site. Broadhurst is ‘gold’ for the Climate Change Camp operation, meaning the buck ultimately stops with him, and it’s highly unusual to see him on site. ‘Gold’ is usually to be found no closer to the operation than Scotland Yard’s control room.

It’s possible ‘gold’s’ appearance had something to do with damage control of the ongoing Climate Camp media disaster. This being the silly season, there’s been an enormous amount of coverage of the site, much of it positive towards the campers, and the letter pages were full of nothing else. Everyone’s having a laugh at the expense of the British Airport Authority (BAA), who ‘run’ Heathrow, and who demonstrated their incompetence to me last Christmas, when I spent a day in a freezing cold tent with a thousand stranded passengers whom they wouldn’t even let into the Terminal 2 building, and all because of a little bit of fog.
BAA’s bizarre application for an injunction of the protesters demanded that every member of the National Trust be arrested, and it was heavily watered down at court. The local people of Harlington and Hayes have suddenly found their houses have become worthless overnight due to plans to build a new runway on the site where the camp now is. The Harlington people had already set up their own ‘barrio’ (miniature neighbourhood) in the camp, and their banners mentioned BAA by name.
Two coppers seemed to have nothing better to do than to stand around at the entrance to the next field to stop the camp expanding onto it. Imperial College, owners of the land, had put up signs instructing campers that they owned the freehold to the land, but it’s a dubious argument, as a camp paralegal advised me that in law the tenant is the landowner for eviction purposes, and there is a mysterious tenant who leases the site, and who hadn’t yet identified themselves.
The scruffy anarchists at the Camp could probably make a better job of running Heathrow than BAA. It was a beautifully organised camp, with 12 different types of recycling bin, compost toilets and wind turbines. It was the perfect size, small enough that you could still meet people, and big enough that there was always something going on. The cheap food was excellent, and it all had more the air of a festival than a heavy serious activist event. The Lancaster posse had a bike library where you could sign out a free bike to cycle around on, and the Bicycology tent’s workshop on fitting brake blocks to your bike was so busy I couldn’t see what they were doing through the press of punters. And I was back home in an hour. There was a steady trickle of arrivals as I left, two of them all the way from Chile via Manchester. The Climate Camp could well become a major London tourist attraction.

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