LBC Views: Insulate Britain – are they martyrs or idiots?

18 November 2021, 12:15 | Updated: 24 November 2021, 17:54

Insulate Britain activists have been jailed
Insulate Britain activists have been jailed. Picture: LBC
Rachael Venables

By Rachael Venables

There were tears in court long before the sentences were handed down, writes Rachael Venables.

Not from the nine defendants, they had accepted their fate, but from their family and loved ones who packed out the corridors, desperate to hear the judge's decision.

When, at first, the clerk would only let five members of the public into the court room, there was so much pleading and crying that eventually the judge relented, and allowed in nine people (one per defendant.)

(Of course, you could point out examples where Insulate Britain have been totally immovable in the face of tears and families pleading… but that's a conversation for another time.)

It was certainly a poignant reminder that behind the "irresponsible crusties" are families who must have watched the on-going coverage over the past few months with a confused mixture of pride and abject horror.

Read more: Eco mob behind bars: Judge jails protesters for M25 travel chaos

Read more: Two months of chaos: A timeline of Insulate Britain's disruptive protests

And we also got a glimpse of the lives behind the superglue and orange vests, which will be so uprooted by a stint in prison, and a fine that could total many thousands of pounds.

Theories amongst commentators that the judge, Dame Victoria Sharp, might go easy on the group by giving them a suspended sentence proved in the end unfounded.

I expect their defiant "I'd do it again" statements in court yesterday really didn't help.

Read more: Grant Shapps vows to continue crackdown on eco activists after nine jailed

Nor did the many, many press statements released by Insulate Britain, and read by the National Highways' barrister, that they had breached an injunction - and would do so again help their chances of a lenient sentence.

So, when you put all that together, does that make this group incredibly brave or stupid?

Have they made martyrs of themselves (like they wanted) or just finally been captured by the legal system?

That depends, of course, on who you ask.

Social media, as nuanced as ever, is fairly split. I've seen mocking, jubilant celebration - "justice prevails" messaging.

I've also seen a lot of grief, some people calling them heroes, one man even tweeting "our grandchildren will erect statues to them".

The true test, no doubt, will be in whether this rallies any more bodies to the cause, and whether ultimately the Government caves to their demands, with more trials on the way.

There is no doubt that they have succeeded in forcing conversations about the climate crisis across the media and the political spectrum.

But, no matter where you stand on blocking roads, there are nine new people in prison tonight. All of them are climate activists, and for many, that simply will not sit comfortably.