In last night’s scuffle between Conservative MP Mark Field and a Greenpeace protester, which of them was really behaving in an entitled manner?
The story is that it was Field, there in his black tie, drinking and chortling with bankers at a fancy dinner as the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave a speech on the state of British politics. The way Field grabbed the protester by the neck before marching her out of the opulent room is being held up as symbolic of Tory arrogance and privilege. Labour MPs are calling for him to resign. Some even want the police involved, to teach these cocksure men of the entitled Tory party a lesson.
But in truth, it wasn’t Field who displayed colossal levels of entitlement last night — it was the protesters. It was these increasingly smug and disruptive climate activists who behaved in a morally arrogant fashion.
These campaigners are now so singularly convinced of their moral righteousness, so sure that it is they and they alone who understand the problems facing humanity, that they think they can go anywhere and do anything and the rest of us should just bow down and listen to their End of Days preaching about the wickedness of mankind and the nastiness of economic growth. In their alarm that someone dared to stop them for once – in this case, Field – we can glimpse the misplaced certitude and creeping dogmatism of the environmentalist movement.
This is not to say that Mark Field behaved appropriately. He absolutely did not. He was far too rough. It is unacceptable for a man to grab a woman by the neck except in extreme circumstances, for example if the woman poses a clear and direct threat to the man in question or somebody else.
There were other ways he could have helped to escort the woman from the dinner. And he knows this. He has apologised unreservedly to the protester and expressed regret at what he describes as his instinctual attempt to remove someone who he thought posed a potential threat to the Chancellor and others. He made an error of judgement in how he executed this instinct to protect.
And yet there’s so much hypocrisy in the attacks on Field. Labour MP Dawn Butler has called for him to be sacked. Her colleague Jess Phillips says his behaviour was ‘so so awful’.
These MPs are among those who frequently raise concerns about the threat posed to politicians in today’s volatile political climate. They and others will often refer to the murder of Jo Cox as an example of what can happen when individuals come to hate politicians so much. Indeed, I took part in a discussion with Jess Phillips earlier this year in which she condemned the right-wing protesters who stood outside the Commons for a few weeks shouting stupid and mean things at Anna Soubry and other MPs.
And yet now some MPs seem to be suggesting that the Greenpeace protester should have been let through… to do what, precisely? Lecture Mr Hammond? Scream at him? Is that her right? Given this was a private dinner, many people would say ‘No’.
Mark Field may have lost his sense of perspective momentarily last night, but many of his critics seem to be ditching their own sense of perspective and their belief that politicians face many dangers today. Let’s think about what happened at last night’s dinner at Mansion House in the City. Dozens of protesters breached security. They stormed into a room in which the second most powerful person in the country was due to speak. One of them made a beeline for that person. Given we are constantly told that politicians are at risk of abuse and even assault, isn’t it just a tiny bit understandable that Field acted on instinct to eject the protesters?
Imagine this scenario: Diane Abbott is giving an after-dinner speech. On immigration, perhaps. Dozens of protesters who dislike mass immigration storm the room, start shouting, and one of them rushes towards Abbott. Do you think Labour MPs and the commentariat would respond to such an event by insisting on the right of protesters to confront political figures? Get real. They would condemn the protesters as a threat to MPs’ safety. And yet when it comes to Hammond and the Tories more broadly, apparently they should just let people rock up, disrupt everything, and lecture everyone about their pet cause.
Why the double standard? Because these protesters were green. And green protesters can do whatever the hell they like. They have become almost gods in the political pantheon. They are treated as dispensers of humanity-saving wisdom that the rest of us must slavishly listen to. Refuse to do that and you are a ‘denier’ of their gospel truth. Indeed, the only remarkable thing about last night is that climate activists disrupted a posh black-tie dinner. Normally they disrupt the daily lives of ordinary people, whether by blocking runways or motorways or gluing themselves to public transport. Mark Field behaved wrongly in that moment — but the overblown reaction to his behaviour tells us a broader story about the double standards of the left and the astonishing sense of entitlement among climate-change agitators.