As millions of us know, no relationship is more heartfelt than that between an Englishman and his lawn.
‘Nothing is more pleasant to the eye,’ wrote Francis Bacon in 1625, ‘than green grass kept finely shorn.’ A well-kept garden, Bacon explained, was the ‘greatest refreshment to the spirit of man’ that could possibly be imagined.
Ever since, the English have been renowned for their love of a carefully tended lawn. That little square of grass has embodied order and moderation, the supreme symbol of Middle England.
So perhaps it is no wonder that of all Extinction Rebellion’s juvenile, posturing stunts, the wanton vandalism of the lawn at Trinity College, Cambridge has struck a national chord.
The police (pictured during the protest at Trinity College, Cambridge) were too craven to intervene because senior figures were frightened to stand against a ‘progressive’ cause, writes Dominic Sandbrook
In case you missed it, the Cambridge branch of the extreme eco-warriors took great offence at Trinity’s decision to sell farmland near the Port of Felixstowe, which developers want to turn into an industrial estate.
To punish the college, the anarchists invaded Trinity’s lawn, ripped it up, carted the mud off to a Barclays Bank branch, and chained themselves to an apple tree, waving the usual flags and chanting the traditional inane slogans.
They claimed this was an ideal way to protest against the ‘destruction of nature’. Where do you start with such grotesque stupidity?
Are Cambridge colleges not allowed to sell their own property? Should all industrial estates be shut down, despite the local economic damage?
Is tearing up a lawn the best way to defend nature? Isn’t it simply a childish act of self-aggrandising vandalism, for which the perpetrators should face the full force of the law?
For me, the astounding thing is Extinction Rebellion (XR) seriously believe such antics advance their cause. In reality, like their attempts to block highways, and airports, stunts such as the Cambridge Lawn Massacre simply turn ordinary people against them.
To punish the college, the anarchists invaded Trinity’s lawn, ripped it up, carted the mud off to a Barclays Bank branch, and chained themselves to an apple tree, waving the usual flags and chanting the traditional inane slogans
One poll for the Cambridge Evening News’s website found a staggering 94 per cent of local readers thought the protest was ‘nothing more than vandalism’.
So much for raising environmental awareness.
And as so often when virtue-signalling brats decide to lecture us all about their consciences, it is hard to miss the stench of hypocrisy.
When XR’s spokeswoman Sarah Lunnon went on the radio to defend them, she reportedly travelled to the studio by car.
Of course she did. But shouldn’t she have walked, or taken a bike? Shouldn’t her comrades go round and tear up her lawn, too?
And as on previous occasions, the protesters seemed not to care that they were putting public services at risk.
Contrary to their dishonest claims, at least one ambulance was forced to turn around when faced with XR’s roadblocks, and there have been accounts of other ambulances making long detours.
The real question… is not why XR are so stupid. It is: What on earth were Cambridgeshire Police doing? (pictured is the damaged lawn after the protest this week)
We have seen plenty of antics like these before, from the radicals of the 1960s to the Greenham Common women in the 1980s. Self-appointed activists and posturing protesters will always be with us. Every generation has them.
The real question, therefore, is not why XR are so stupid. It is: What on earth were Cambridgeshire Police doing?
After all, they had plenty of opportunities to stop the vandals. So why did the police stand idly by? And, most unforgivably, why did these latter-day Dixons of Dock Green actually make the protesters’ task easier by putting up roadblocks to deter the traffic? At first, police spokesmen claimed they could not intervene because the Human Rights Act guarantees the right to peaceful protest. Surprise, surprise!
But this is nonsense. Since the law forbids people from obstructing the highway and damaging private property, the constabulary would have been perfectly entitled to step in.
Indeed, in a video released on Monday, Cambridgeshire Police’s Superintendent James Sutherland admitted that the issue was not ‘black and white’. The police could have intervened if they thought the protest threatened public order, Superintendent Sutherland said. But ‘it’s a peaceful protest, there’s no disorder’.
The police’s job is not to promote diversity, encourage inclusion, stimulate eco-awareness or any other of the lazy, second-hand phrases that pass for political discourse among the slow and simple-minded. Their job is to uphold the law and arrest wrongdoers (protesters are seen on the Cambridge lawn)
As any sane observer can see, though, this was simply not true. Is vandalising private property not disorder? Is invading a High Street bank not disorder?
Just imagine that, for your own peculiar political reasons, you took against your next-door neighbour, ripped up his lawn and hauled it off to the nearest branch of Barclays. Would the police stand by and do nothing?
Would they defend your human right to smash up his garden? Would they reroute the traffic to make your life a little bit easier?
Of course they wouldn’t. And here’s another experiment.
Just imagine the protesters in Cambridge weren’t spoiled, entitled middle-class brats, but kids from a council estate. Would the police have let them get away with it? We all know the answer. No, of course not.
The police were too craven to intervene because senior figures were frightened to stand against a ‘progressive’ cause. So desperate to appear ‘woke’, they lacked the guts to enforce the law.
And this reflects a wider picture. Like so many public institutions, from our universities to the BBC, the police force has been contaminated with a lazy, uncritical, knee-jerk political correctness.
Question the fashionable transgender dogma of the day on Twitter and you can expect a visit from the local constabulary. Poke fun at the holiness of ‘diversity’, and you might be facing a night in the cells.
But rip up your neighbours’ lawn? If it’s for environmental awareness, then fair enough.
In itself, I know, this might seem a trivial episode. (Although it’s not so trivial, of course, to the college gardeners whose work has been destroyed by these entitled morons, or to the patients whose ambulances have been blocked en route to hospital.)
But it is a perfect example of the growing schism between the vast majority of ordinary Britons, who recognise cant, dishonesty and vandalism when they see them, and the people who run our public institutions, whose instinct is always to grovel and appease.
You see examples in almost every walk of life, from university officials taking down ‘problematic’ statues of anyone associated with the Empire to museum curators wanting rid of their own collections.
Until now, I thought the worst case was the cowardice of the Royal Shakespeare Company, scrapping a sponsorship deal with BP, subsidising tickets for teenagers, after criticism from a handful of self-righteous students who objected to the association with fossil fuels.
But this latest episode is the most disturbing. For if there’s one institution that cannot fall victim to the cult of hectoring ‘wokeness’, it’s the police.
The police’s job is not to promote diversity, encourage inclusion, stimulate eco-awareness or any other of the lazy, second-hand phrases that pass for political discourse among the slow and simple-minded. Their job is to uphold the law and arrest wrongdoers.
Judged by these standards, Cambridgeshire Police have demonstrably failed. And not only have they let local people down, they are at serious risk of forfeiting public confidence.
For if, faced with vandalism and disorder, the police’s instinct is to grovel in the gutter, then why should we trust them to keep us safe? Why have any faith in them at all?
No wonder, then, in Cambridge there is now talk of a ‘counter-protest’ against the XR extremists. For if you can’t trust the police, why wouldn’t you take the law into your own hands?
That way, of course, lies anarchy. So the local constabulary simply must get a grip.
Clean up the disorder. Arrest the vandals. Let ordinary residents get on with their lives, and have some respect for people’s lawns. It’s really not that complicated, is it?