JJ Starky

Some protests are torrid affairs. Others can prove enlightening. The march last Saturday in the heart of Oxford was the latter.

Attendees rocked up nearly 2 hours before the scheduled meet, poised with their homemade placards, ready to dissent. It was truly an eclectic mix. Tweed jackets juxtaposed grey baggy trackies, edgy high-tops contrasted brown Chelsea boots, dreadlocks neighboured crew cuts, with all unified under one mission – to say no to Oxfordshire County Council’s creeping authoritarianism.

Last year, the Council announced plans to impose Low Traffic Neighbours (LTN) across the city. Councillors justified the £6.5 million schemes by declaring that they will “greatly reduce” motor vehicle traffic in residential streets. They purport to achieve this by two means. First, bollards will be placed to block off certain streets. Second, LTN zones will be designated and monitored by cameras recording license plates, so if residents drive in zones they have not purchased a permit for, they will be fined. Upon that fine being ignored, they would likely be jailed.

Multiple consultations were then held late last year. The response from locals was overwhelming. 65% of them wholly disapproved. Only 7% endorsed the proposals in another consultation. With some notably citing, the schemes would make certain journeys up to 10 times longer. Acclaimed actress Florence Pugh’s father, who owns a shop in a LTN-designated area, revealed the council failed to consult local shop owners like him. He likewise expressed frustration over footfall decreases since lockdowns and how LTN’s were almost guaranteed to worsen the situation.

At 1pm on the dot, the speeches began. Several speakers took the stage but one 12-year-old girl stole the show. The anti-Greta, if you will.

There she stood, impressively reading out a pre-written speech that progressively exposed the irrationality behind the council’s plans point-by-point. Crowd members clapped intermittently. And then came the punchline, “To Klaus Schwab…”, she paused, “how dare you!”. Everybody loved it. Children in politics should really be a no no. But to witness an anti-woke one actively fighting to preserve her freedom rather than simping for the current political vogue, by God it was refreshing.

Admittedly, we may or may not have popped to the pub to down a quick ale at this point before rejoining. So we missed the start of the march. When we rejoined, we were confused. The crowd had nearly quadrupled in size.

Chants of freedom rang aloud for the better part of the next 2 hours. Plenty of bypassing youths looked perplexed. Some took videos with disapproving smirks. You could almost see them twitching their thumbs in anticipation of posting about the Alex Jones loons they’d just seen. Several cab drivers beeped their horns in support, smiling and waving vigorously as they did. It was an out and out, peaceful success.

Only the next day did we see coverage of Antifa agitators. Apparently, a dozen or so turned up but were quickly cordoned off by police and dispersed after a bloke trolled them with a hearty rendition of Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life”. Then came the barrage of articles from various local and legacy media journalists.

The Oxford Mail tainted marchers by highlighting that a “Neo-Nazi” was in attendance. LBC’s James O’Brien labelled everyone attending “conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers”. But one journalist, Dave Vetter, went further and purveyed in what can only be called live gaslighting.

According to Vetter, live-tweeting his perspective, it was an “intoxicating mix of far-right conspiracy slogans, antisemitism and really terrible hip-hop”. He concluded “the rally is, at heart, a climate denial protest”.

I’m live at the pro-traffic rally in Oxford city centre. Ostensibly a protest against LTNs, or low-traffic neighborhoods, it’s an intoxicating mix of far-right conspiracy slogans, antisemitism and really terrible hip-hop.

— Dave Vetter (@davidrvetter) February 18, 2023

In reality, while there were some radical deductions espoused, these were minute, the vast majority of people were simply expressing their desire not to be restricted by local government. No signs we saw referred to Jewish people. And the hip-hop was a sheer sight better than what Vetter is probably capable of. Tellingly, Vetter only mentioned the word freedom once in his thread, which is slightly strange, provided it was the most common word featured on placards. Instead, the likes of the Oxford Mail, O’Brien, and Vetter focused on sporadic elements, deploying typical guilt-by-association devices designed to reassure readers that all these crackpots aren’t to be taken seriously.

Vetter then linked a “video explainer” at the end of his thread to show how 15-minute-cities are a “win for everyone”. From the get-go, again, the presenter gaslights. Ominously, we are told a strain of opposition (virus-connotations likely intended) is growing that is fatally misunderstanding these schemes for “open air prisons enforced by a police state from their enclosed zone”.

So let’s recap: Oxford Council proposes plans to restrict and regulate traffic in the city. They ignore locals’ obvious rejection. Planned rollouts of the scheme continue with the council investing in cameras to monitor and fine those in breach of the scheme – sounds quite authoritarian to me. Again, there was no mention of infringements on freedom. Nor was there any reference to the clear subversion of local democracy, which is more or less a facade nowadays.

Leaving this here for more context

Ps. Is that meteorite coming yet?

— Carmen R. (@diffusefield) February 18, 2023

Entirely absent from almost all coverage is the money that Oxfordshire County Council stands to make.

According to citizen journalist, Dulwich Clean Air, Southwark council issued 37,006 PCN fines to drivers going through 5 ANPR cameras (same as Oxford intends to use) in Dulwich’s LTN zone in only 65 working days in May 2021. That amounted to £4,810,780, which is £74,012 per day. Oxford has an estimated population of about half that of Southwark. That equates to roughly £37,000 in fines per day and £13,505,000 a year.

No wonder Oxfordshire Council want to join the party…

What the protest really showed, however, is as much as national governments are guilty of a mission creep towards a kind of plastic moral governance, so are local councils. Per Oxfordshire County Council’s cabinet member for travel and development strategy, Duncan Enright’s own words, these schemes are “going to happen definitely” (whether the public like it or not).

In short, we know better. So the herd must follow our moral plans even if they disapprove. It is the same existential issue afflicting government at the national level. Turns out, it has captured government at the local level too. The ends justify the means for these legislators. Until that is reversed at both macro and micro-level, these protests will grow in number.

Dozens upon dozens of councils across the UK, meanwhile, announce similar traffic schemes to dissenting choruses.

JJ Starky is a disillusioned former Conservative and Brexit Party strategist and part-time citizen journalist based in the UK. You can read more of his work through his SubStack, the Stark Naked Brief or follow him Twitter.


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