Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Tuesday 4th June 2019

I DON’T wish to spoil it too much for the kids who were out on strike from school on Friday, protesting against inaction over climate change, but they may have a longer wait than they anticipate before they convince some of my generation of the urgency of their call. Indeed they might have to wait until we’ve shuffled off this failing mortal coil.

It was German theoretical physicist Max Planck — I guess you are all familiar with his work on quantum physics — who wrote that “a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it”.

Planck may not have been writing specifically about climate change, but there is a hollow ring of truth about his wisdom. I wonder what he would have made of teenage wonder kid Greta Thunberg, who has emerged as leader of a global call to arms and turned thousands of youngsters into climate change activists.

In Keswick, where there’s a history of environmental protests going back well over 100 years, a school governor has resigned after two of her daughters announced plans to skip lessons in order to stage an environmental protest in the town centre. A letter to the chairman of governors at Keswick School, from senior managers, made it clear her role as a governor was incompatible with the support she was giving to the protesters.

I can see it from both sides. Thank goodness the kids today care more about the world they live in than my selfish, have-it-all generation has done. Perhaps they are right and climate change is the biggest crisis facing humanity. These are not kids bunking off school for a laugh, they do care about the world they and their children will have to live in. They may not have the whole story, but the basic premise is sound enough.

From a school’s angle, there has to be order and discipline. By allowing one protest they set a precedent. What’s to stop another group of students taking a day off to join a protest about transgender issues or about Brexit or indeed any other issues of the moment? When the role of governor and parent comes into conflict, that’s where problems start. Governors are expected to show loyalty to the head, even if they might differ in private. This is education after all, not the Conservative Party.

The school could have handled it better and given measured support to the children, while insisting they confine their protest to a shorter time and then be back in school. Perhaps announcing a project with climate change issues at its heart to give the young people a feeling that their concerns are taken seriously.

Environmental protests are nothing new in Keswick. The most ardent protester of them all was Canon Rawnsley, one of the founders of the National Trust which acquired its first Lake District property, the Brandlehow estate on the west shore of Derwentwater, in 1902.

Rawnsley had already been involved in protests over the closure of footpaths at Fawe Park and Latrigg, the latter leading to a mass march by more than 2,000 people singing Rule Britannia and disposing of obstacles on their way to the summit. A court case over alleged trespass ensued, eventually leading to a compromise between landowner and protesters. Compromise seems to be a forgotten word these days.

Canon Rawnsley was a key figure in the struggle to protect the Lake District. Historian George Bott wrote of him, that he was “a fearless, articulate, impassioned St George, ready and eager to take up arms against any dragon that dared to threaten his much-loved Lakeland”.

The Lake District can be proud of environmental campaigners like Lord Birkett, with his plea to save Ullswater from becoming a reservoir, and the indomitable Susan Johnson who took on the might of North West Water and Manchester Corporation over tree planting at Thirlmere — and won a remarkable battle in Keswick Magistrates’ Court in 1985. She was the daughter of the founder of the Friends of the Lake District, the Rev H. H. Symonds, and, said Bott, “fighting for conservation was in her blood”.

So our local history shows us that outsiders, people prepared to stand up for a belief, people who may not have been listened to initially, have contributed greatly to the unspoilt Lake District we see today. But now the fight has gone global. Our children pay attention not to politicians but to David Attenborough and a 15-year-old Swedish schoolgirl with an intense gaze and a message to match.

I’ve a suspicion that Rawnsley, Lord Birkett and Miss Johnson, were they around today, would not be climate change deniers. Indeed they would probably have been at the forefront of the urgent argument that is now exercising kids of school age.

There is a danger that politicians will seek to hang on to the coat tails of our concerned young people and the children may not have thought through the reality of measures they want to see now, not some time 20, 30 or 50 years hence. But we’d be fools not to listen.

FOOTBALL MADNESS

TWO English football teams, dozens of staff and thousands of fans, have flown to Madrid for the European Champions League final. It’s insane, I know. It could so easily be played in England.

But no end to the madness. Two more English clubs contest the Europa League final in Bacu, Azerbaijan, 2,500 miles away. More air miles, more unnecessary travel. Football thumbs its nose to the environment when greed, contracts and national prestige are involved.cOver to you, kids.

SEND FOR LULU

IT wasn’t all nul points, doom and gloom at the Eurovision Song Contest. I’m feeling rather chuffed with myself as a matter of fact. I had a couple of quid on the Netherlands and an each way bet at 25-1 on Italy. First and second.

It’s the first and probably last time I’ve bet on the contest and I can’t claim all the credit. A former colleague, who writes about popular music, gave me what turned out to be some profitable tips.

Yet again we came last. To add insult we even lost points a week later when some eastern European jury’s points were annulled because they’d blabbed about them on TV before the event, breaking a sacred Euro rule.

Is it that Europe doesn’t like us? Or are our songs rubbish? I think a bit of both. That Hartlepool lad did his best, but we’ve forgotten how to write a real Euro winner like Boom Bang a Bang and Making Your Mind Up.

My solution? Send for Lulu. Still touring after five decades in the business. Did you spot that picture of the game old bird travelling by Tube to the O2 Arena in London — standing because no-one would offer her a seat?

She’s still got it at 70. Where’s Lulu when we need her? Makes you wanna shout …

HOW WE ALL LOSE

DON”T these brainless lefties realise that, by throwing milkshakes over the likes of Nigel Farage and Tommy Robinson, they are gifting sympathetic publicity to those they profess to dislike.

A speaker on television the other night suggested we’re all getting a bit too het up about the milkshake fad. I disagree. Regrettably we live in a society where a handful of lunatics and extremists go round threatening, abusing and intimidating public figures, whether it’s on the streets or online.

A report by the Committee for Standards in Public Life said in 2017 it was “truly shocking” how much abuse and intimidation MPs had to absorb. The chairman, Lord Evans, said this week it had got worse since the report was published.

We may be dissatisfied with our politicians, but we can vote them off. But it’s worth remembering, as we all criticise them, there are many good politicians who don’t deserve to have themselves and their families threatened and abused.

And how are we to attract a better quality of representative, people with outstanding ability, leadership and talent, in the growing febrile atmosphere?

Before minimising the milkshake incidents, let’s be aware that people in public life are potential targets for much worse. Jo Cox was murdered in her Yorkshire constituency by a right wing extremist.

Some MPs have been attacked in their offices and now have to put stringent security measures in place which make it more difficult for them to interact with constituents who come to see them with problems.

Throwing things, even if it’s just strawberry milkshakes, is counterproductive and wrong. It suggests that violence and intimidation is normal. If the democratic process continues to be undermined, then we are all losers.