Tony Greaves writes…”There really is no Planet B” Scenes from the Schools 4 Climate action demo

Fantastic atmosphere in Parliament Square today as some thousands of mainly school students gathered to protest against what is happening to our climate and our planet. This was one of the most extraordinary demonstrations I have witnessed.

There was none of the usual organisation, attempts at order and regimentation, agenda of speeches and actions. No stewards and precious few police, who were clearly taken unawares by the scale of the protest and were standing around looking a rather lost at how to cope with quite a big disruption with no organisers to talk to! People just turned up, often in school groups, and did their own thing as they felt fit.

Some just stood about with their placards. Some sat in a circle, chanted or sang or made impromptu speeches – at first on the grass, later on in the road. Some stood in the streets or marched off down Whitehall or towards Westminster Bridge. Parliament Square was completely blocked, partly by the young demonstrators but also – by a curious bit of serendipity – by the black cabs whose drivers were staging another protest against being kicked out of London bus lanes.

For once, the young people were being allowed to stand on the plinths of statues and hang placards on Mr Churchill and his friends. One glorious incident happened when a big red open-top tourist sightseeing bus, blocked on the corner of Bridge Street and the Square, was commandeered by a group of young people waving their placards and leading the chants. What any tourists thought about it, I know not!

There were remarkably few mainstream politicians around which was a pity. Someone said they had seen a Miliband (presumably Ed) but the only people I saw were Jo Swinson and Siobhan Benita mixing and chatting with the throng. The whole event reminded me a bit of the late 1960s (I chatted to a visiting couple from San Francisco who had come down to Westminster expecting anti-Brexit protests!) and we reminisced about anti-Vietnam demos and slogans from that time).

And the home-made posters and slogans, many scrawled on brown cardboard! Last Wednesday in the Lords I asked the Government to guarantee that no-one would be punished who had made a conscious personal decision to cut school today to demand a future for themselves and all their generation. I got a typical Tory stuffed-shirt “these people should be in class” response. But if anyone does suffer retribution I’d like to know.

Today was a wonderful, peaceful, disruptive but completely positive manifestation. Well done to everyone who took part. Let’s make sure the powers that be take note. And that the young people do not lose hope, or their anger, or their determination to do everything to sort out the complete mess that their elders (but not betters) have made of their planet. In the words of my favourite placard from today, there really is “no planet B”.

* Tony Greaves is a backbench Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords.

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  • It is rather inspirational and humbling that it is school students that are taking time out to focus minds on the single greatest challenge that humanity faces.

  • Paul Barker 15th Feb '19 - 8:33pm

    Inspiring & great to see the lack of adult involvement. The Schoolkids Unions of the late 60s were damaged by adult help & (behind the scenes) leadership.
    Its noticeable that this movement seems to be mostly led by Girls, another great improvement on the 60s.

  • John Marriott 15th Feb '19 - 8:40pm

    I’ve seen a lot of media coverage on what was an admirable event and there was hardly a male student in sight. Is concern about climate change a girlie thing? It looks, with apologies to Annie Lennox, as if the sisters are doing it for themselves.

  • Peter Martin 15th Feb '19 - 8:53pm

    Excellent response by our young people. No doubt the Tory response will be that they should be writing to their MPs in their own time, but there’s more to education than sitting in the classroom doing as you’re told.

    The hard thing is going to be how to decarbonise the world’s economy and at the same time allow human progress to continue.

  • What’s so admirable about blocking streets, stopping for example people trying to reach appointments at St Thomas Hospital?

  • John Marriott 16th Feb '19 - 8:41am

    Good job you don’t live in Paris, then.

  • I’m ashamed of the legacy that my (especially my) generation have ceded to the young. I just hope their radicalism and fervour lasts into their later years. Sadly, history shows us that it rarely does.

    As for the response from No. 10, I’m reminded of the line from the late, great Eddy Cochrane, “Id love to help you son, but you’re too young to vote!

  • Richard Underhill 16th Feb '19 - 10:15am

    “Someone said they had seen a Miliband (presumably Ed”
    Tony was obviously out on the streets. TV showed Ed’s brother.
    BBC Politics Live had one of the young campaigners on their panel, who made the point that they should be able to vote at 16
    (Lib Dem policy for decades, also SNP policy, as per Edinburgh agreement with David Cameron for 2014 referendum, what about Labour?)
    One of those interviewed was a supportive headmistress, obviously over 18.

  • Richard Underhill 16th Feb '19 - 10:27am

    “3 MPs seem to have voted against the 2008 Climate Change Act:
    Chope, Christopher
    Lilley, Peter
    Tyrie, Andrew”
    The Chief Scientific Adviser told the Prime Minister that “Anyone who has not had a scientific education is not educated.”
    Only one of the subsequent UK PMs qualifies. Her cv included research into ice cream.

  • David Becket 16th Feb '19 - 12:54pm

    This party needs to wake itself very quickly. Our web site and press releases should by now have shown our support for the student movement, and our Environment Spokesperson should by now meeting the student leaders. (At least Jo was there)

    A number of environmental issues are hitting the news, and this party with claims to have green policies are ignoring them.

    Air pollution is now identified as a key issue. We have a rather tame press release, which should also be a news item on our web site.

    The danger posed by threats to insects has been ignored by the party. In particular Bees under threat from giant chemical companies and the potential Brexit trade deal with the USA. Where is our voice on this issue.?

    As more headlines identify the risk of Climate Change we should be out in the front with solutions, some of which will prove unpopular.

    The Environment should be as high a priority as Brexit. We have at least two Brexit Press Releases every day, each Brexit release should be matched by an Environment release.

    As it is we are looking at another missed opportunity.

  • Steve Comer 16th Feb '19 - 1:18pm

    Sadly true David.
    Also interesting that the BBC reports I heard in advance of Friday made no mention of the fact that this was an initiative undertaken in several European countries.

    The fact that so many young people took part has restored a little of my lost faith in the future of the UK.

  • I thought that Ed Davey was good on Newsnight last night.

    I think we should have the environment as one of our key themes for May’s European Parliament elections.

    And we should be highlighting it as an issue in our local Focuses – the coming elections will be some of the most important for the country and the party not to mention the planet and we need to redouble our efforts NOW!

    We should be involving young people in our local parties and giving them a real say which I think that virtually all local parties are bad at doing. And selecting young people (OK they have to be at least 18) as candidates for (local) elections – along with seniors (and OK the middle aged) as well!

  • Michael 1 16th Feb ’19 – 3:14pm…….I thought that Ed Davey was good on Newsnight last night………..

    I didn’t!
    I thought he came across as old guy who embarasses everyone by trying to identify with teenagers.

  • David Becket 16th Feb '19 - 5:04pm

    Ed Davey not very good, he came over as a typical middle aged politician blaming other parties for the problem, and did not satisfy the student representative. His final input was a bit better, but we needed more of what his party would do rather than what the government has not done. Not leadership material for this modern age.

  • John Marriott 16th Feb '19 - 5:10pm

    @Michael 1
    Now, I know you are clever; but I didn’t know you were a clairvoyant as well. I was under the impression that the UK wasn’t fielding candidates in this year’s EU parliamentary elections, for reasons that escape me (joke). Unless the ‘we’ refers to Liberal parties in Europe; or perhaps you mean the May local elections?

    The real problem with dealing with climate change is getting everyone to agree a strategy and, with countries like Australia, India, China, the USA and, of all places, Germany still wedded to coal, while Trump claims global warming to be a ‘Chinese hoax’ and with the new Brazilian President threatening to cut down the rain forests, whatever we do unilaterally on these little islands of ours will have little impact globally.

  • @John Marriott

    Lol 🙂 ! They call me Mystic Michael!

    OK I was being a bit provocative! I THINK the most likely outcome is that we will have European Parliamentary Elections – that is Brexit will be delayed and by many months so that the EU will say that we have to hold them. I would rate that at a 50%+ chance. I don’t think the Tories will want them so that is the most likely reason why they might all come together and agree a Brexit plan – Farage et al have already formed the Brexit Party and are now MEPs representing it.

    It means that local parties should IMHO plan for a European Election and indeed local elections may well be held on the same day as they have in the past. It means it will be to a large degree a referendum by proxy on Europe. We will be in a little bit of competition with the Greens for the “greener” younger “middle class” Labour vote. But we can easily get 20%+ in a European Parliamentary Election which would mean a significant revival of our fortunes.

    I think there is now a strong line that we need to use against the Tories which is “Brexiteer or Remainer don’t reward the Tories for the Brexit mess!” 20% approve of the Tories’ handling of Brexit – 80% don’t!

    On climate change we all be soon across the world be using solar and renewables and electric vehicles – solar is already becoming cheaper than fossil fuels in India. The question is whether “soon” is soon enough. We should be campaigning for the feed in tariff from household solar not to be ended as it will be in April.

  • I have to agree with David Becket – we are missing a trick on this issue. For years in the 80s and 90s Simon Hughes had the reputation as the greenest MP in parliament, and Paddy Ashdown too did good work in making sure we had strong policies in this area, and he was a good advocate for them. This march was a great opportunity for us to appeal to what should be a natural constituency for us. Credit to Jo and Tony for going along. But where is our aggressive, pro-active strategy for appealing to the green vote?

  • Tony Greaves 16th Feb '19 - 8:11pm

    Yes – I went over just before mid-day to see what was going on, motivated by my usual curiosity, and hobbled back to the Lords three hours later when I couldn’t do any more standing around on hard tarmac. (I could have sat in the road with some of the kids but thought perhaps not – and I hadn’t taken a cushion).

    I am not aware of anyone who was prevented from getting to St Thomas’s Hospital, which is anyway just over the bridge. Also, the people who were really blocking the streets into the Square (and actually making it safe for the young people to sit in the road) were the taxi protesters!

    One more point.
    Where were the London Young Liberals? Haven’t we got any, any more?#

  • William Wallace 16th Feb '19 - 9:14pm


    London streets are so jammed under normal conditions that it’s quicker to walk. 2 years ago I felt ill in the Palace of Westminster, was told by the practice nurse that my blood pressure was very high, that an ambulance would take 45 minutes to arrive, and a taxi would be quicker. There was a total jam in Parliament Square, so I walked to St. Thomas’s; and 45 minutes later they fitted a stent into my heart.

  • I’m very impressed with the young people who organised and got involved with this event. I was initially surprised to see some of the condemnation from certain politicians and media outlets, because this was an international event, and I expected the government to use it as an excuse to brag about the good things we’ve done compared to certain other countries. Not that it’s enough, but it’s politically more savvy than being openly hostile to the next generation of engaged voters.

    But then I remembered Brexit, and our sudden need to do trade deals with the very countries that are still trying to ignore the realities of climate change, so is this sudden and unnecessarily visible toughness on a bunch of school children who are campaigning for something that most of the general public also support actually an attempt to woo Trump etc.

    I’m not naïve enough to think that all Tories are true environmentalists, and a great many of them stop caring for the environment as soon as it gets in the way of business interests, but it’s unusual for mainstream politicians in this country to be so hostile. Granted, their angle was that they should be in school, with a sudden concern for the workload of teachers, rather than full Trumpian climate change denial, but I still felt there was more to it than being out of touch with the youth.

    On that note, I have to agree that the LibDems need to do more to show off our environmental policies and attitudes. I fear that we’ve become so used to the idea that we are a party that prioritises the environment that we’ve forgotten that we need to bang on about it so everyone else knows too. Our strength in this area is that we are generally better than our rivals when it comes to devising evidence-based policy, but it becomes our weakness because it’s harder to sell nuance than ideologically based campaigns with slogans.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 17th Feb '19 - 2:13pm

    I thought acting out of school lessened the element that is self sacrifice or effort, usually involved.

    In my teens and student years, I and protestors marched on Saturday, against cuts, for Mandela…

    In my school years I did a twenty mile charity walk each year, organised it in the latter year of school, I and my friends walked on a Sunday, for various charities.

    The sight of five year olds on this march ,the sound of OH Jeremy Corbyn, the whole, much better if broader and not on a school day.

    It played to the crowd who call this era of young people, snowflakes, unjustified, the young today are very committed and share fine attitudes.

  • Bernard Aris 17th Feb '19 - 4:45pm

    We’ve had a massive (5.000 schoolchildren) demo in The Hague two weeks ago, and the new D66 party leader Rob Jetten (introduction to him? see: ) walked along for a while. Our Tony Greaves, former party leader Jan Terlouw (leader1974-1982; he’s 87 years old; see: ) , an icon of environmentalism among the young, expressed his full support, as did al D66 MP’s senators and MEP’s.
    That paid off.

    The organizers of the demonstration had an appointment with Prime minister Mark Rutte last Monday, but made a point of first visiting the D66 parliamentary party, being welcomed by Jetten. Photo’s of Jetten with the demonstrators appeared everywhere. After their talk with Rutte an Environment & Economy cabinet minister Eric Wiebes, the organizers announced they wern’t satisfied, so new demo’s are upcoming.

    I thought Ed Davey did as good as was to be expected; NO OTHER PARTY DARED SEND ANYBODY for this Newsnight meeting.

  • Tony Greaves 17th Feb '19 - 4:56pm

    They were not chanting ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn’ – they were chanting ‘Where’s Jeremy Corbyn?’ I wonder if the JC bubble is popped?

  • Neil Sandison 17th Feb '19 - 7:07pm

    Agree with David Becket and Tony H The environment particularly climate change ,renewable energy ,air quality and recycling was something you could be sure the Liberal Democrats were ahead of the game with before we became obsessed by one issue .It would be great to show the public we can cope with more than subject at a time .Perhaps in York some more work could be done on the polluter pays principle too many companies make the profits from cheap plastic but do not contribute to the environmental damage it does globally.

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