Lack of discipline in tactics and messaging risks turning XR into a 'rebellion extinction'

Extinction Rebellion’s attempts to blockade the delivery of newspapers is another tactical own goal for a movement that is running out of goodwill. The group needs greater discipline and consistency in core messaging to remain relevant.

XR protestors blockade delivery routes for newspapers. (Photos by Extinction Rebellion/Waltham Morris/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
XR protestors blockade delivery routes for newspapers. (Photos by Extinction Rebellion/Waltham Morris/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

How much longer will the British public be willing to put up with the antics of Extinction Rebellion (XR)?

That is the question many are pondering after their latest stunt dramatically backfired over the weekend.

More than 100 protestors blockaded the delivery routes of printing plants owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp on Friday evening, causing disruption to weekend deliveries of national newspapers including The Sun, The Times, The Telegraph and Daily Mail.

The protesters unfurled banners that read ‘Free the Truth’ and ‘5 Crooks Control Our News’ at the protest site.

Although aimed at News Corp mastheads – some of which run sceptical pieces about climate change – the move also affected news brands that provide ongoing coverage of the issue, a point that was quickly made on social media. It also did little to stop subscribers accessing their news online; The Telegraph used the blockade as an opportunity to open its paywall.

If XR’s goal was to win the hearts and minds of those who may be sceptical of the climate emergency, this stunt has spectacularly backfired – taking the work of seasoned environment reporters down with it.

Ironically, one of the newspapers in XR’s firing line, The Sun, ran a piece by Sir David Attenborough about the threat of climate change that would now not reach some of that newspaper’s audience.

Such targeting will only harden the resolve of climate sceptics who work within those newspapers.

It has sharpened the knives for XR, encouraging some sections of the media and political spectrum to characterise the movement as being against free speech (somewhat hypocritical from MPs in this current Government) and as a loosely arranged mob that has been infiltrated by the hard left.

Interestingly, when I attended the climate emergency marches of last Autumn, it had become apparent that hard left groups were looking to muscle in on the climate justice movement to promote their own non-climate agendas, an observation that was shared by Taylor Herring chief executive James Herring at the time.

Therein lies a bigger problem for XR: what does it actually stand for?

Messaging discipline is important for cut-through and effectiveness in any campaign, but some of XR's stunts now betray its climate change roots, which many – including myself – support.

For example, how does preventing London workers from using public transport send the right message about taking personal responsibility to reduce your carbon footprint?

How is trying to block the news – including stories about climate change – to those that need convincing the best way to win over their hearts and minds, let alone convince publishers they ought to pay more attention?

How is disrupting the lives of ordinary Brits going to encourage them to take your cause more seriously, particularly when it is increasingly unclear what that cause is?

In The Sun, Attenborough – who knows a thing or two about environmental campaigning – called out tactics that break the law to promote climate activism as counterproductive and not “sensible politics”.

I’d go further – it’s damaging. It has only tarnished the reputation of XR as a movement and allowed it to be framed in a way that alienates the majority of people it needs to embrace.

All this does is undermine the effectiveness of XR’s core message about the climate emergency – if that is still what it is about.

XR is at a crossroads and needs to determine what type of movement it wants to be. Failure to get a grip on these wild and disruptive tactics, and a lack of messaging discipline, runs the risk of Extinction Rebellion turning into a rebellion extinction.

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