We now have the definitive image of Just Stop Oil. As the England wicketkeeper, Jonny Bairstow, carried protestor Daniel Knorr off the ground at Lords, like a bored parent removing a toddler from a soft play, young Daniel raised his fist to the crowd in a gesture of triumph. Yes, in that moment of maximum futility, not to mention humiliation, the Just Stop Oil protestor thought he’d scored a popular victory. I won’t labour the point, but I will say that I’d buy the t-shirt if anyone cares to produce one.
We should not, however, allow ourselves to become too distracted by the slapstick sabotage of Just Stop Oil. Because there’s a much more serious and destructive campaign of sabotage being conducted in Britain right now. This involves, among other things, letter writing campaigns of the type we associate with late-stage totalitarian regimes.
The difference here is that the letters are being written to banks, payment companies and other corporations, not the secret police. The concept is the same though. They denounce their ideological enemies to people with the power to make their lives difficult, if not intolerable. And the surprise, for me at least, is how readily our banks and payment companies have taken on the secret police role.
In response to the treatment of Nigel Farage by Coutts, the Government is reportedly planning to table legislation to prevent banks from denying service to someone on political grounds. The obvious question is whether the Government should also be looking at the letter writers themselves?
It would be natural to baulk at this. It feels heavy handed and illiberal. And it would be far better if the banks and payment companies realised that this is commercially counterproductive, ethically wrong, and sometimes unlawful. On closer inspection, however, a government response might require little more than codifying and updating existing legal principles that are already backed by sound public policy.
For example, there is, in most common law countries, a tort known as intentional interference with a contract, or inducing a breach of contract, or similar. This involves a person intentionally causing someone to breach their contract with a third party. I’ll spare you the detailed analysis of whether the technical elements of the tort apply to the examples we’ve seen, not least because I’m not qualified to provide it. I will, however, offer a few observations.