Richard Morgan has been a Bridgwater Labour Town Councillor for just 5 months and already he’s making headlines around the world. But this quiet unassuming working class electrician from the council estates of Bridgwater has turned out to be a passionate fighter against climate change and as an activist in the Just Stop Oil campaign has been arrested and jailed for his beliefs whilst taking part in non violent protests. Although Richard was a latecomer to the Town elections last May he nevertheless grabbed the Tory seat of East Fairfax , winning by just 3 votes in a hard fought campaign which saw Labour retain control of Town Council with an increased majority of 13-3. Now, Richard finds himself attacked in the Press by the Tory Councillor whose seat he won. Sadly, for that particular tory the attacks have backfired. Hoping to stir up public opinion against the principled Labour member, Tory County Councillor Diogo Rodrigues instead found the wrath of the electorate directed back on himself for his own lack of principles. We asked Labour Leader Cllr Brian Smedley for his views on that and we asked Cllr Richard Morgan for his own side of the story.
Cllr Brian Smedley became Labour leader when former Labour Mayor, now Tory County Council front bencher Diogo Rodrigues jumped ship in 2019, first to become an independent, even considering standing for parliament on a no party ticket, and then after the 2019 Boris Johnson victory the Turncoat Councillor turned again and joined the now dominant Tories. How did all that happen? Cllr Smedley says “Who knows what goes on inside the heads of Tories these days. Most people have seen through them and I suspect Diogo has as well but instead of admitting that he’s just trying to smear other people with principles to cover up the lack of his own. This has clearly been shown up in the press coverage and this is why his attempts to use this situation, yet again, to try to get political advantage out of it for himself. Rodrigues lost his seat on Bridgwater Town Council and the people rejoiced, especially those of us who had helped him get there in the first place and who he then turned against. “
Using the Media
But the power of the media has an impact and while Diogo Rodrigues-still a Tory County Councillor , and now even their frontbench spokesperson for ‘Transport’, and also recently employed in a misjudged move by the Bridgwater Chamber of Commerce to make him their actual spokesman, crossing a very clear political boundary, – is able to push out his views on the rights and wrongs of Cllr Morgan’s actions, the activists get a bad press. How is that justifiable in a free society?
Cllr Smedley says “There’s a wave of protests across the country right now. Climate activists are just part of the general uprising against the Tories. Workers have been out on strike, picket lines have been linking up between Trades Unionists from different workplaces and I have met cllr Morgan on picket lines on demonstrations and I can confirm that he’s been at council meetings throughout whilst being active in his community and campaigning on the ground at home. Cllr Rodrigues would do much better to think of a way to explain to future generations what HE was doing during the disastrous Tory governments of Johnson, Truss and Sunak and will have to admit ‘helping them’.”
Superglue and Custard
But pickets don’t superglue themselves to factory gates and councillors don’t (usually) throw custard at classic works of art. We thought it was time to ask Richard Morgan himself for his side of the story.
SOMERSET LABOUR; Richard, pickets don’t superglue themselves to factory gates and councillors don’t throw custard at works of art. Should we be?
That depends on what point you are trying to get across and what you have tried already that hasn’t worked. If you accept the truth, as I do, that your family, friends, loved ones, in fact all life on Earth is in jeopardy, and not from a quick and painless death but rather a drawn-out and very nasty end where we all turn on each other, then you would stop at nothing to get the government to take drastic action. I still find it staggering, worrying and frustrating that we are all walking around talking about a climate emergency whilst acting like everything is fine. When I think of an emergency I think of people running around taking immediate action to address the situation they are in as we saw with Covid, yet our government are continuing with business as usual and issuing licences to extract fossil fuels that the leaders of the United Nations and The International Energy Agency say need to stay in the ground.
Just Stop ‘some’ Oil
SOMERSET LABOUR: Just stop oil is a bit of a misleading title because they don’t actually want to ‘just stop oil’ they want to maybe just limit current use, reduce it and in fact really just stop ‘new’ oil. How do you think this campaign fits in with your role as a Labour Party member, because Labour shares your aims but not your tactics?
Just Stop Oil is a catchy motto but it is difficult to give much detail in a three word slogan designed to fit on banners and leaflets. The longer version is ‘Just Stop Oil – No New Oil and Gas’ and the demands are as follows:
That the UK government makes a statement that it will immediately halt all future licensing and consents for the exploration, development and production of fossil fuels in the UK.
Also, proper investment in renewables, retrofitting and public transport, paid for by proper taxation of the greedy fossil fuel companies.
Clearly we cannot get off of oil tomorrow, that is the world we find ourselves in, but there is enough in reserve for a just transition to a livable future without the suicidal issuing of more fossil fuel licences. Alternatives to oil and gas are available if the political will is there, again, as we saw with Covid.
More information can be found at www.juststopoil.org
Labour has declared a manifesto that will deliver a fairer greener future that is very in line with my personal beliefs. However, whilst I am a member of the Labour party and believe in their values I represent myself, my children and grandchildren, and all children around the world that will be affected, and are being affected right now, by climate change.
Banged Up…. in Islington
SOMERSET LABOUR: When you were arrested it wasn’t because state police kicked your door down and dragged you to the cells in the middle of the night against your will, it was because you chose to be. Police gave you 5 opportunities not to be arrested at that point. Yet you chose to be arrested and ended up in Pentonville. Is that wasting police time and public money or is there a greater goal for the greater good involved in all this?
As I said, we are in a climate emergency. EMERGENCY. I will do my utmost to save our future. If you think the police are busy now just wait until the rioting and looting start as we fight over the last loaf of bread. And the effects of climate change are costing taxpayers lots of money already and it’s only going to get worse if we don’t take drastic action immediately. The police and judiciary have been broadly supportive and respectful. Officers have treated us well in custody and judges have given us time in court to explain our motivations.
SOMERSET LABOUR: People say you shouldn’t be a lawmaker if you’re a lawbreaker. I mean they said the same about Nelson Mandela. In fact, many of the Tories specifically said that and then continued to back Apartheid in South Africa. Mandela of course was fighting to end the racist oppression of black South Africans who were even denied the vote. Others would say that civil disobedience and the right to protest is an essential freedom in a democracy. Where would you put yourself on a scale of Emily Wilding Davison to Martin Luther King, because Diogo says you’re NOT Martin Luther King…
I’ve never even thought of myself as being on this imaginary scale but, as you ask, I guess all activists are on that scale somewhere. I’m certainly no Martin Luther King but I would surely have been one of his supporters. There are some similarities though. As in previous civil resistance, modern day protesters are regularly assaulted and incarcerated, yet we choose to carry on because we know it is our duty. And we don’t want respect or sympathy, we want people to join us and help to secure a livable future for everyone. I think these sort of comments and comparisons are designed to shame activists by accusing them of being egoists, and activists are easy targets because they are usually thoughtful, empathetic and sensitive souls – which is part of the reason why they have been driven to activism in the first place. Many of the attacks on activists are down to cognitive dissonance, an emotional pain that we feel when our actions don’t marry up with our beliefs. It’s easier to change our beliefs than our actions so we readily accept bad science that rubbishes the overwhelming majority of peer-reviewed science on climate change, and we label activists as lunatics and egoists rather than accept our own apathy and failure to do our duty. I re-evaluate myself constantly and try to keep my ego in check but it seems for some people it is easier to denigrate others than to look at themselves and find themselves wanting.
Just Stop ‘the Tories’
SOMERSET LABOUR: The few Tories (and there are still some left) who have tried to criticise you, have said you should be representing your community not galivanting off around the country on protests. Which is odd as I’ve seen you this week at council meetings, helping people at the community drop in, out in your ward, visiting constituents in their homes, repairing stuff at the Hub, joining workers in protest on marches and helping with the Ukrainian collection. How do you find the time to superglue yourself to a petrol station?
You missed out beach cleaning and Plastic Free Bridgwater with Surfers Against Sewage, raising money for food banks, sitting on the climate portfolio and learning about being a Councillor and what the council can do to fight climate change, trades council meetings, campaigning against NHS cuts and closures, outreach for climate campaigns and unions, signing petitions and writing to MPs, earning a living, setting up events like green week and seed the day vegan festival, I’m sure there’s more I can’t recall right now, in between all those things and polishing my halo, I don’t have time to glue myself to anything and I haven’t been into a petrol station for ages.
SOMERSET LABOUR: The Richard Morgan of Tory fantasy is this feckless, dangerous, working-class yob who just wants to get himself in the papers by supergluing himself to ambulances and upsetting decent tory turncoats, but who’s the real Richard Morgan and what does he want out of life?
I am quite the opposite of feckless. I am far from careless – I care a lot. And I am far from irresponsible – I accept my punishments for my part in peaceful protests (punishments which are getting worse for breaking laws which are getting more draconian as the government realises people have had enough and are taking to the streets.) and I take responsibility for the effect I have on the world as a citizen of the privileged global north. I am proud to be working class, but working class doesn’t mean uneducated – I have a first class Earth Sciences degree and I’m a qualified renewables engineer. I don’t want to be in the papers or in prison – I want a livable future for everyone.
Stir it Up
Cllr Smedley summed up “Cllr Morgan was jailed as a result of his actions. Initially for a week pending a court case, at which the judge gave him a suspended sentence of 23 days. If this had been 3 months or more then the decision would have been taken out of our hands and he would have been legally obliged to stop being a Councillor. At the moment he’s safe and acting within the law. The planet, meanwhile, continues to burn and Cllr Morgan continues to point this out as he sees fit. Of course, he’s not acting as a Labour Councillor when he takes these actions, but I’m satisfied that he is doing more than his fair share of the case work required of him in his-remember, ‘unpaid’, role .”
Cllr Morgan added “Finally I’d like to say that I was upset to read Cllr Rodrigues’ article as only a few days previously we met in the street and had what I thought was a friendly chat. We even talked about the negative effects on mental health that can come from nastiness on social media and how we should avoid that sort of behaviour. Now here he is posting far and wide in what is an obvious and deliberate attempt to smear me. I didn’t expect this sort of thing at this level of politics.”