For the Uninitiated: Black Lives Matter UK’s Plane Stupid Shutdown

 The Black Lives Matter UK’s Plane Stupid Shutdown: was an incident in September 2016 which involved the suspension of services at a London Airport due to a protest by activists designed to highlight the negative impact of climate change on the lives of black people.

Flights in and out of the busy London City Airport were suspended for over six hours after protestors managed to gain illegal air-side access and chain themselves to to a tripod on the runway.

The incident triggered significant airport security protocols with the protestors eventually being removed and taken into police custody after hours of negotiations.


This is a Racist Crisis

Activists claiming to represent the UK chapter of the North American Black Lives Matter protest movement released a press release and video confirming the action had been taken to highlight the ‘fact’ that ‘climate change is a racist crisis’.

In a wide-ranging and somewhat confusing press release the group claimed that Britain is the biggest contributor per capita to global temperature change, that black people living in the UK are 28% more likely to be exposed to air pollution than their white counterparts and also cited the deteriorating environment around the airport, it’s predominantly wealthy clientele, the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean, the impact climate change has on sub-Saharan Africa and immigration deportations as motives behind the action.

Pollution is not colour-blind.
Caroline Russell – Green Party

The protest was greeted with criticism due to the widespread disruption it caused for travellers only weeks after the group had blocked entrances to all three terminals at Heathrow airport.  Many were also confused by the group’s claims given that previous actions by representatives of the Black Lives Movement (including previous ‘BLMUK’ protests) have focused on  criminal justice and police brutality.

White Knights Defend Black King

Eyebrows raised further when it was revealed that all nine protestors taken into police custody were in fact white.


Most of them were quickly identified as middle class university graduates and veterans of protests against climate change.  Some also had links to London based direct action group Plane Stupid who want to see an end to airport expansion.

This lead to accusations that the Black Lives Matter ‘brand’ had been hijacked by middle-class white activists, a charge which was rejected.

Alexandra Kelbert, a spokesperson for BLM UK, insisted the group was a “black-led” network of activists and that the decision to use white only activists to #shutdown the airport had been strategic.

She insisted that the protest involved ‘people taking responsibility for climate change‘ and, baring in mind the treatment of black people at the hands of police, ‘the people on the runway know very well that black people would be treated very differently in that same situation‘.

Racist Weather?

The narrative proposed by BLMUK was met with cynicism and was widely mocked on social media.

Many remarked that the incident seemed ‘beyond parody’. I thought it actually was a parody. I suspected the whole thing to be a practical joke, a prank in the spirit of Chris Morris, Sacha Baron Cohen or Cyderdelic – the fictitious West Country direct-action group who urged us to ‘overthrow capitalism and replace it with something nicer’. Patrick West – Spiked

Not for the first time, the movement were accused of cherry-picking and deliberately misrepresenting statistics to fit their argument, whilst completely ignoring any relevant data that might actually undermine it.

There is certainly an argument to be had about the impact of climate change on developing nations but BLMUK’s very particular worldview struggles to convince under closer inspection.

Take for, example, their claim that Black People are more adversely impacted by pollution in the UK.

That statistic is drawn from a Racial Equality Impact Assessment Report on the UK’s failure to comply with The EU Ambient Air Quality Directive (2008). Unsurprising the report concludes that the impacts of air quality does not have a significantly different impact on people from different ethnic groups but that people who live in urban areas are more likely to experience the negative effects of pollution.

In other words pollution is colour blind but Black Britains as a homogeneous group are slightly more affected by air pollution than all British whites because they are more likely to live in the urban ‘hotspots’ (particularly central London) that represent the 1% of areas in the UK that have, to date, failed to with the EU Ambient Air Quality Directive (2008).

Whites Tied, Black Noise

Most of BLMUK’s activism has centered around London and it’s fair enough that Londoner’s might be especially concerned by pollution but their justification for marshaling white allies to the front-line still seems dubious.

The claim that Britain is the biggest contributor per capita to global temperature change very much depends on an interpretation that invokes the possible sins of our ancestors.

CO2 emissions in the UK have fallen dramatically since the 1980’s and the most recent estimates for emissions per capita place us between 42nd and 53rd in a list of the world’s worst polluters.  Indeed even the aforementioned race impact assessment confirms that 99% of areas in the UK have achieved emission levels below EU limits.

Meanwhile BLMUK’s claim is based on an estimate of historical carbon emissions  since 1850 built on the theory that the more changes there are to forested areas in a country, the higher the CO2 emissions will have been.

Which presumably explains why their leadership believe that white Britans must take a disproportionately larger responsibility for climate change and justifies their decision to direct an entirely white delegation to undertake a risky mission which will inevitably result in a criminal record for those involved.


Of course, ‘the people on the runway know very well that black people would be treated very differently in that same situation‘ given the treatment of black people at the hands of police…..

An assertion which is presumably is based on BLMUK’s suggestion that over 1500 black Britans have died in police custody or pursuit since 1990. A claim that is the most disingenuous, divisive  and dangerous that the movement have made to date.

This number is appropriated from data for England & Wales and represents the total number of deaths in custody regardless of race or ethnic background. 90% of those deaths were white people and the total number of deaths involving people from a BME background is actually 156.  Perhaps even more significantly and based on population estimates, the data shows that Black Britians are statistically significantly less likely to die interacting with the police than white ones.


So far the representatives of BLMUK  have come across more as privileged and opportunistic social justice warrior chancers than civil rights activists with a genuine axe to grind on behalf of disadvantaged people.

One of their most high profile leaders is an academic currently doing a PHD at Oxford on how black communities organise to address issues relating to policing. Another is an anthropology student, model, actress and ‘travel writer’ who has written about trips to Italy, India, Switzerland, Germany and Scandinavia.

Ironically two days before her white allies were breaking into a London airport to complain about pollution on her behalf she jumped out of an areoplane for the sheer fun of it…

Meanwhile those arrested during BLMUK’s Plane Stupid #Shutdown, include a former member of Oxford University’s croquet club who once ‘blacked up’ while on a holiday to St Lucia, a number of Goldsmith College graduates and a film producer.

380d82cd00000578-3777649-oxford_student_adam_elliott_cooper_29_covered_his_face_in_mud_wh-a-17_1473318817745 380d82d500000578-3777649-image-m-16_1473318733368

That a group like BLM UK, full of dyed-in-the-wool identity politicos, would allow all the white fellas to steal the limelight is telling. Not only because it suggests it’s not as grassroots as it likes to pretend, and that it springs more from middle-class victim politics than an agitation from below. It also speaks to the fact that anti-racist campaigns today are more about white guilt than black liberation. They play to well-to-do whites’ own self-loathing, their sense of historical, global wrongdoing. They’re the target audience. Black people become pet victims for them to coo over, or, in this case, a stage army against progress itself. That’s why BLM UK marries anti-racism and environmentalism so seamlessly. Both are sources of modern Westerners’ self-hatred, their insistence that Western society is malignant, destructive, bigoted.

White Guilt Matters would have made a better slogan.  Tom Slater Spiked Deputy Editor.


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