Business Secretary Peter Mandelson had a face full of green custard last week, after a member of the anti-aviation group Plane Stupid hurled it in his face in protest against his support of the expansion of Heathrow airport.
Leila Deen, 29, approached Lord Mandelson with a plastic cup full of the thick green liquid (a mixture of cornflower paste and green food dye), as the Business Secretary emerged from a chauffer driven Jaguar outside a low-carbon industrial strategy summit in Central London, which he attended despite being in favour of the expansion of Heathrow Airport. Exercising her right to freedom of expression, young activist Deen shouted insults at Lord Mandelson and then emptied the contents of the cup over the minister’s head. An enraged Deen said: “The only thing green about Peter Mandelson is the slime coursing through his veins.”
Josh Moos, a student at the University of Sussex and member of the Brighton Plane Stupid group, said: “This action was taken in light of the fact that we have a tiny window of time in which to prevent runaway climate change, yet instead of encouraging a ‘green revolution’ Mandelson is actively preventing it through- amongst other actions- his dogmatic support of a 3rd runway at Heathrow airport. When the government fail to follow through with their commitments to prevent a global catastrophe they should be held to account for their actions.”
The custard-throwing incident is the latest in a line of high-profile demonstrations by Plane Stupid launched in recent months against the Government’s environmental policies. A protest by the pressure group at Aberdeen airport last week caused several flights to be delayed, while a similar demonstration at Stansted airport in December resulted in 57 arrests and the cancellation of 52 flights. Brighton activists (Sussex students among them) last month interrupted a speech by Ed Miliband. The activists criticised the Government for their hypocrisy regarding matters of climate change.
The attack on Lord Mandelson will not mark the end of Plane Stupid’s demonstrations, as Josh says: “There are over 35 airports which the government wishes to expand and Plane Stupid will fight to prevent every one of them.”
As to whether Plane Stupid’s actions are likely to affect government policy, Josh said: “Airport expansion has become a key Parliamentary concern, and this is in part due to the actions of Plane Stupid, which have drawn attention to what was previously a generally unquestioned area. The Labour government delayed the Heathrow decision due to fear and were too scared of defeat to allow the decision to be made openly and democratically in Parliament.”
That the female protester was calmly able to walk away from the scene and avoid arrest following the attack called in to question the effectiveness of security measures surrounding Britain’s politicians. Lord Mandelson, former Northern Ireland Secretary, has chosen not to make use of the round-the-clock security to which he is entitled.
Last week was not a good one for Brown’s government, and not only due to its humiliation following the custard attack on Mandelson. Campaigners persistently heckled and booed Universities’ Secretary John Denham as he attempted to defend the Government’s education policy at a tense meeting in Westminster last week.
Mr. Denham sought to explain the reasoning behind the Government’s Adult Education Budget cuts to members of the Campaigning Alliance for Lifelong Learning group (CALL), amid a chorus of relentless booing. Mr. Denham maintained that the Government was committed to education, despite recent criticism that the Iraq War and the banking crisis appear to be bigger spending priorities in the eyes of the Government.
CALL, an alliance of groups which includes the NUS, is lobbying the Government over concerns about the withdrawal of funding for 1.4 million adult education places. Mr. Denham explained priority was given to courses which helped people find employment, improved adult literacy and taught English as a foreign language to expatriates.