14 November 2000
Fuel protest descends on London
By Johann Tasker at Speakers Corner
TRAFFIC in central London was brought to a standstill when environmental campaigners blocked a convoy of fuel tax protestors at Hyde Park.
Police finally allowed hundreds of lorries into London the day after a 60-day deadline imposed by protestors for the government to reduce fuel tax expired.
About 200 farmers and hauliers at Speakers Corner cheered as the first trucks drove along Park Lane at noon on Tuesday (14 November).
Eric Stoker, 74, who farms at Totteridge on the outskirts of London, said his family business was being crippled by the price of subsidised red diesel.
“The price I pay has risen by 10p per litre in the last four months alone.”
But the farming community is split over whether the protest should have gone ahead. Many producers stayed at home, fearing a lack of public support.
John Funnell, who farms at Banbury, Oxfordshire, said he tried to persuade 10 of his neighbours to attend the rally, but they had all stayed away.
“They wished me luck and then said they were too busy to go,” he said. “But you can never be too busy to come to something as important than this.”
Other farmers complained that a convoy of hauliers from Wales were stopped by police at Chiswick in west London and prevented from joining the protest.
Nevertheless, David Handley, chairman of the Peoples Fuel Lobby, which organised the protest, pledged to continue the campaign for lower fuel taxes.
“Let everybody recover, lets get Christmas over and done with and then in the New Year well be back again to keep the pressure up on the government.”
Environmentalists said that the protest should have been called off after Chancellor Gordon Brown made concessions in his pre-Budget report last week.
About 10 campaigners from the Friends of the Earth pressure group ran in front of the vehicles and halted traffic at Hyde Park Corner for about five minutes.
After being removed by the police, the campaigners unfurled a banner which claimed that “Cheap fuel costs lives” and contributes to global warming.
Friends of the Earth said that the Peoples Fuel Lobby should stop calling for lower fuel taxes look at other ways of tackling the crisis in farming.
Tony Bosworth, the environmental groups transport campaigner, said: “The campaign for lower fuel tax has come to the end of the road.”
“We share the concerns of many of the protestors about the crisis in farming and rural communities, and want to see urgent solutions to these problems.
“But cutting fuel tax for everyone is not the right idea. Its time for the debate to move on so that we can look at other ways forward”.