They were a disparate group – truckers, farmers, businesspeople, carers, bikers, teenagers and retirees. Even a group of door supervisors from a West Country market town. Some of the fuel protests were slickly organised; others were, frankly, a little chaotic.
But they had the desired effect of causing traffic jams, creating headlines and provoking the UK government.
Protesters are already planning their next move with the bank holiday weekend at the end of August being pencilled in as a possible date for a go-slow protest and many talking of trying to bring London to a standstill.
Mikey Dave, one of the door supervisors who efficiently organised a convoy that drove from the Somerset town of Bridgwater to Bristol via the M5, M4 and M32, said their protest had involved up to 80 vehicles.
“This was just the warning of what is going to come, just the start,” said Dave. “It’s about getting the message across to the government that they have got to act. People are having to choose between filling up their cars and going to work, feeding their family or heating their home, that’s not right.”
Monday’s action was organised nationally via social media under the banner Fuel Price Stand Against Tax, a Facebook group with more than 50,000 members. A string of local groups such as Dave’s – Stand Up to the Fuel Prices Southwest – have been formed after being inspired by the main group.
The Bridgwater-based group held two meetings with Avon and Somerset police to find ways of making sure the protest ran smoothly and safely – which it did. Dave said that door supervisors were struggling to meet the costs of simply getting to work and also knew many taxi drivers who were thinking of giving up. “But it’s affecting everyone,” he said. “There was a lot of support. Not everyone can afford to burn fuel to protest we were able to sacrifice a little for the greater good.”
Dave said he had never organised anything like this before – and many of those who took part had never protested until now. He was moved by one woman who joined the demo because she could not afford to visit her relatives on her pension because of the cost of fuel. “She was feeling isolated.”
Though it was much smaller and less organised, a protest on the M4 was one of the most high profile because it blocked the Prince of Wales motorway bridge between England and south Wales. Twelve people were arrested for breaching a legal notice stipulating that they were not allowed to drive under 30mph.
Among those arrested and released under investigation was Sharon Downes, a 46-year-old saddler from Pontypridd. “It was shocking to be arrested,” she said. “I’ve never been in trouble before.”
She conceded the protest had been poorly run. “The organiser didn’t turn up. Nobody had a clue where we were going. We ended up in Chippenham. This government doesn’t want people protesting. They are making too much money and living in their big houses in London.”
Vicky Stamper, from south Wales, who said she lost her job as a HGV driver because her company could no longer afford to fuel its lorries, said police had initially thought she was an organiser. “I couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery and I’ve told them that. I saw a flyer on Facebook about a week ago and decided to take part.” She was having to pay £150 to get her car back from the pound after it was seized. “I’m not happy about that.”
Chris Taylor, a carer, was a passenger, in one of the Prince of Wales bridge cars. “Everyone’s in the same boat, everyone’s struggling. We need to use the car for hospital trips and are struggling to pay for the fuel.” Taylor was stuck in a motorway services for six hours after his driver was arrested. “But I’d do it again.”
Some protests did not really get going. William Wilson, a landscape gardener, had plotted to block the M6 in the Midlands. “I’d planned to chain myself to a lorry. But someone else took over the protest and nothing happened. I’m not going to give up. The price of fuel is killing my business; this government is killing the little people. Next time I’m going to do it myself and bring the motorway to a halt at rush hour. To make the government listen, you have to make a statement.”
Back in Bridgwater, Dave said he estimated that as many as 5,000 people took part in Monday’s protests across the UK and administrators of the various groups were starting to plan their next moves. “I don’t want to give too much away until the plans are finalised.”
“Honestly, is she planning on having thousands arrested and clogging up the court system even more because people are not happy with the government? There is not enough manpower for that.
“There is no way she will be able to silence the people of the UK who want to stand up for their rights. If people get arrested I feel the situation will turn sour and will cause a lot more people to be involved. There is already talk of a national strike. I think she needs to think very carefully before throwing out threats like that before it comes back to bite her in the backside.”