Ja sea of yellow placards, brandished in the protest against low traffic areas of Oxford (LTN) diet earlier this month, told a story. In the crowd of about 2,000 people who participated, it was clear that the protest was much more than just a reduction in traffic.
“The WEF 15-minute ghettos are not about the climate, it’s tyrannical control,” read one sign. “Say NO to the new world order. Say no to 15-minute prison cities. Wake up people, wake up.
Oxford accidentally found itself at a flashpoint. Its planners are seen as the acolytes of a shadowy new world order, determined to crush freedom – not with secret police, arrests and intimidation, but under the heel of the boot of a modal filter planted with some herbs and shrubs.
Across the UK, councils are installing barriers to limit car traffic on major roads, while encouraging residents to walk, cycle and use local amenities. The idea is to reduce pollution, while making the streets safer and more livable. Diets, however, have mixed opinions.
In Oxford, the council is going further than most to tackle worsening congestion on its medieval roads. Six electronic traffic filters must be tested in a six-month trial. Private car drivers will need a permit to pass between 7am and 7pm. Those who don’t will face a £35 penalty, up to £70 if not paid within two weeks.
While there are legitimate concerns from residents, details of the program have also been repackaged for a wider audience of skeptics. THE far right, libertarians and various conspiracy theorists are riding the wave of resistance to NTLs as fertile ground for their interests. As the Covid pandemic wanes, this is the next front in the fight against a supposed elite cabal, centered on the World Economic Forum, which holds the annual Davos gathering, pulling the strings of world events. For the Oxford protest, far-right group Patriotic Alternative, Laurence Fox, Piers Corbyn, Katie Hopkins and 1990s pop group and conspiracy theorists Right Said Fred had traveled to the university town.
Some protesters continued with the anti-vaxx signs. For others, the new targets were held aloft. Many have a common theme: the economy, its institutions and the fight against global warming.
Activists against a “cashless society” were particularly present. It may have nothing to do with the roads of Oxford, but the fear here is that a central bank digital currency could be the next step in containing motorists in “open air prisons”. “URGENT. Your future is at stake, do you know that the government is planning to introduce: Digital ID, linked to central bank digital currency (like the Chinese system),” reads one brochure.
Concerns about economic developments are not new. From the Luddites to the Illuminati, the supreme power of the US Federal Reserve or the gatherings of the global elite at Bilderberg or Davos. The angle of attack has changed, however.
When mainstream politicians increasingly present themselves as anti-establishment renegades, conspiracy theorists are emboldened. Regardless of Eton’s pedigree, stoking a culture war produced electoral success. And as with the dog whistle warnings of an “invasion” of migrants, the economy is also in the firing line.
For 15 Minute Town, Conservative MP for Don Valley Nick Fletcher raised the “international socialist conceptin the Commons earlier this month as a matter of urgent debate. Liz Truss has also fueled the internet rumor mill with complaints about dark elites, cosplaying Margaret Thatcher and a disinformation warrior all rolled into one, with calls to attack ‘Treasury orthodoxy’ and demand accounts at the failing Bank of England. Far from her own faults, she was a mystery”left-wing economic eliteshe blamed his aborted tenure.
The problem, however, is that beneath the misinformation, fantasy, and deception, all conspiracy theories tend to have a kernel of truth. And for the economy, the fact is that living standards are barely changing for many, while a few super rich have never been better.
These are fertile times for misinformation, as inequality explodes after a decade of stagnant progress. Wages today are no higher after inflation than they were in 2007, in a dismal period since the 2008 financial crisis, capped by the current cost-of-living emergency.
“In times of economic uncertainty, downturn, crisis, conspiracy theories thrive. Because often it’s not true that everyone is in the same boat,” says Tim Squirrell of the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, which fights growing polarization, extremism and misinformation. “It means people not only see their own fortunes getting worse with no real prospect of them getting better, but they also see that other people don’t suffer the same fate.”
“Obviously to say that the economy is rigged in favor of a few people making big money is not a conspiracy theory; it is an affirmation. But it’s easier to jump in and say there’s an elite conspiracy to make sure that happens.
Tackling conspiracy dealers requires tackling the underlying issues they seek to exploit. Yet, rather than committing to reshaping the economy and rebalancing inequality, politicians in the governing party are fueling division by leaning into some of the wildest theories.
For towns 15 minutes away, part of the problem is enforcing neighborhood restrictions without investing in local amenities to make staying put worthwhile. Austerity has made matters worse across Britain, but particularly in small towns and on the outskirts of towns where the car has grown in importance. Upgrading is just a buzzword, while cuts to buses, libraries, leisure centers and other key public services have taken their toll.
Social cohesion is more difficult with few means. The division thrives when public services are overburdened, workers’ wages stagnate, and the economy is underperforming for millions. This is where the work must be concentrated to really attack the extreme right.