IT'S reaching the point where one might be a little offended if Just Stop Oil don't show up to your party.

Fast becoming the most ubiquitous of protest groups, the campaigners' orange powder has graced snooker tables, art galleries and now - gasp - the Chelsea Flower Show.

My favourite response, when they mounted the tables at the snooker world championship last month, was from Stephen Hendry, concerned that the baize might not recover. 

Did the general public know why Just Stop Oil was at the event? "Oil and gas will snooker us," the group tweeted afterwards. Anything for a pun.  

Over the past year strikes in multiple sectors have fuelled - pardon that pun - the sense that the entire nation is in a state of unrest. These direct action protests are part of this too, become ever more prevalent as new grassroots groups keep springing up.

Just Stop Oil, of course, were at the Coronation and were lifted by police for their troubles. In the now much-publicised anti-protest arrests prior to the ceremony, six Republic supporters and a group of volunteers from Westminster Council’s Night Stars women’s safety team were detained, as was an Australian woman who was minding her own business but arrested nonetheless.

Conservative party deputy chair and MP Lee Anderson has previously said to Republic members - the group campaigns against monarchy - that they should simply emigrate if they don't fancy living in a country with a royal family. 

Perhaps Mr Anderson might like to emigrate if he doesn't like living in a country that allows dissent. 

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One of the most visible groups, Extinction Rebellion (XR), was founded on the idea that it didn't matter that disruptive civil disobedience made campaigners unpopular.

They were the forebears for much of the disruptive climate protest tactics we see now - although many had come before them - but, in January this year, they said they would no longer focus on mass disruption and instead move to building a persuasive mass movement. 

Conversely, the Tories have been too concerned with winning popularity contests to implement the bold, radical change needed, not only on climate change but on the issues leaving the electorate feeling dismayed and disenfranchised. 

But there's an electoral hypocrisy here too. The shortcut to minimising the number of disruptive public protests is not punitive legislation that curbs citizens' freedoms. It is meaningful political and policy change.

And yet, many voters balk at the idea of significant shifts. 

On Monday Sir Keir Starmer gave a speech in which he said the NHS is "not sustainable" without major reforms. It's a theme of past Labour elections campaigns to foreground the NHS and Sir Keir was pulling no punches. He spoke of the need for "serious, deep, long-term changes." 

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It was an attempt from Starmer to appear honest and hopefully that frankness will not backfire. It wouldn't be the first time voters have shied away from hard choices when it came to the crunch.

Just Stop Oil has been carrying out a series of effective protests over recent months. Effective in that they gain the publicity the campaign group is seeking; what the long-term and meaningful success will be remains to be seen.

Since April 24, 45 protestors have been crossing London Bridge, Tower Bridge and Blackfriars Bridge daily during rush hour, slow marching with banners highlighting their cause. 

Frustrations have been building and earlier this week an irate workman left his van to take direct action of his own. In a rage, he stormed up to the protestors and began grabbing their banners and appeared to push one off the road but was very quickly apprehended by police. 

Social media supporters of the chap called for donations to cover any legal costs or lost salary. Opposition tweeters condemned anyone who supported alleged assault.

Much has been said about Britain's divisive politics. There is even division over whether the country is as polarised as it is made out to be. 

Support for the nature of protest and the nature of counter-protest seems to fall into the classic division too - I support the people I agree with, but I condemn similar behaviour in those I dislike.

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The public is as divided over what constitutes reasonable protest as any other hot issue. But the notion of ensuring protest is always reasonable is a dangerous one. 

There will always be an imbalance of power between those who make the decisions and those subject to the decisions made. In a robust democracy there must be a way for that power imbalance to be challenged. Yes, the ballot box is one such manoeuvre.

Collective action is the other, whether that is in the workplace in the form of unionised action or in the street. We must be able to assemble, to protest, to march and to fling orange powder with abandon. 

The new Public Order Act in England was given royal assent just days before the Coronation but its powers were asserted swiftly by the police. It gives provision for the police to stop people from participating in protests and it criminalises certain forms of protest, such as the use of "locking on" to people or objects or even the intention of locking on. 

Stop and search powers are also extended and police have far greater freedom to act to prevent protests. 

Last year's Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act also gives powers to police to stop protests. Both are fundamentally illiberal and frustrate the public power of protest. 

The government's moves to normalise the criminalisation of protesters and restrict their rights further feeds into the sense from many on the right that protest is a negative thing. 

The power of unions has been successively diminished since the 1970s as successive governments have voted through legislation that has increasingly straitened union authority. As the government now considers legislation looking at imposing minimum services levels across certain sectors, union action becomes more restricted still. 

Now we see the right to public protest increasingly diminished too. There are strong arguments for what Rupert Read, a founder of XR, called a “moderate flank” - taking less disruptive action to ensure the debate is focused on the issues at hand and not distracted by arguing over the form of the protest itself. 

While the very right to protest is under threat, however, there must be unity in protecting that right: damaged flowerbeds and a little  inconvenience are a small price to pay.