Affairs

Society

Priests, bankers and protestors— London

Preface

The protestors at the Occupy London Stock Exchange demonstration have claimed another scalp.

Church of England, Occupy, Economy, Protest

1 November 2011

The protestors at the Occupy London Stock Exchange demonstration have claimed another scalp. Three weeks into their occupation and a second senior member of the British establishment has chosen to resign, shamed into submission by the protestors call for an end to greedy capitalism. That’s right, isn’t it?

Something has gone badly wrong with your protest if the people you’re targeting are greedy bankers and the people forced to resign are vicars. The dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, the Right Reverend Graeme Knowles, resigned yesterday, four days after the canon chancellor, Giles Fraser, had also handed in his notice. One of the banners outside St Paul’s asks the question “What would Jesus do?” The answer, it appears, is resign.

No bankers, you’ll note, have felt the need to quit in the face of the protests.

Yet as easy as it is to sneer at the protestors camped out in the shadow of St Paul’s – or to shake a head in amazement at the PR disaster the Church of England has managed to create for itself – Occupy London Stock Exchange has done one very important thing that should not be underestimated. It’s reminded us what caused this crisis in the first place.

It wasn’t politicians doling out supposedly generous welfare payments or spending too much on schools and hospitals. It was a catastrophic failure of free market capitalism.

And that bears repeating. While some of the sloganeering outside St Paul’s may be incoherent, the protests have tapped into a vein of public opinion that is hard to disagree with. Something is wrong – we all know it. We can’t go on like this – we all know that too. The people that got us into this mess seem to be doing alright, while those of us who had little to do with it other than a high credit card bill or a willingness to accept a slightly too generous mortgage are paying the price.

The numbers involved in the Occupy movement are fairly small. The original Occupy Wall Street protests drew a thousand or so; the tents arranged in neat rows outside St Paul’s number less than a hundred. Yet they’ve managed to have an enormous impact. It is headline news around the world.

Normally, I’m sceptical of those who claim they simply want to “raise awareness”. Often it’s a cop out; a lazy excuse for not actually having a solution. But in this case, perhaps that’s all we need. A reminder of what happened, who was to blame and who it is that’s suffering.

The protestors may be disorganised, they may not have a solution, but then, right now, who does?

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