Small tents in Paternoster Square:

Thomas Ovans goes to see what’s going on at St Paul’s

(These notes were made on Thursday October 20th and events may overtake them…)

Don’t just take photographs – join us urges one of the many articulate posters stuck to walls and pillars adjoining the Occupy London Stock Exchange protest in front of St Paul’s.  Well, I didn’t take any photographs; but neither did I bring a tent to try and squeeze in among the one hundred or more already pitched.  (Anyone, however, who does impulsively decide to join the protest should note that there is a branch of Black’s conveniently placed next door.)

 At around four o’clock in the afternoon the site was peaceful; there was a small lecture going on so quietly as to be inaudible three rows back from the speaker. Shops in the neighbourhood are open as usual and the protestors have evidently behaved well enough to gain the sympathy of local traders because I heard that Waitrose and Marks & Spencer had been donating food. The camp appears clean and well organised – with the arrival of portaloos promised shortly.

 There were many notices urging the protestors to respect rather than disturb or hinder the life and activities in the cathedral.  There is clearly a genuine appreciation of the fact that St Paul’s has, through its Canon Chancellor Dr Giles Fraser, declined to align itself with Mammon by telling the police that it neither wants protection nor to have the demonstrators dispersed. 

 It might be too much to say that the church has aligned itself with the protestors.  Indeed, this would be quite hard to do because no single, clear manifesto has yet emerged.  Capitalism is Crisis says one prominent banner; and few outside the financial industry would deny that the conduct of capitalism has been flawed enough to bring about a crisis.  As with the original Occupy Wall Street movement, the main thrust of the demonstration seems to be to express the unhappiness of “the 99%” – the general public who find their jobs, homes and lifestyle under threat while most of the investment banks and bankers who took part in causing the crisis appear to remain not only solvent but affluent.

 There are few, if any, placards calling for the official government prescription of (slightly) tighter regulation of banks (not to be implemented too hastily).  While this might still be the preferred option for many of the passers-by, the protestors seem to aspire to more radical reform of the global financial system – if indeed such a beast can ever be identified and captured!   But the grievances and reforms declared on the posters around the site are so various as to verge on the incompatible.

 However, even with its mix of objectives, I, for one, am happy for this protest to continue and to grow* – providing it remains peaceful.  In the last twenty years or so, far too many inadequately questioned assumptions have been wished upon us about the values of “growth”, “choice”, “free markets” et cetera et cetera.   I am glad that someone now seems, fairly selflessly, to be rattling the bars of the economic cage and seeking to formulate a contrary point of view.   And herein lies the real value of this demonstration: not that it is claiming to have the answers but that it is trying calmly and thoughtfully to ask some neglected but relevant questions.

 Given that politicians have been unduly deferential to “The City” in recent years, it will be interesting to see how far any of the major political parties will be prepared to go in endorsing the occupation.  Of course it will become impossible for them to do so if any violence breaks out; and for this reason it may not be unrealistic to be worried in case some particularly unscrupulous financial interests decide to recruit a provisional wing to infiltrate this peaceful protest and try to stir up trouble.  The reader is warned. 

* My willingness for the demonstration to grow was already proving unwise by Friday October 21st. By that afternoon it was claimed that numbers had become too large to allow visitors to reach the cathedral in safety and St Paul’s had to close for the first time since World War 2.   Evidently there is no need for violence to be stirred up as I feared in my last paragraph.  Real or imagined breaches of “health and safety” can always be invoked to try and put protestors in the wrong… 


Photos in the public domain, by P. Morris