Talking to my Professor a few weeks back, she asked me about the St Pauls Protest right now. I informed her of my comment on the facebook page for the protest asking why they were starting this on the weekend and the amusingly ironic reply from one poster, ‘well I have to work on Monday.’ Of course we do but that is also the point in some ways. Protesting the system.
The problem for most people is, in a recession and soon-to-be double dip recession, the fear of unemployment is real. The stories are everywhere. The problem is unemployment has been everywhere for a long time and is generally in the same places. However the fear is pervasive, documented in the papers everyday, for fear of unemployment (crime, immigration or a loss of self) is a far better sell than anything except the occasionally basking in national success.
But at the Occupy London Protests, the symbolism is more important than the impact which is important, for the heat-vision cameras show there is barely anyone there at night. You could add there are few there during the day too. But the reaction of St Pauls is not only sad but very predictable. Firstly if you have ever been in the cathedral, then you clearly have some cash to splash. It’s very expensive for one of our great London landmarks but particularly a church. The fear this tourist cash-cow will be debilitated by the protests are an economic headache for troubled church and highlighted by its division over where it stands on economic protests.
But the symbolism of protest in the heart of our much-vaulted economic heart (never believe that) is more troubling. The City is under pressure from its own failures, increasingly requirements of transparency and the movement of business elsewhere as the lustre wears off. So what will happen next? Well its pretty inevitable if you follow other protests, march, strikes etc. Its been happening since the 1980s and follows the same pattern.
First we have the limited tolerance of such events within the restrictive laws. The next stage is the call to health and safety which is happening now. The next stage needs a spark, a tourist complaint, a mugging randomly linked to the protest, a small confrontation between a protester and the police or a local business and then it all becomes a matter for public safety. The area will be cleared and the matter sent to the courts. By that stage it’s all over; no matter what the courts decide, they will take their time as is normal (unlike the swift justice over the riots) and these protests will be forgotten as direct action. The Prime Minister will talk of his concerns over the impact of the recession on decent people and how the government is doing everything to sort it out. Which means staying the course. The concerns are co-opted, addressed in rhetoric and the course remains the same.
The Guardian reported an open letter to the Government from 100 economists (Ha-Joon Chang included) asking the Government to consider a different strategy to bring Britain out of recession. Spending and running a temporary budget deficit is the standard economic response to recessions but right now we’re seeing an opportunity taken to reduce the role of the state permanently. I agree with some of these measures but pity the future of a country that must rely on its creativity to stay ahead of the rest of the world who are continuing to invest and support education, industry and business. Take a look around; no other country leaves its citizens so exposed to the storms of transnational capital swings as Britain. At some point, the boat gets battered and people want to get off.