Believe me, I’m all for protests and demonstrations. But why nowadays do they have to last for months?
There was a time when protesters marched up the Strand to Trafalgar Square, accompanied by a few Bobbies, listened to a few rabble-rousing speeches by Vanessa Redgrave and other star-studded Trotskyists, and then went home. I was often there myself, a fully-paid up member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. We’d march, pretending for an hour or two that we were in the vanguard of a great revolution, but then dispersed, happily sloping off to a nearby tavern for a few pints.
It doesn’t seem to work that way any more.
The Occupy Wall Street movement has taken root in London. Here it’s called Occupy the London Stock Exchange (hardly trips off the tongue, does it?) and its adherents are presently encamped in the yard alongside St. Paul’s Cathedral, the closest they could get to the Exchange itself in nearby Paternoster Square. The good clergy from the Cathedral at first bade them a Christian welcome, but now wish them an un-Christian farewell, for reasons more to do with finance than with faith. Never mind the worshippers, who can worship somewhere else, it is the tourists who are being driven away, depriving the church of thousands of entrance fees. At £8 per head (the last time I looked) that amounts to a great deal of moolah. St. Paul’s has now closed its doors, evidently for reasons of health and safety. Its financial advisors reckon the protest, if it continued over several months, could cost millions in ‘takings’.
Now I am against famous churches charging entrance fees, and the loss of takings at London’s second most famous cathedral strikes me as a much-needed lesson in humility for the treasurers of the Church of England. (The founder of the Christian faith would surely agree with me.) I am also sympathetic to the anger of the protesters.
Everyone has a gripe of some kind, but let’s be English about this – in other words, terribly sensible. If the authorities accommodated every protest movement the way they are catering to Occupy Whatever, the streets of London would become impassable, the city unlivable.
The Occupy crowd is angry with the bankers. Who isn’t? But does it make sense to make the lives of the public a misery by impeding them in their trivial round, to despoil our national monuments and landmarks, to allow the anarchists who attach themselves to such affairs to provoke the police into what almost invariably turns into an injudicious reaction.
Stage your march, by all means, grab the next day’s headlines with an oration or two, but then go home to watch Downton Abbey.