Sunday, 16 October 2011


Only kidding, but I thought I should contribute some wordage on the 'Occupy' movement. It is safe to say that the attitude of most Labour supporters is cautious, if not hostile. Cautious in the sense that lots of people with long memories will have seen similar 'popular' movements come and go without any lasting impact. Cautious too because it is clear that, unlike much of the anti-cuts 'movement', such as it is, these 'Occupy' types seem to come from a bit of the Left that doesn't have much faith in Labour.

Clearly some Labour supporters are more than cautious, they actively dislike the 'Occupy' movement. This, I think, is principally a fear of contagion from associating with what looks like it might be a 'far Left' protest. Plus they don't like the idea of Labour being linked with anything that looks 'anti-rich'. Sadly, there is a strain of "protests are a waste of time" thinking lurking in there too. I'm a bit of a pessimist myself, but find the fact that we apparently have such low expectations of politics outside the official channels a bit depressing.

If I'm honest, I share a lot of the scepticism I hear from other Labour supporters. This looks a bit too much like the wave of anti-globalisation protests in the 90s and early 2000s for my liking. Not just the incoherence in terms of objectives, but also the make-up of the movement. And yet, despite all this, I think there is something worthwhile here.

Incoherent they may be, but the movement has articulated points that surely most of us Labour supporters believe. The finance sector does have too much political power, and it is unaccountable, and the public at large is having to pay for the failures of this part of the private sector. This all comes with huge caveats - clearly very few people in the finance sector caused the financial crisis, entire bits of it were not culpable. Equally, we can't overlook the fact that politicians, even our own mob, have their fingerprints on this mess too. But the core idea that motivates these protests is seems to me basically not a bad one.

This is an era when our opponents on the radical Right are trying to reframe the financial crisis as a failure, even crime, of the state and/or politicians. I have heard senior people in the investment industry - the sort of people whose views carry weight in my corner of the world - come out with a version of the financial crisis where almost all the blame lies with politicians and regulators. Therefore to me it seems tactically stupid to not at least offer some words of encouragement to those who tell what, I think, is a more truthful version of events.

Plenty of folks on the Left have openly pondered why there has been no populist left-of-centre reaction to the financial crisis, instead it seems to have benefited the Right. What we are seeing with 'Occupy' looks like an attempt to kick off such a populist campaign, yet we seem to be uncomfortable with what we are looking at, perhaps in part because they are not 'our kind of Left'*. Perhaps the protests will fizzle out, my own view is that they probably will, but then I thought the US protests would have evaporated by now. But if the movement does blow away with the next wind perhaps that will be because people who basically share the same underlying concerns, but are suspicious of those articulating them, stand aloof.

Let's be honest about our own lack of knowledge too. There will be people within Labour who argue against the 'Occupy' protests as 'unrealistic' or 'ill-informed' or whatever, who have no greater knowledge of the City than those camped out at St Pauls. There are plenty of people who actually work in the City whose views about it are significantly more radical than moderate Labour types. It's partly because they know where the bodies are buried, no doubt, but it's a useful corrective nonetheless. There is a lot to be critical of and what needs changing is not necessarily easy to articulate, so perhaps exactly what we need right now is a simplistic populist message that gets the right basic point across.

You won't find me up at Paternoster Square any time soon. Quite apart from the fact that I think it's a slightly silly target (why the stockmarket? and few people even know what the 'new' stock exchange building looks like), I don't have the free time to camp out at a protest and, to be honest, I am put off by the fact that it looks a bit green/crusty/anti-globalisation so far. But in my heart of hearts I can't help but hope this message begins cut through because, basically, I think it needs to be heard.

* It appears that the original idea may have come from the Adbusters group.

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