I was on the local news the other night; a first for me, as you can see, here. I made the intro credits, was interviewed by the BBC business journalist off site and was seen unfurling a banner over a bridge that overhangs a major carriageway that read: "fat cat on a hot tin roof." I also appeared on BBC Radio Ulster and the following day my antics were featured in a regional paper, here.
But who was this fat cat on a hot tin roof? That would be Jim Brown, CEO and the face of Ulster Bank, and the latest banker in a long list to face a barrage of public opprobrium. The once little known New Zealander, appointed to Ulster Bank in March 2011, has overseen the latest banking crisis. A real life mini-credit crisis that has seen hundreds of thousands of bank accounts rendered frozen, bringing Ulster Bank transactions across the island of Ireland and further afield to a near standstill.
What has been the most outrageous aspect of the ongoing crisis has been its lingering endurance which is quickly getting old. And with a backdrop of austerity and economic volatility, this transaction crisis has only gone to compound the pain for businesses and households and amplify the anti-bank sentiment.
Those responsible for the IT problem which generated the crisis are unknown, but the baying public nevertheless need a hate figure to direct their anger towards: and now they have one - Northern Ireland's very own fat cat of high finance, Jim Brown. Here's a cartoon I did earlier:
Before I address why I decided to do my manic one man protest I want to make a few things clear: the first thing I need to say is that I am not a member of a political group; I am not a mad socialist, anti-capitalist or anarchist. In fact I locate myself a little to the right of centre on the political spectrum and I wholly embrace the market economy as the most rational economic system. I do however see its many faults that contributed to the global economic crisis. But all in all I consider myself a rather sensible and well balanced character: someone you would never think would carry out such a ridiculous act as a one man protest.
So why did I, a 2.4 kids type normal guy, decide to give the time to put together 4 banners with a cartoon of Jim Brown and a series of funny slogans, and then proceed to unleash these upon the people by adorning them across 2 of the busiest roads in Belfast?
Well, for a number of reasons: firstly I am a disgruntled graduate. Having, with great success and confidence, progressed through the academic system, I have found myself - through no fault of my own - a victim of the global economic turndown: cast adrift of the job market. Because of this I have gained two things: one, a deep frustration for the failings that past generations have brought upon the young and upcoming. Secondly, because of the lack of jobs I have gained an appreciation for the need to build an online and offline profile; to make yourself stand out and do something that really singles you out.
Secondly, I am disgruntled customer of Ulster Bank which has only gone to compound being a disgruntled graduate. This point like the first falls on two issues: firstly, Ulster Bank without remittance has taken monthly student loan repayments of £150 from my savings despite the fact that I have no job, only job seekers allowance. This went on from September 2011 until April 2012 and drained all my savings. Now, I know I signed the contract but the reasonable solution would surely have been to reduce the monthly repayments; but no. Now I find myself unable to make any repayments and have now gained a negative credit rating: great.
Thirdly, driven by point one and two I really wanted to air my collective grievances; but feeling that going into any given bank branch and wailing around would be a waste of time and that an act of civil disobedience would be too injurious to my long term career prospects, I felt satirical banners wholly appropriate.
After all, satire is what I do and most importantly: satire is at the heart of a functioning and healthy democracy. A tool used since the 1700s, in a peculiar way, to hold civic and business leaders to account and to destroy any sense of mystique. To reduce lofty characters to the vulnerable and normal individuals they really are. Hogarth set the benchmark in the early 1700s and satirists throughout history have continued and built upon that critical legacy right up to present day. With the likes of Steve Bell and Martin Rowson of the Guardian, Ian Knox of the Irish News and Dave Brown of the Independent tearing the clothes off false emperors on a daily basis.
Furthermore, you could ask why couldn't I have aired my collective grievances in a local branch? Well I say there would have been no point. Those manning this listing ship are robots: they're told what to say and all I would have been told is that they were sorry, that my custom is very important and they are doing their utmost to fix the computer glitch in good time. Nothing meaningful or constructive would have come from me going into a branch and letting off steam by having a rant at some innocent employee.
But did anything meaningful come from my banners? I believe so. I wanted to hit the top; to land a blow on the leadership of this shambles and I think I did just that. I singed his beard I did!
Fourthly, I wanted to air a collective grievance; working not only for myself but also on behalf of all those customers who have been affected in the last month. Added to that, we in Northern Ireland are a patient, resilient and a grin and bear it kind of people. People are slow to anger here and that is an admirable quality. But had this banking debacle occurred on the continent customers would be up in arms. So whilst I'm not calling people to anarchy, I am suggesting that Northern Ireland people should be more vocal.
Fifthly, I wanted to highlight the collective plight of the current generation of graduates: a section of society that has degenerated into a proverbial white elephant that blights the Northern Ireland landscape. However this point was edited out of the report, to my dismay, but I have drafted a potent illustrated on this topic, here:
Sixth, I'm no policy actor, decision maker or opinion former but I believe that I am speaking on the behalf of a great many when I say, and quote me: someone must carry the can for the Ulster Bank account fiasco. Only last week Bob Diamond, the overseer who oversaw the manipulation of the London Interbank offered Rate (LIBOR - a key benchmark that underpins mortgages and consumer loans), rightly stood down. And it's equally right that the overseer of this crisis stands down. Something which I stressed firmly during my interview, however this was of course edited out. Here's are cartoon I did earlier of Bob Diamond:
In sum: what do I hope to gain out of this? Well again, a few things. I hope to gain a little notoriety on facebook, twitter and the like (who doesn't). I also want to build a profile and notoriety for my political and satirical cartoons and caricatures. I would also like for this to have been my first step into the wider debate; to give myself somewhat of a voice and have an authority on matters. This very much builds on a trajectory I have followed so far and I hope to build on that path towards becoming an opinion former - I have lots to say! I also hope that I can stay in contact with and leverage the potential of the many journalists, photographers, cameramen and radio hosts that I met throughout this escapade.
Finally, what's up with the inertia within the Stormont administration?
Follow Brian John Spencer on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@speggy87