I admire the Occupy London protesters in an odd sort of way. Despite what anyone thinks about who they are, where they sleep and their choice of hot beverages, nobody camps out all day every day in St Paul's Cathedral unless their committed to their cause.
However, that does not stop me thinking that they should probably go home. I believe in the founding principles of the movement; that the financial sector should be held as accountable and contribute as much as the rest of us. But can they honestly say anyone is actually listening who weren't before?
Protest is in theory the greatest tool for direct change a democracy can have. It's an immediate focus on the issue your pushing designed to make the public sympathetic to your cause. However, if the government doesn't listen to the public then you might as well go home.
Call me a cynic but I don't know if protest does anything anymore. The recreation of the famous march from Jarrow to London in 1936 reached Trafalgar Square this Saturday to protest against youth unemployment. However despite the march being so famous it had little impact. If the government of 1936 didn't do anything, what is this government going to do?
Jarrow MP Stephen Hepburn said the "cancer" of the City of London had to be cut out and "We won't accept the crumbs on the table."
Claire Laker-Mansfield, one of the organisers, added: "We are marching to demand that the government does more to invest in a decent future for young people."
However what chance do they have? Take the student protest last December; they never exactly listen to the students that tried to protest against higher tuition fees. Instead they demonised them and locked up in prison.
David Miliband, in a question and answer session with students at the University of Birmingham last week, said that the coalition government has allowed the Tory government to be more radical with their policy than had they been in a majority government. With Nick Clegg as the fall guy they are able to pursue unpopular policies that suit no-one except themselves.
The zeal with which the government have thrown themselves into their austerity plan means there is no going back for them now till they're kicked out of government. They can't go back now because it'll prove that they were wrong and that's electoral suicide given how angry people are already. They quite clearly have no idea what to do to get the economy growing again so they have developed a policy of blaming Labour for the economy, blaming the Liberal Democrats for any else and crossing their fingers behind their backs that things will get better by the next election.
Public image means nothing to them because Labour is still in the wilderness and the Liberal Democrats are stuck in government with them until they cut the cord.
What is to say that the public even care about Occupy London anyway? There is a certain sense of fait accompli about the British public's attitude to bankers now. Gone are the days of public vitriol and picketing outside Fred Goodwin's house. After hundreds and hundreds of empty promises from both Labour and the coalition about reigning in bankers' excesses the public have given up all hope of it actually happening.
Plus there was the well orchestrated and subtle campaign by the Conservative party around the last election to quietly shift the blame from the extravagant risks taking financial sector to those dastardly the public sector workers whose desire to keep warm in winter in their old age somehow bankrupted the entire world economy. Whilst reporting on the teacher's march through Birmingham in June I witnessed one angry member of public venomously remonstrating with a protester saying 'I pay your wages' and running off before hearing the obvious 'we educate your kids' retort.
Given the media backlash against the Occupy London saying they're all Starbucks drinking sell-outs that go back to Daddy's mansion in Chelsea every night how long is it before the public turn on them? Especially now the protest has turned in Occupy St Pauls, the message of the original protest has been lost in the debate about St Pauls' policy on squatters and the resulting internal power struggle.
Call me cynical but I'm sceptical about the power of protest. Maybe it could stop a government in its tracks back in the day but in an age of public apathy and lack of political alternatives what can it change? Seventy five years from now we will probably look back on Occupy London as an iconic moment in much the way we see the original Jarrow march now. However, like the Jarrow march, will they actually achieve anything other than a hallowed place in history?
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