The St Pauls protest: whose camp are you in?

Their causes are too many. They don’t have a cause. They aren’t there all the time because they are part-time protestors who are mostly at work, apart from the professional protestors who are just spongers looking for a fight. They don’t even sleep in their tents (or if they do they are either not in bed by 11pm or their tents are impervious to infrared cameras). They aren’t really against capitalism, because they buy and own stuff.

Just a few of the complaints levelled against the protestors in the Occupy London Stock Exchange (or the nearest cathedral) camp which has been getting quite a lot of attention over recent weeks. The objections trotted out against the protestors are neatly debunked, piece by piece, in this rather good Left Foot Forward post which includes a very funny clip of Louise Mensch being roundly reproached on Have I Got News For You last week.

Yesterday’s resignation of the Rev Giles Fraser, the now ex-Canon of St Paul's because he felt 'unable to reconcile his conscience with evicting the protest camp',  further scored a line in the sand about which camp people were in – is your sympathy with the protestors or not?  Yet with similar protests taking place in countries all over the world, it is clear that this is not a flash in the pan.  There is a genuine and widespread desire to voice fears and objections to the major imbalances in society, particularly with regard to the distribution of wealth.

It is bizarre that in London, the people on the “other side” of the protestors are at the moment, the clergy –  less Dr Giles Fraser that is. Rev Fraser said that he could not be party to a clearance that might end up with physical violence in the manner of the Dale Farm eviction a few weeks ago (and see this coverage of the violent tactics employed by Oakland police in America in an attempt to clear an “Occupy” camp ).  On Question Time last night, Iain Duncan Smith made it clear that as the minister responsible for health and safety, he did not believe the tent encampment posed a risk to people entering the church and certainly did not see it as a risk that warranted the closure of St Pauls purportedly on health and safety grounds. Indeed it does not then seem very Christian, in the common sense of the phrase, for the church to decide of their own volition to move the protestors on. This Private Eye parody of a sermon concludes “now we will sing our final hymn ‘there is a green hill far away’ perhaps you could go and camp there instead”.

For me though, the most refreshingly reasonable reflection on the situation I have heard came from another of last night’s Question Time guests, Julian Fellowes. He responded to the provocative question “would Jesus have cleared the temple of demonstrators?” with:

“I am not quite sure that St Pauls played it correctly I am not quite sure that the health and safety considerations precipitated their action but nevertheless even if they did, in the end what is more important? That a place of beauty is kept charming for tourists and everything else, and I don’t think that’s unimportant, but is it more important that the right to protest without the fear of midnight arrests and police thumping over the cobbles? I don’t think that it is. I think that, in the end, part of a democracy is having uncomfortable protest.”

I for one, am in his camp.

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