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Mark Donne

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The Return of the English Morality Tale?

Posted: 10/17/11 12:57 PM ET

As I write, the saints and apostles of St Pauls Cathedral are looking down on several hundred people with just as much moral purpose as they ever possessed. Though mortal and more susceptible to the cold and wind of the churchyard, the Occupy London Stock Exchange protesters camping out against bad capitalism, not capitalism per se, should command as much public awe as the celestial figures etched deep into the Portland stone of Wren's masterpiece.

They are not actually occupying the London Stock Exchange of course because, being England, a fusty old Judge granted an injunction on Friday evening when everyone was asleep, preventing legitimate, peaceful protest outside the beating heart of London's financial district.

And the officers of the metropolitan police, whose salaries from top to bottom are paid from the salaries of all of us, including those sleeping on the steps, even tried to prevent peaceful demonstration outside the Cathedral: I personally was denied permission to enter the square for 2 hours on Saturday, firstly owing to the necessity of a "sterile zone for the police to work in", then "to prevent a breach of the peace" etc. An obvous deterrent to those arriving to join.

When I called the Met press office there had not been one single arrest and if one identified oneself, or was patently identifiable as a tourist, one could actually penetrate the "sterile zone" and be taken through the heavy police cordon to Pizza Express or Yo-Sushi. Consumers can (must) spend of course, but you cannot ask why you are earning less, paying just as much tax and yet seeing your public services destroyed on an unprecedented level.

Eventually as more and more people arrived the police capitulated and let me and others in. Had I a pound for every copper that whispered to me "I agree with you mate" I could have bought sushi for everyone in the square. And that is what is so striking about this occupation and its many relatives, live now across the globe. The identity of, and public support for them; we all kind of know they are right, the protesters I mean, even if we cannot quite bring ourselves or our lives make it impossible to express it on the same, devoted scale. Opinion polls published today show public approval percentages in the high 80's.

Not all agree of course, but recall the tree-dwelling "swampy" of the 1990's, of how initially he and his kind were derided for their activism, and slowly but surely the green movement grew, entered all of our homes and minds and is now hard wired into government policy, domestic planning and common behaviour. Environmental ambitions still have far to go, but so much culturally has been achieved. The same can realistically be expected for a new attitude towards the activity of the corporates, bankers and governments of every colour who have been complicit in the robbery we are all now paying for.

And one final note of optimism, one as an agnostic I type with ambivalence, but one I know would have delighted like-minded folk like George Orwell perhaps, a lover of country and fighter for justice; the return of the English morality tale. Walk up Ludgate Hill in the morning or evening of any day this week and as you approach the highest point of the City of London and the majesty of St Paul's, either side of you conduits will pulse with financial sector employees dashing to and fro, servicing the FTSE 100; the pavements pink with discarded financial newspapers.

Owing to the courage of the Canon of St Paul's, the protesters you see (that the highest echelons of the Metropolitan Police and indeed the business community are so keen to evict) remain there - free from the threat of police brutality or arbitrary eviction - because the Canon of that Cathedral believes that in the spirit of co-existence and the right to peaceful protest they should be allowed to stay, and indeed that the police should leave.

In an epoch that has seen politicians, high-commerce, media and the police disgraced in corruption and failure, it is deliciously fitting that committed activists and protesters should signal a new direction to an exhausted nation, and be offered a spectacular platform to do so from such an ancient source of moral direction. In a time of incongruous, uncomfortable coalitions, here is one to welcome. Ahh, England Your England.

 

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