(But the Demo goes on)By Tom Aitken in London
The demonstration against economic injustice outside St Paul’s Cathedral becomes more enigmatic by the hour.
As the Independent newspaper says, ‘the locking of the cathedral doors is bleakly symbolic. The cathedral has washed its hands and turned away protestors demanding an end to the rule of naked greed over our lives.’
In my second, daytime, visit to the site I found the encampment looking well-organised and impressively free of litter. A rubbish collection point is being conscientiously used.
If you want to know what the demonstrators want, you can sit in a tent and be told.
Moving around, you overhear discussions between public and campers, conducted with goodwill and patience from both sides.
Approval of the protesters’ cause has come from some unlikely quarters.
The Spectator devotes two fierce pages to the idea that ‘Capitalism is running into a fundamental problem… a declining proportion of the population feels able to gain any meaningful stake in it… there is not much to suggest that the government understands the problem.
The conservative MP for the constituency in which St Paul’s stands evidently does not read such papers. His knee-jerk reaction incorporates one mistake and one absurd comparison.
‘St Paul’s,’ he proclaims, ‘is a Unesco World Heritage site and they have turned it into a Third World shantytown… they should be moved on.’
Well.. St Paul’s is not a Unesco World Heritage site––and the most offensive thing about shantytowns is not that they look messy but that people have to live in them permanently.
Nor is the ‘moving on’ he demands quite so simple as he wants to believe.
The demonstrators report that a senior commander of the City of London Police has said that if the cathedral withdrew its permission for the tents to stay, they could be forcibly removed. Their own legal advisor says that, since by staying they would be committing a civil, not a criminal offence, a court order would be required.
The demonstrators also claim to have been advised that the health and safety issues to do with fire and health risks, mentioned, in curiously unspecific terms, by the cathedral, do not exist.
Before the cathedral was closed, demonstrators were prepared to cooperate fully with the conduct of its services in the building. A notice, now sadly irrelevant, reads:
‘Please help to keep up the good reputation that we have gained by respecting this area around the Church. Please, NO megaphone use during the services in the church, also for 5 minutes after whenever the bell chimes, whilst they say the Lord’s Prayer… Please, no general assemblies on the stairs, no blocking of any doors of the Church.’
Incomprehensibly, there are no notices setting forth the cathedral’s view of what is happening. Its administrators are coasting obliviously towards a public relations disaster.
The Independent newspaper has headlined a piece on the subject ‘A cathedral turns its back on the people’. The locking of the cathedral doors, Peter Popham argues, ‘is bleakly symbolic. The cathedral has washed its hands and turned away protestors demanding an end to the rule of naked greed over our lives.’
Bureaucrats say ‘God is dead’
Popham concludes: ‘St Paul’s has indicated that, whatever the church’s spiritual message, for those who run the place its fabric is more important. That’s a bureaucratic way of saying, yes, God is dead.’
Elsewhere, the paper reports an unseemly incident in a church near St Paul’s, during a service moved from the closed cathedral.
A retired vicar interrupted the preacher when he asserted that ‘the demonstration… is imperilling the inclusive vision which is the centre of the cathedral’s status as a holy place’. The church, said this indignant older man, was ‘losing kudos’ by turning its back on the demonstrators. It should be ‘willing to bear a little pain and inconvenience’. He would be writing a strong letter to the Dean.
My possibly ill-informed eye cannot see that entrances to and exits from the cathedral are blocked other than by the cathedral’s locking of doors.
The main steps are not blocked. There are people sitting there most of the time at the moment, but they are sightseers, not demonstrators.
There are side entrances, one of which was actually used for a wedding a few days after all others had been locked. Another is visibly available for access. There are tents to left and right of it, but the approach is absolutely clear.
Demonstrators are respectful
The demonstrators are conscientious about observing restrictions. Areas where tents may be pitched are all clearly demarcated. Now that they are full, newcomers must take their tents to nearby Finsbury Square.
To end: A letter to the Independent invites the cathedral authorities to remember the injunction in the Epistle to the Hebrews: ‘Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.’