St Paul’s Cathedral has been closed to the public for the first time since the 2nd World War – all because of a protest against capitalism.
Church authorities say the main issues forcing the closure are reduced ease of movement in and out of the building, a fire risk and fears of health risks.
How could it come to this?
Well, on October 15 the anti-financial markets demonstrations, which began in Wall Street, arrived in London.
The demonstrators intended to occupy the London Stock Exchange. Police prevented that, so, equipped with sleeping bags and small square tents, the protestors went round the corner to the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral.
There they set up an encampment, which, they asserted, would remain into the New Year. Some of them were reported to be themselves workers in the city, who would spend their weekdays in offices and their nights in protest.
Initial response amiable
Initial response from the Cathedral was amiable. The demonstrators were well behaved and friendly. They had the right to make their point.
The weekend passed peacefully. But there was trouble ahead.
The building is kept running from day to day, financially, by visitors.
These come in great numbers to be awe-struck by its huge, majestic interior, to sample the acoustics in the whispering gallery and, from the Golden Gallery at the top of the dome, gaze across London.
The crypt is the last resting place of the cathedral’s architect Sir Christopher Wren, Admiral Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington.
‘The Light of the World’
At ground level, visitors can see a painting which may, for once sensibly, be described as iconic: Holman Hunt’s The Light of the World in the largest and latest of the three versions he painted over fifty years.
The previous night I had visited the cathedral yard. It was quiet. Tents and demonstrators had moved off the actual steps and from a distance there appeared to be nothing happening.
Closer up I saw that the small square tents were crowded into an area to one side of the front of the building. Campers were visible in quite large numbers, together with half-a-dozen police. Everyone was very relaxed.
Egyptian street sign appears
Someone had attached to a nearby building a sign that is, I gather, a totem of these demos wherever they take place. A mock up of a London street sign reads: ‘Tahrir Square EC4M City of Westminster’.
That conceded, however, the demo exhibits disappointingly jejune, knee-jerk anti-capitalism.
The slogans have it: ‘Capitalism is Crisis’; ‘Capitalism Means War.’ Only ‘Occupation is Liberation’ sounds new coined.
An city worker who is not involved, interviewed on his way to his desk, is quoted as asking, ‘Don’t they know the world can’t actually function without capitalism?’
Other targets suggested
Other critics suggest that their targets should be The Bank of England, The Federal Reserve, The European Central Bank and the last Labour government.
A different analysis of the present eruptive situation comes from a quite different and unexpected quarter.
Robert Harris is well known and much admired for painstakingly researched novels set in widely varying historical periods.
His latest, The Fear Index, a tale of the trading floor, came out recently.
He wanted to explore what went wrong after we supposedly created the institutions––World Bank, International Monetary Fund, G20, OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development)––necessary to avoid the sort of firestorm we are in at present.
Wall St and the mathematicians
He discovered that a large part of Wall Street is run these days not by economists or businessmen, but by mathematicians and scientists thrown out of work in 1993. In that year, the American Senate voted to save money by closing down a grandiose scientific project called the Desertron.
This, a hole in the ground in Texas, was intended to compete with the CERN’s Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, which investigates the most fundamental laws of the universe.
The out of work scientists went to New York where, to cut a long story short, they, and others equally high-flying, analyse the market with intense mathematical precision to predict share price movements and the level of investment risk.
The result is that 73% of New York’s share trading is done by computers, for which these people have written the programmes.
Traders have become ‘pilots’
Increasingly, Harris found, a trader is like a pilot in a computer-controlled jumbo-jet. He watched one computer, trading with other computers, make a profit of $1.5 million in 20 minutes.
The machines do especially well, apparently, when there is a panic, because panicking people do very predictable things.
Wonderful, of course. But even computers make mistakes.
The machines’ error was to assume that the US property market would rise forever, because house prices had never fallen during the country’s history.
But the American housing market crashed and the worldwide institutions that had bought into it fell into the hole.
Heavens, we cry, who will dig us out?
Our political leaders, apparently.