The authorities at St Paul’s Cathedral have picked a fight with peaceful activists engaged in civil disobedience against the rich and powerful on their doorstep. Instead of following Christ’s gospel and throwing the money lenders out of the temple, they have put them on the board of trustees. Ten days into the Occupation at the London Stock Exchange, the principle media battle is whether or not the Occupationists are responsible for closing down a number of church events, ranging from the Lord Mayor’s Show to Christmas itself. The Cathedral authorities blame spurious and unspecified health and safety issues connected with the Occupation, upon which they declare they have had independent advice from an unnamed source. The Occupationists point to the Cathedral having closed its own doors to increased numbers of visitors to the area. It does not have to be like this.
On the other hand, perhaps it always did have to be like this. St Paul’s Cathedral is not a parish church in a poor neighbourhood. Following the New Testament Commandment to love thy neighbour, the Cathedral nestles comfortably amongst the most financially powerful institutions in the land. Within one week of the Occupation commencing, it nailed its colours very firmly to the masts of the ships of the wealthy, not the poor. In a comment on yesterday’s post, explaining how and why I organised legal advice for the London Occupation, someone called ‘meewaan’ helpfully listed the trustees of the Cathedral. Here they are again:
- Chairman, Sir John Stuttard PWC partner, Former Lord Mayor of London.
- Trustee, The Right Reverend Graeme Knowles, Dean of St Paul’s
- Trustee, Dame Helen Alexander DBE Deputy chair of the CBI, director of Centrica plc
- Trustee, Lord Blair of Boughton Former Metropolitan Police Commissioner
- Trustee, Roger Gifford Investment banker, big in City of London
- Trustee, John Harvey – Not clearly identified
- Trustee, Joyce Hytner OBE – Theatre director
- Trustee, Gavin Ralston Global Head of Product and leading international asset manager at Schroder Investment Management
- Trustee, Carol Sergeant CBE – Chief Risk Director at Lloyds TSB, formerly Managing Director for Regulatory Process and Risk at the FSA
- Trustee, John Spence OBE – Former Managing Director, Business Banking, LloydsTSB
Probably a good time to ask the time honoured question: are these the sort of people that Jesus Christ would have gathered around him? Glib sophistry aside, it becomes clear reading through this list that the Cathedral’s controlling body is stuffed with the rich and powerful. Big banks are amply represented, complemented by a representative of law enforcement used to prop them up. Perhaps I am too radical for my fellow Occupationists, who persist with attempting to maintain a dialogue with these people.
The people listed above have frustrated efforts at dialogue. I was present at a meeting last week when one churchman came out to basically tell us to leave. His show of tears, as he described the Cathedral’s decision to cancel a forthcoming wedding, was quite the worst piece of acting I have ever seen. Incidentally, not only was the wedding not cancelled but the wedding guests were gushing in their praise of the Occupation. Another complaint was that the Lord Mayor’s Show was going to be cancelled. Now they complain that their Christmas services are going to be cancelled too.
These are all unilateral decisions by the Cathedral authorities. There’s no need to cancel any of these events. I will concede that the Lord Mayor’s Show will have take place at a different venue. My heart is not bleeding over this. The Lord Mayor of the City of London is not a champion of the people. Quite the contrary. Whilst it is true that the Show has been going on at the same site ever since 604 AD, people have been gathering in exactly the same place for much longer. There is a reason why the Romans chose to occupy this site: it has always been an important and powerful place. That is why the Occupation now controls it.
The institutions now represented by the Trustees of St Paul’s Foundation have committed a vast fraud on the people of the world by deliberately creating a debt crisis and then holding us to ransom to make us pay for it. Think that’s too strong? It is universally agreed that the big banks and other major financial institutions did not exercise due diligence when investing the American sub prime markets. When the wheels came off those nonsensical investments, the current economic crisis began. These institutions knew what they were up to. They knew it could not work out. As soon as the cancer they had created threatened to consume themselves, they declared that they were too big to fail and demanded that we, the people, bail them out. Our corrupt politicians queued up to agree in scenes reminiscent of a Communist Party Congress in the Soviet Union under Stalin. Never before in my life time have I witnessed such a lack of political debate. The bail outs were agreed. The banks then placed the squeeze on us, the people. At the time I was practising as a barrister and banking with NatWest. As with many self-employed people I had a considerable overdraft facility which I used to manage my cash flow. Such is the nature of being in business in the modern world. The very day that our Labour government agreed to bail out NatWest’s owner, the Royal Bank of Scotland, NatWest doubled the interest rates on my overdraft. These measures were repeated across the banking sector. Small businesses were wiped out with one fell swoop. The crisis deepened. They knew what they were doing. The government bleated that they were trying to get the banks recently purchased by the people to extend credit once more. Credit was not extended. Many successful businesses went to the wall. Need I go on? All of this was entirely predictable. The banks demanded more and more. The crisis deepened. The bonuses paid to the top one per cent increased. The ninety nine per cent suffered. We lost our businesses, our jobs and our social security payments. For many of us, Christmas has been cancelled by the banking crisis.
St Paul’s Cathedral is now playing the role of a Trojan Church in the Occupation. Its trustees now act for all the high forces of capitalism. These powers are what used to be called the commanding heights of exchange. They know that if they take us on directly, they will lose the argument. Far too many of their senior staff are already openly challenging the merits of the present economic system. The established press laps up the symbolism of a church being closed down but in reality, the Cathedral authorities are the culprits in a vast attack on the people. Whose Christmas celebrations are more important: those belonging to the poor or those belonging to the rich?