For quite some time I have been led to believe that senior clerical figures inside St Paul’s Cathedral would give witness statements in support of Occupy London Stock Exchange (OccupyLSX) to defend the eviction proceedings brought by the City of London Corporation. I haven’t spoken to them personally. I haven’t had any dealings with these men of the cloth myself. However, those that did speak with them, spoke to them regularly.
Having initially saved us from the police, Giles Fraser later resigned his post in the Cathedral when it was on the point of joining the City’s eviction proceedings. Immediately the Cathedral reversed its position and announced that it would not join in any legal action against OccupyLSX. From that point onwards, various figures inside the Cathedral indicated that if the City did pursue a legal case, they would be witnesses for the Occupation. Yesterday, it finally became clear that they would not. Here’s the list of witnesses for OccupyLSX: no-one from the Cathedral is on it. They had plenty chances to make good their promises. Over the weekend a series of phone calls and meetings took place, with them being pressed to keep their word. In the end, they couldn’t manage it.
Yesterday, Giles Fraser, now free of loyalty to the Cathedral wrote in the Guardian that the strength of Occupy was its pure democratic values. He praised the lack of leadership yet even he could not stomach the thought of maintaining that praise in a court of law. His problem is a love of the publicity of being the leader he praises the Occupationists for not having. He’s a regular writer in the Guardian and captured the front page when he apparently saved the Occupation.
Meanwhile, the Cathedral offered to permit OccupyLSX a post-eviction tent somewhere on its land. The idea presented to the people camping outside its massive wooden doors is that after the encampment is cleared away, it will be allowed to remain, as if to physically prove that you truly cannot evict an idea. The City has taken umbrage at this proposal and served both OccupyLSX and the Cathedral with breach of planning notices, to prevent this outcome. If the Cathedral authorities attempt to keep their word on this promise, they certainly will find themselves in the conflict with the City which they have been so keen to avoid.
Ever since 15th October 2011, when the Occupation began, the authorities in the City, both legal and clerical, have mishandled events. Untested in dealing with popular protest, they have shown themselves to be muddled and disorganised. Much of what has been done by the Occupationists was predictable to anyone with any knowledge of the politics of Britain’s long established direct action movements, yet both the City and the Church have been constantly caught by surprise. Occupy is a movement of people, far larger than the numbers braving London’s freezing streets. Every day Londoners turn up in support, physical, food and financial. Although the movement is not religious, it contains many religious activists. The Cathedral has betrayed these people who now feel very angry towards it. It has also created the impression for many of the rest that it naturally supported them as campaigners for the poor. There is now considerable anger towards the Cathedral for this act of betrayal.
Having decided not to speak out when called up, these troublesome priests are about to learn a few home truths. Firstly, whatever friendship they might have garnered amongst the campaigners has now been squandered. Secondly, the more youthful elements are likely to seek vengeance; unfortunately that may well result in damage to their precious building, which they just spent so much money restoring. Thirdly, it is too late for them to restore the trust they asked for. Fourthly, whatever tent they permit on their land will not be permitted by the City. They will lose any battle with the City about that. Fifthly, even if they allow a tent for a short period, it will be seen as their tent, not Occupy’s tent. Sixthly, St Paul’s Cathedral will be remembered for cheating on their promises. I would offer more advice but prefer to suggest instead that these people rest on the seventh and meditate on what they have done.