An Open Letter to the St Paul’s Protesters

What is the significance so far of "Occupy LSX"?

Dear protesters,

I will be sorry to see you go. I work in the City of London, and I have walked past your tents most days since you camped in the churchyard of St Paul's Cathedral. Anyone who knows the area around the Cathedral will appreciate that you have not been any genuine obstruction. Indeed, one almost has to go out of one's way to be obstructed by you. No one walking from, say, Ludgate Hill, or St Paul's Tube, or from the Millennium Bridge is impeded. Your stay has made no real difference to the coming and goings of the City workers in that part of the City.

But you are now to be evicted. Your removal is inevitable, unless there is some unexpected intervention. The immediate environs of the Cathedral will return to their boring relative emptiness. The Cathedral itself will revert to its role as offering a peaceful and reflective place for tourists to be financially exploited for visiting what is sometimes a place of worship. The Dean and Chapter can again maximise their revenues without any worry of the protesters outside.

The bailiffs and the police may now come at any time, probably within the next few days. The City Of London's press officer refused to tell me exactly when. Will it be later today, I asked, but he said he would not speculate. So have the bailiffs already been, I then asked mischievously, and he still would not speculate. All one knows is that you have to remove your camp in a reasonable amount of time.

If the City is going to be sensible in the eviction operation, it should evict you during daylight. That makes it safer for everyone. And they should do it when there are few commuters, office workers, and tourists about; again, to minimise risk to third parties. For these reasons, I suspect eviction will probably be at the weekend. And coming in at dawn will perhaps mean few will be prepared to argue back or obstruct: sleepy-heads are relatively easy to evict.

On the other hand, the City may like the drama of a night-time eviction, or the media coverage of a week-day eviction, regardless of the safety of those who may be caught up. However, no one really knows.

Should you resist? Well, it is a decision for each of you. There is no genuine prospect of you defeating the coercive force which may be used against you. Your resistance, as they say, would be futile. And it would be a pity if there was any confrontation; the "Occupy" movement is about engagement, not violence. Marching off together at an time of your own choosing, with a brass band or something similar, would be a more fitting conclusion to your stay in the churchyard. And this is because you do have something to celebrate.

I understand you did not intend to camp outside the Cathedral. The target of the occupation was originally elsewhere in the City. But by choosing the Cathedral as a second or third resort, you unintentionally created a remarkable circumstance. Within days most of the cathedral clergy were shown up as buffoons, closing this great building on dramatic but spurious health and safety grounds before sheepishly re-opening. The undemocratic and opaque Corporation were forced to a decision to evict you in a bizarre closed session, demonstrating their contempt for transparency. Just by staying put you shoved those in power into uncomfortable and telling predicaments. It was refreshing to see how things were thrown into the air.

And you have been decent and polite throughout your stay. The camp has applied health and safety measures which show a genuine care for yourselves and those who could be affected by you. There has been sincere and often constructive engagement on various issues with bankers, lawyers and other City workers. You have been a standing reminder that the force of capitalism may not be what its champions say it is. In my opinion, you have been a useful if colourful corrective to the arrogance and financial vandalism of many who work in the Square Mile.

Nonetheless, you failed to convince the High Court and the Court of Appeal that your camp should stay in breach of the laws of the highway and of planning. That was unfortunate, as it was possibly open to the judges to say that a significant and influential protest like yours was just the sort of thing that Article 10 of the ECHR is there to protect against the indifferent enforcement of statute law. However, your arguments were presented and heard, even the contentions that smacked of complete legal woo-woo ("heirs of Magna Carta") were considered. But you lost. Of course, you may wish now to be civilly disobedient and take on the bailiffs. As long as you realise the consequences, it is a course you may like to take; but remember the Rule of Law is precarious and a valuable public good, for without it the powerful can abuse the power which they have, and you do not.

So the camp will soon disappear, but the ideals of "Occupy" will perhaps linger in the City of London. You have shown that anti-capitalistic and other progressive protests do not have to be one-day wonders with violent disorder and breathless commentary, but that they can be patient and respectful even in the face of those which you say are destroying our society and our planet. For a short while, you were even the "Shock of the New", causing some well-paid managers to make the first difficult decisions of their careers.

Your immediate shock value has now gone. It would be nice if you could stay a while longer as a reminder that capitalism gets things badly wrong. But the great achievement of "Occupy LSX" was never the physical camp. It was the realisation that those in power can be wrong-footed, and that their bullshit can be exposed, by those who are serious and thoughtful about promoting a better world. This can be done anywhere, and not just in a churchyard of a Cathedral.

David Allen Green is a City lawyer as well as legal correspondent of the New Statesman

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman and author of the Jack of Kent blog.

His legal journalism has included popularising the Simon Singh libel case and discrediting the Julian Assange myths about his extradition case.  His uncovering of the Nightjack email hack by the Times was described as "masterly analysis" by Lord Justice Leveson.

David is also a solicitor and was successful in the "Twitterjoketrial" appeal at the High Court.

(Nothing on this blog constitutes legal advice.)

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Theresa May's big thinker - an interview with George Freeman

The Conservative policy board chair on the meaning of Brexit, state intervention and whether "Mayism" exists.

Theresa May’s three months as Prime Minister have been marked by ruthless changes of both personnel and policy, from grammar schools to fiscal targets. The man tasked with overseeing the latter is George Freeman, a newly bearded 49-year-old who jokingly describes himself as “a designated thinker”.

“It’s a huge privilege,” Freeman told me when we met recently in Westminster. “As [May] has indicated, she’s determined to open up the policymaking process to good ideas from a much wider pool.”

After entering parliament as the MP for Mid Norfolk in 2010, Freeman distinguished himself as one of the most intellectually energetic Tory MPs. He founded the 2020 group of Conservative modernisers and became the first ever life sciences minister in 2014. Before this, he had worked for 15 years as a biotech entrepreneur.

Politics is in his blood. The Liberal prime minister William Gladstone was his great-great-great-uncle and Mabel Philipson, the first female Conservative MP, his great-aunt. Yet Freeman attributes his reformist zeal to the belief that “with privilege comes responsibility”. He boarded at Radley College after his parents, both alcoholics, divorced and has spoken of his “emotionally damaged” childhood.

It is unsurprising that May, confronted by the greatest policy challenge since 1945 – EU withdrawal – has called on his services. The chair of the Prime Minister’s policy board, to give Freeman his official title, was a passionate Remainer but told me “we are now all Brexiteers”. The “Brexit roar”, he explained, was “a mixture of very deeply felt concerns and complaints about globalisation, powerlessness and the growing gap between London and [other] places . . .

“There’s an understanding that if we simply delivered Brexit, and didn’t tackle the rest, we would only have dealt with some of the problem.”

His ambition was “to do for our generation what Disraeli did in the 19th century, in understanding that the extraordinarily challenging pace of franchise extension was also a huge opportunity to harness and fashion a New Model Conservative Party”.

Besides abandoning the surplus target (“to boost growth and investment in infrastructure”), Freeman cited welfare policy as a point of departure. The government would “better differentiate” between changes in the welfare budget and systemic reform – a division that May believes was eroded by George Osborne.

The Prime Minister underlined her commitment to industrial strategy by naming a new department after it. But what does it mean? “I think there is a recognition that we are embracing something unrecognisable from the failed ‘beer and sandwiches’ interventionism of the Sixties and Seventies,” Freeman said. “Twenty-first-century Conservative industrial strategy is about backing our science, innovation and knowledge economy, and other sectors where we have serious global leadership.” He spoke of “stepping in where only the state can”, citing the publicly funded Diamond Light Source synchrotron facility, which he recently visited with the astronaut Tim Peake. The government must be not merely “pro-enterprise”, but “more enterprising”.

May has endured her heaviest dissent over education, and Freeman was notably lukewarm about the idea of new grammar schools. “As well as her position” on the latter, he emphasised, “the Prime Minister set out a much broader vision”. Asked whether he understood MPs’ objections to academic selection, he said “there will be all the usual consultation and discussions through parliament about specific measures”.

The Prime Minister has entered office with greater ideological definition to her thinking than David Cameron, who struggled to reconcile his early vision with austerity. Can we speak of “Mayism”? “I’m not sure the ‘ism’ is helpful or appropriate at this stage. The Prime Minister is very strongly driven by her conservative values, and converting those values into effective policies to tackle the challenges we face. I think we have to wait for the judgement of history to define the ism.”

Freeman is close to “DC” (as he calls Cameron) and praised his premiership. “I was very sorry to see him go. But in the end, given the way the referendum turned out, it was inevitable. I thought he handled that whole last week in the most exemplary way: typical of the man. In time, I think he will come to be recognised as a transformational leader who brought the Conservative Party to terms with modern Britain.”

He rejected the former education secretary Nicky Morgan’s suggestion that May would struggle to “reach into” the marginal seats that the Tories won under Cameron. “Theresa May is appealing widely across whole swaths of the country as a One-Nation leader,” he declared.

With the re-election of Jeremy Corbyn, Freeman said, “the centre ground of British politics, once dominated by Blair and New Labour, has been vacated . . . That is a huge opportunity for a One-Nation Conservative Party to demonstrate our relevance beyond our core vote to those around the country who have clearly felt so marginalised.”

Corbyn’s triumph “illustrates the extraordinary challenge for mainstream political parties in this age of asymmetric, post-Brexit politics . . . We now have to use the opportunity of incumbency in government to tackle the root causes of the insurgency that has taken out the Labour Party.”

Freeman acknowledged the risk that Labour’s divisions would produce an internal Tory opposition.

“It also creates a question for the Conservative Party. Will we turn in on ourselves and generate our own arguments, or unite and reach out into the space that Corbyn has vacated?” 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 29 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, May’s new Tories