Occupy London: the eviction and the backlash

Protesters angered by apparent collusion of St Paul's with the police.

When Giles Fraser resigned as the Canon Chancellor of St Paul's last year it was, he said, because he could not face the prospect of "Dale Farm" on the steps of the Cathedral. But, to the protesters' credit, last night's eviction did not result in violence. Legal observers report that there were around 20 arrests but the majority of activists, who were given just five minutes' notice by bailiffs, complied peacefully with police orders.

On Twitter, Fraser, who was denied access to the site by police, has commented:

Of concern to activists is the apparent collusion of St Paul's with the eviction. Jonathan Bartley, the co-director of the Christian think-tank Ekklesia, has posted footage (see below) of police stating that the Cathedral gave them permission to clear the steps. The protesters lost their legal right to remain earlier this month but there are some who feel that St Paul's should have stood with them in peaceful resistance.

Meanwhile, Occupy London has issued a press release declaring that "plans are already afoot: plans of some ambition, employing a diversity of tactics and delivered with the aplomb you would expect from us."

The key paragraphs read:

This morning, the City of London Corporation and St Paul's Cathedral have dismantled a camp and displaced a small community, but they will not derail a movement. The attention given to the final hours of the Occupy London Stock Exchange site is testament to that. We would like to thank all those who got the word out on social and traditional media overnight. We are deeply appreciative of the sustained attention we have received; it's all the more precious at absurd hours of the morning.

The natural question to rush to in these moments is "what next?" In the short term, there will be a GA at 7pm on Tuesday by the steps of St Paul's. In the medium term, it is only right that people will need time to rest, reflect and recharge, to take stock and learn the lessons of the past four and a half months. But be assured that plans are already afoot: plans of some ambition, employing a diversity of tactics and delivered with the aplomb you would expect from us. All will be revealed in time. May is one of our favourite months.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.