'Occupy' Protestors Slam 'Charade' British Democracy
Protestors who have been camping outside St Paul's Cathedral in London for two weeks vowed on Friday to fight any attempt to evict them as representatives of the City of London approved a legal bid to remove them and the cathedral suffered its second resignation since the start of the protest.
The decision to take legal action against the protestors, who have been camped to the side of St Paul’s Cathedral since October 15th as part of the “Occupy” global campaign, which started on Wall Street, came as the doors to the Cathedral reopened for the first time since last Friday.
Later on Friday St Paul's Cathedral suffered its second resignation. Fraser Dyer, curate of St Peter De Beauvoir Town, London and a chaplain at the cathedral - one of many London clergy who give half a day a month to being the priest available to the cathedral's visitors, and to leading prayers - submitted his resignation to Michael Colclough, Canon Pastor of the cathedral in protest at the legal action being taken against the demonstrators.
Dyer's resignation follows that of the Cannon Chancellor of St Paul’s, Giles Fraser, who said on Thursday he could not condone the legal action being taken against the protest camp or the possible use of force to evict the protestors.
The Corporation of London – the executive arm of the City of London - had initially intended to hold a public meeting to discuss what action, if any, it should take against the camp of around 200 tents.
But when around 60 protestors arrived at the meeting in the Guildhall building in the heart of London's financial district, a motion was put forward to close the meeting to the public. While the motion was resisted by four members of the committee, 12 voted in favor of asking the public to leave, to cries of “ridiculous” from several protestors.
One asked to make a statement to the committee but was denied. He went on to do so anyway, telling committee members the protest was peaceful and that the protestors had the right to be heard.
What followed was a momentary standoff as protestors refused to leave the Guildhall and demanded a valid reason for their removal from the proceedings before reluctantly agreeing to leave the building.
Anger and Disappointment
Most of the protestors then congregated outside to wait for an announcement of any decision. Several expressed anger and disappointment at not being allowed to participate in the proceedings.
“I’m not entirely shocked but I’m very disappointed," Mike Griffin, one of the protestors and a housing resident’s association manager from North London told CNBC.com.
"As members of the British public we have the right to have our say, we’re not doing this in any kind of riotous fashion, it is a very peaceful protest and we were told by the chairman of the meeting that we were welcome to come. British democracy is a charade today,” Griffin added.
Answering the Mayor of London’s recent comment that the protestors had “made their point”, Griffin said he didn’t believe the demonstrators had succeeded in making their views clear and complained the media portrayed them “as a rabble with nothing much to say.”
“Yet there is everything to say about corporatization of everything and how the government of our country is supporting the corporatization of our world and how everybody seems to be controlled by the banks, their whole lives from the day they are born to the day they die seems to be in the hands of the banks," he said.
"The banks themselves make a whole lot of money and they pay themselves massive bonuses based on the money the public have been putting into the banks and the public are supposed to take that,” he added.
Griffin said the demonstrators were not obstructing people wanting to go into St Paul's cathedral, something London Mayor Boris Johnson had said they were doing.
“That is the exact opposite of the truth and the fact of the matter is if Jesus were alive today, whose side do you think he would be on? He’d be sitting outside in the camp with us, outside St Pauls,” he said.
Offer to Mediate
Several protestors made the point that they had offered to have discussions with both the Cathedral and the Corporation of London but that neither had been willing to enter into dialogue with them. They added that civil rights organization Liberty had offered to mediate in any discussions between the Occupy London Stock Exchange protest group and the Cathedral and Corporation.
“The ball is very much in the Corporation of London’s court now. We have demonstrated that we are reasonable people that we wish to engage with them in a constructive manner and more than that that Liberty is willing to facilitate those discussions," Naomi Colvin, a spokeswoman for Occupy London Stock Exchange told CNBC.com.
Protestors Prepared For Legal Battle
"They may not like talking to us, they may not see us as serious people but Liberty, even for the Corporation of London, must count as serious people. So we are looking forward to their response and look forward very much to getting into a room with them and talking through our problems as really should be the solution,” Colvin said.
She added the land the protestors were occupying was jointly owned by St Paul’s Cathedral and the Corporation of London.
“The Cathedral owns part of the land and the Corporation owns the other part and the division of that land, that border, is indistinct. So in order to take any legal action against us the Cathedral and the Corporation have to act together. So you are free to speculate what pressure the Corporation may or may not have been putting on the Cathedral,” she said.
Representatives of St' Paul's cathedral said in a statement Friday afternoon that legal action had become "regrettably necessary" as they had asked the protestors to leave and they refused.
"The Chapter only takes this step with the greatest reluctance and remains committed to a peaceful solution," the church said in the statement.
Colvin said the protestors had expected the Corporation to begin legal proceedings but she believed that the protestors' offer to hold discussions and the Corporation’s refusal to meet with the protestors could be “pretty damaging to them legally so they should think very carefully about what they do.”
The protestors also vowed to hold up any legal proceedings in court, suggesting that even the Corporation did not believe it would be able to get an injunction or an eviction order before Christmas.
“They may try to seek an eviction order. But even the Corporation of London don’t think they’ll be able to get an injunction, this is going to be a long, drawn-out legal battle," Colvin said.
"The Corporation is itself an undemocratic unaccountable body. Nobody knows who these people are or how they’re selected and they will come under enormous scrutiny and their decision making processes will come under enormous scrutiny and I’ve got a funny feeling that’s not what they want,” she added.
At around 11:30am London time, a press spokesman for the Corporation came to the entrance to the Guildhall where the protestors were assembled, telling the awaiting crowd a statement would be published by the Corporation at midday further angering the protestors by failing to speak to them. Several of the committee members were seen exiting the Guildhall from a different door in order to avoid the protestors.
In the statement Michael Welbank, deputy chairman of the Corporation’s planning and transport committee, said: “Protest is an essential right in a democracy – but camping on the highway is not and we believe we will have a strong highways case because an encampment on a busy thoroughfare clearly impacts the rights of others.”
Stuart Fraser, the City of London Corporation’s chairman of policy and resources, added: “We have no problem with a peaceable 24-hour protest by people without tents – provided the highway is fully usable – but campsites and important highways don’t mix.”
Earlier in the day Prime Minister David Cameron, in Australia attending a Commonwealth heads of government meeting, said he was very concerned about the continuing protest camp.
"It is a key national site, it's a key tourist site and it's very important in the whole history and psyche of our country," Cameron said. "I hope that it can be resolved with the authorities. The Church, mayor, police, Home Office, everyone can work together to make sure it [reopens]."
Later on Friday came the news of Frazer Dyer's resignation. In his resignation letter Dyer expressed disappointment and embarrassment at the announcement that St Paul's would instigate legal proceedigs.
"It is particularly poignant that this announcement comes on the day that IDS [Incomes Data Services] report an increase in top directors' pay of almost 50 percent over the last year. I appreciate that St Paul's has its own means of speaking to the issue of corporate and financial conduct in the City, but am sorry that a way could not be found of - at the very least - continuing to thole the occupation of the precinct by those with a genuine and prophetic complaint that has much in keeping with the values of the gospel," he said in the letter.
"I do not relish the prospect of having to defend the cathedral's position in the face of the inevitable questions that visitors to St Paul's will pose in the coming weeks and months, particularly if we are to see protestors forcibly removed by police at the Dean and Chapter's behest."