Melanie Phillips

24 October 2011

St Paul's under siege in anti-west war zone

Published in: Daily Mail

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Having survived one war zone in its history, St Paul’s Cathedral now finds itself under siege in another.

For the first time since the Blitz, this soaring emblem of British stoicism has had to shut its doors to the public for religious services.

At the weekend, a bride and groom had to slip in through its back door to be married because the main entrance of St Paul’s has become the front  line in a so-called war against capitalism.

Anti-capitalist demonstrators have set up a tented city in front of its steps. The cathedral’s authorities say the size of this encampment poses such a fire risk and threat to public health that they’ve had no alternative but to close.

The events leading up to the closure of this iconic cathedral surely encapsulate the profound moral discombobulation of our times — and none more discombobulated, it would appear, than the comically naive clerics of the Church of England.

To begin with, they welcomed the demonstrators with open arms. The (otherwise impressive) Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s, Dr Giles Fraser, said he supported the right to peaceful protest and even asked the police, who had arrived to protect the building, to depart.

If this had been an ordinary demonstration, such a generous gesture would have presented no problems. After all, the right to peaceful protest is embedded in the ancient tradition of British liberty.

Moreover, the ostensible cause being championed appeared to be dear to Christian hearts. As the Dean of St Paul’s himself said, there was something  profound about a gathering of those  concerned about poverty facing the great dome of this cathedral church.

Oh dear. The gathering announced that it intended to take up permanent residence on the cathedral steps and made clear that the interests of anyone else or society in general could go hang.

Faced with the inescapable collision of lofty Christian ideals with the basics of public hygiene, the cathedral authorities abruptly went into reverse gear and pleaded with the demonstrators to leave.

To no avail. For this is no ordinary demonstration but part of a global phenomenon — a snowballing series of tented anti-capitalist protests in cities around the world.

Starting with New York demonstrations against Wall Street, the ‘Occupy’ movement, as it has become known, purports to model itself on the ‘Arab Spring’ protest in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

This in itself should surely have sounded a few alarm bells. For in Tahrir Square, the Egyptian masses courageously took on a tyrannical regime — many of the protesters desperate for the kind of freedom that can only be guaranteed by Western capitalism.

Yet, absurdly, our Western demonstrators are protesting against the very system that gives them the freedom to protest in the first place.

Even more ludicrously, the St Paul’s demonstrators have been recharging their mobile phones at that temple of Mammon, Starbucks, receiving donations from wealthy sympathisers and eating delicacies prepared by a professional Italian chef. Is this not all the most arrant humbug?

What’s more, given the fact that the ‘Arab Spring’ protesters are horrifically deprived of the freedom and material comforts that are indissolubly bound up with capitalism, the placards at St Paul’s declaring that global commerce is ‘our global Mubarak’, ‘our global Assad’ and ‘our global Gaddafi’ are nothing short of obscene.

The ‘Occupy’ protests are also totally incoherent. The St Paul’s demonstrators, for example, rejoice in the title ‘Occupy the London Stock Exchange’. Yet they are camped out instead in front of a cathedral — on the feeble basis that this was as close to the Stock Exchange as they could get.

But can the demonstrators actually tell the difference between the one and the other? The truth is that their pathological obsession with capitalism causes them to spy its conspiratorial hidden hand behind just about everything on the planet, including the poor old cathedral.

Thus one protester, dismissing the cathedral’s health and safety concerns, observed darkly: ‘There are money men behind all this, pulling the strings.’ So much for the church’s own concern about poverty that initially led it to embrace the protest!

Nor is it clear against precisely what the tented ones are protesting. For their causes seem to multiply by the minute, including such disparate grievances as the eviction of the Dale Farm travellers, climate change and NHS reforms.

A clue to the vacuousness of such protests was surely to be found in the placards brandished on Wall Street declaring: ‘Occupy everything’. The words ‘asinine’ and ‘infantile’ spring irresistibly to mind.

As for their principal target, the bankers, much of the fault for the financial crisis surely lay in a failure of regulation — in the UK, by the Financial Services Agency and the Treasury. But ‘hold Whitehall to account’ doesn’t have the same ring as ‘bankers are evil’.

The idea that this supremely self-indulgent exercise is a spontaneous protest by ordinary people is also wide of the mark. The similarity of these worldwide tent cities suggests that a high degree of co-ordination is involved.

This is because, among those on the Far Left, there is a giddy belief that capitalism is in its death throes and all that is needed is a bit of a kick in the gut to finish it off.

We saw this emerge with the now wearisomely predictable anti-globalisation protests, and even in the riots and looting this summer in British cities.

The ‘Occupy’ tent cities are but the latest manifestation, taking full manipulative advantage of our precious right to freedom of expression. Such freedom, however, can be abused. Is it really a God-given right to turn the beautiful, historic space of St Paul’s Churchyard enjoyed by millions into a squalid eyesore and a threat to public health?

Strikingly, however, public reaction to this encampment has been largely sympathetic. Passers-by actually say they think it adds to the significance of the cathedral.

What they appear to mean is that they support any protests against bankers and rich people — and also because the demonstrations by-pass the established political process. The immediate reason for that is the widespread and dangerous disillusionment with the entire political class, which has given rise to a kind of insurrectionary enthusiasm for direct action.

There is, however, surely a deeper cause still — the West’s predominant ‘culture of sentimentality’. What this does is privilege emotion over reason, leading people credulously to mistake exterior show for substance. So when the public see protesters ostensibly campaigning against greed and to alleviate poverty, they suspend their normal scepticism and allow heart to win over head.

Such sentimentality entails the eclipse of rational and principled thinking by a spasm of emotion that disconnects people from true moral judgments and prevents them from holding the right people to account for their behaviour.

Today, this has given rise to an ugly scapegoating of bankers and the wealthy — with precious little difference between this seething hatred and what extreme Left-wing agitators have been declaring for decades.

Accordingly, what the ‘Occupy’ protests across the world tell us is that — just as some of us have been warning for years —the erosion of democratic legitimacy and the steady disintegration of moral authority across the board will inevitably give rise to the fracturing of social order.

From the windows smashed by anti-globalisation protesters to the torched city neighbourhoods of Britain to the occupation of the approach to St Paul’s, we are witnessing the rise of mob rule by the spoiled children of the very society they are so determined to destroy. 

About Melanie

Melanie Phillips is a British journalist and author. She is best known for her controversial column about political and social issues which currently appears in the Daily Mail. Awarded the Orwell Prize for journalism in 1996, she is the author of All Must Have Prizes, an acclaimed study of Britain's educational and moral crisis, which provoked the fury of educationists and the delight and relief of parents.

Read full biography

Books

  • The World Turned Upside Down
  • Londonistan
  • The Ascent of Woman
  • America's Social Revolution

Contact Melanie

Melanie Phillips
Daily Mail
Northcliffe House
2 Derry Street
London W8 5TT

Contact Melanie