I’ve never credited Britain’s right-wing commentators with much intelligence. They have the best education that money can buy and yet they’re still as thick as two short planks. If they aren’t thinking straight, then they’re making wilfully ignorant comments. Since OccupyLSX began outside St Paul’s Cathedral, the right has been desperately trying to second guess the movement. All attempts to do so have foundered. As a result, the organs of the right have retreated to their default position: smear the protesters.
In the last few days, the Daily Telegraph (a paper run by a pair of tax-dodging brothers who also own the small island of Brecqhou near Sark in the Channel Islands) has done its utmost to ensure the public (or at the least, the right wing fraction of the public) is made fully aware of what these people are getting up to… or so it thinks.
Tuesday, this blog appeared from David Hughes. In it, he regurgitates a smear story printed the same day in the Telegraph.
They’ve been rumbled. It turns out that the Occupy London Stock Exchange (OccupyLSX) protesters who have settled in St Paul’s Churchyard are not only not occupying the Stock Exchange – they are not even occupying their own tents. Our enterprising news reporters were there in the small hours with a thermal imaging camera and discovered that most of the tents were empty. The report and video are here. You can hardly blame the demonstrators for preferring a snug bed at home to a chilly night on paving slabs. But their empty tent policy raises an important question. Decades of terrorist threats have made most people in this country – and particularly in the capital – hyper-sensitive to the sight of a bag or suitcase left unattended. It’s normally only a matter of minutes before such items are whisked away by the police. So how come so many tents have been allowed to sit in the heart of London for so long without being removed, particularly now that we know that most are unoccupied?
So, it’s fine to invade people’s privacy for the sake of a smear story? This joker seems to think so. Let’s have a look at the ‘story’.
The camp forced St Paul’s to close for the first time since the Blitz and is costing local businesses thousands of pounds a day.
But footage shot by The Daily Telegraph on a thermal imaging camera appeared to show most of the dozens of tents in the cathedral churchyard were empty. And when the remaining protesters realised what The Telegraph was attempting to verify this, the mood turned ugly.
The site was quiet at around 12.30am with the faint smell of marijuana smoke in the air. A handful of police officers stood back on the fringes of the encampment.
First the authors of this piece repeat the same spiel about St Paul’s having to close for the first time since the Blitz. Notice how the word “Blitz” is used to evoke an image in the popular mind. But this image is connected to a particular memory of WWII. It was one that was evoked by Thatcher – much to her cost. One abiding image of the cathedral is often used to evoke this memory of the “Spirit of the Blitz” with this defiant building standing up to the Luftwaffe’s bombs when others could not.
Interestingly enough, although the cathedral’s dean told reporters that it had closed, it still went ahead with a planned wedding. Most historic buildings, if they have to charge anything at all for admission, will ask visitors to pay a small, often voluntary, charge. But, as we can see from St Pauls’ website, the charges are rather steep and it would interesting to find out exactly how many tourists visit the cathedral each week. When the charges were introduced, there was a public outcry. Yet, for some odd reason, this has been conveniently overlooked by the right wing press in order to make sure their smears stick. What this also shows us is how the Anglican Church is consumed with the same corporate greed as its neighbours. On this site, an American tourist complains that,
…this church has the audacity to charge £13.50 for a student ticket is simply ridiculous, especially considering how well-endowed the Anglican Church is. Cologne, Florence, Ravenna; nearly any cathedral on the continent can surpass what St. Paul’s offers, and without sucking your wallet dry at that.
This tourist is not alone either. Theo Hobson, in The Guardian’s Comment is Free wrote last year,
My reluctance to pay is not really a matter of meanness, but of principle. By excluding people, especially young people who are often time-rich but money-poor, and spiritually curious, the C of E is edging them away from a sense that England’s religious heritage is theirs – that it is not just for tourists, and not just for worshippers at actual services; it is also theirs to browse. And there’s another point: paying an entrance fee changes the nature of the visit. To pay is to make a tacit statement: that this is primarily a tourist-attraction, that its sacred function is secondary to this. Perhaps a little meanness is also involved, I admit.
I have had this problem before, getting into Anglican cathedrals built by the Catholic Church and purloined at the Reformation. They have no right to stop you (or anyone else) entering: simply refuse politely and go in. I know that buildings like this need maintaining. But I would almost certainly pay more than the entrance fee as a voluntary contribution, and I usually do. A notice suggesting a voluntary contribution, even specifying a recommended sum and with a desk there to collect the money (they could hand out a free guide or something to encourage people to give) would avoid this appalling and deeply secular tourist entrance fee.
Back to the article, the authors claim that there was a ” faint smell of marijuana smoke in the air”. This is a way of painting the occupiers as “unwashed hippies” and has a resonance with the right’s response to the protests of the 1960’s and 1970’s. It panders to the deeply-held prejudices of the ruling classes and their unwitting allies, who tell us that they “never protest”. The reason for that it is obvious: they hold the whip but tell them that and they’ll reply with gobbledigook. They also tell us that when the Torygraph snoopers started filming that the the “mood turned ugly”. The reason they say this is to insert a particular image in the public mind of an “enemy within” that needs to be vanquished by the police.
“OccupyLSX was surprised to hear the Telegraph and others reporting this morning that 90% of our tents are empty overnight,” the group said in a statement.
“This is simply not the case. While it is quite possible that not every tent is occupied every night, we try to keep vacancy to a minimum and operate a sign-in/sign-out system to help ensure this happens. The camp attracts thousands of people every day. We do not expect all the people who are expressed through this movement to be able to stay overnight.”
The Guardian also adds that,
Reports quoting the 10% occupancy rate appeared in the Times,Telegraph, Sun, and Daily Mail on Tuesday, apparently based on evidence gathered by a police helicopter equipped with thermal imaging cameras.
However, City of London police told the Guardian that they could not confirm nor deny the reports, saying only that neither details of the thermal imaging cameras nor the occupancy estimates had come from them.
The right wing press’s position is beginning to look threadbare. So far, all they have is a handful of smears and a cupful of baseless allegations.
This blogger alleges that St Paul’s Cathedral is effectively run by former Ye Olde Cittie of London bankers and a former City of London Mayor. Even if it isn’t the case, some readers will know that the City of London Corporation is run like a private fiefdom. I am tempted to say that this is the last vestige of feudalism in Britain but that would be inaccurate. It is, in effect, the last of the Rotten Boroughs as this blogger points out.
LM cultist and smear artist, Brendan O’Neill chimes in with this poorly-considered blog. He refers to the occupation as a “warped class war”. This, coming from a man whose own ‘libertarian’ ideas are questionable.
Occupy London does not speak for the 99 per cent or for the working man – on the contrary, it is more an expression of slacker disdain and organic-fuelled fury for the ethos of the ambitious working man
And praytell, how is that, Brendan? He doesn’t explain. Why? Because he’s only interested in twisting reality to conform to his warped ideas of the protests. He panders to his authoritarian readership. Scratch a right libertarian and you will always find a rabid authoritarian and neoliberal shill underneath.
Today Damian Thompson and Hon Tobes both wade in with a smear of the occupiers and Dr Giles Fraser, the canon chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral, who resigned from his post in protest at his bishop’s pandering to pressure to the Cittie parasites who practically run the cathedral. Hon Tobes’ piece is the more dishonest of the two. He claims that Fraser has cost the cathedral “hundreds of thousands of pound in lost revenue”, wilfully ignoring the fact that the admission price alone has been responsible for the decline in numbers visiting the place. The helmet-headed one opines,
Those traditional Anglicans who oppose gay marriage are “narrow-minded puritans seeking to impose their joyless and claustrophobic world-view on the rest of the church“. On it goes – no opportunity for Giles Fraser to air his Left-wing views in the media is ever neglected.
Of course, anyone who disagrees or does not share Hon Tobes’ world view is an “loony lefty”. It’s so pathetically easy, it hurts.
The proprietors of the Telegraph Group are the mysterious Barclay Brothers, who have recently bought Claridges and run their island of Brecqhou like feudal lords. But the tax free status of the Channel Islands isn’t enough for them and they have also claimed residency in tax-free Monaco. Er, come again?
The Barclay brothers own a big chunk of the media, including The Spectator magazine and The Telegraph Group.
Although they are considered philanthropists, having donated over £40 million to medical research, they are also tax exiles. The savings from not paying tax in the UK but Monaco, should more than cover that, and leave enough small change over to pay for a Channel island.
The Brothers own two very influential right wing organs, both of which are pledged to defend and apologise for excesses of casino capitalism. Therefore it’s fitting that they live in Monaco, the home of high-rollers and tax-dodging self-exiles.
The entrepreneurial siblings may hide themselves away in the Quinlan Terry designed, battlement surrounded, three feet deep walls of the Brecqhou mansion, but they give their address as 7 Avenue de Grande Bretagne, 98000 Monaco.
Avenue de Grande Bretagne, how cute… I’ll bet that makes them feel at home.
UPDATE @ 18.30
Just caught the end of a BBC News item on Giles Fraser and #OccupyLSX, which the reporter described as a “siege”.
The Guardian have an interview with Dr Fraser here. Apparently St Paul’s is reopening its doors thereby leaving it open to the charge of flip-flopping.
UPDATE: 29/10/11 @ 1807
You know that story in The Telegraph that claimed to use thermal imaging cameras to determine if people were sleeping in the tents at the #OccupyLSX camp at St Paul’s Cathedral? It turns out that you can’t tell if someone is in a tent or not by using thermal imaging. I don’t think the Torygraph will apologise for this blatant lie though. That’s a bit like expecting the Tories to be compassionate.
Here’s the video.