Are you ready for the revolution? Because it’s happening. It’s happening today! Can you smell it in the air? Can you feel it in the wind?
No, me neither.
However, a group is currently gathering in Paternoster Square in the City of London with the stated intention of kicking…. something off. The organisers of Occupy London Stock Exchange (#OccupyLSX), inspired by the ongoing Occupy Wall Street campaign in New York, are planning to, well, occupy the London Stock Exchange and, erm, I think that’s about the extent of their planning.
Just a couple of problems with this. Firstly, it’s a Saturday so the stock exchange will be closed. Even rapacious capital markets stop for the weekend to allow bankers to gather their thoughts before continuing their pernicious campaign to hold us all in financial slavery again on Monday morning. Secondly, the London Stock Exchange doesn’t really perform the function that I suspect a lot of these demonstrators think it does. It’s an administrative headquarters so, while it no doubt has symbolic value and is certainly the centralised hub of all London share trading, ‘occupying’ it wouldn’t really be very disruptive given that all trading is screen-based and takes place inside the premises of the individual banks and brokers. Perhaps the organisers are expecting to see hundreds of traders, wearing jackets, waving bits of paper and shouting at each other. And they would see this, if they were also able to invent a time machine and visit the old stock exchange prior to October 1986, when the ‘Big Bang‘ ended open-cry equity trading in London.
There is also the problem that Paternoster Square is privately owned and entirely paved. So good luck getting settled and even better luck creating a campsite. I’m not sure how many people are turning out today but they are likely to be greeted (and possibly outnumbered) by bemused tourists visiting St. Paul’s Cathedral. Still, there is a Sainsbury’s next door, plus a Pret a Manger and Starbucks, etc. I’m sure they’ll appreciate the extra weekend revenue.
I’m not entirely unsympathetic to the sentiment behind this gathering. I can fully appreciate why people are angry with the banks, the state of the economy, the scarcity of jobs, the imminent cuts in public spending, the fragility of the entire economic system in fact. But as is so often the case in such demonstrations, beyond the intended (and childish) stunt of occupying the London Stock Exchange, there is barely any coherence in their stated aims, targets or – crucially – any viable alternative proposed. The extent of the argument seems to be: the banks were bailed out, ‘bankers’ still pay themselves obscene bonuses, normal people are suffering so…. we’ll gather here for a bit and maybe Billy Bragg (or, even worse, Penny Red) will say a few words and then, oh, let’s see what happens.
The near-collapse of the banking system and the subsequent economic fallout was largely caused by reckless lending on the back of an unsustainable property boom, predominantly in the United States and particularly in the sub-prime market. These mortgages were then repackaged into complex financial instruments and sold all around the world, ensuring that when the property bubble burst, the contagion was spread all over the globe. Attempting to occupy the London Stock Exchange in retaliation does not even make symbolic sense as none of these products would have gone anywhere near it. But hey, it’s a financial centre and representative of capitalism and stuff so it’ll have to do.
It’s this lack of attention to detail, lack of understanding and lack of anything approaching a workable solution that makes this event so utterly futile. If you want further proof of this, have a read of the accompanying ‘manifesto‘ of the wider global movement which conflates first world anger about the recession with the democracy struggles raging in the Middle East.
If there’s going to be a revolution, these are the last people on earth that should be leading it.