It’s no surprise that bankers ♥ Occupy

Having won praise from the church and media, now conformist Occupy is fawned over by the Bank of England.

Tom Bailey

Topics Politics

A top Bank of England (BoE) official has become one of the latest public figures (that is, people that would actually qualify as the ‘one per cent’ in terms of power) to endorse the Occupy movement. Following in the footsteps of US president Barack Obama, UK Labour leader Ed Miliband, and Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank, Andrew Haldane – the BoE’s executive director for financial stability – has praised the rag-tag band of political campers for being morally right.

In a speech this week, Haldane said: ‘Occupy has been successful in its efforts to popularise the problems of the global financial system for one very simple reason; they are right.’ As a result, the ‘bankster’, as Occupy would call him, has endorsed calls for increased bank regulation and reform and expressed dismay at the inequality in contemporary society.

So, has Occupy succeeded in enforcing radical change? Has the movement hailed as the return of popular left-wing politics managed to convince bankers, those people Karl Marx once called the ‘committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie’, that capitalism is doomed? Are we now seeing those cold nights the Occupiers spent camping outside St Paul’s paying off?

Hardly. In the Bank of England’s endorsement of some Occupiers’ demands for bank regulation, what we can really see is just how unradical and conformist Occupy always was. Or at least the wing of Occupy that is being listened to – after all, Occupy was always a ‘diverse’ movement, encompassing left-over left-wing groups like the Socialist Workers Party, Ron Paul-style ‘libertarians’ raging against the central banks, concerned environmentalists unhappy with consumerism, wingnut conspiracy theorists banging on about alternative explanations for 7/7, and soft lefties often to be found reading the New Statesman.

From the smorgasbord of political views and ideologies that make up Occupy, the only ideas it appears to be identified with in public are worries over inequality and the need to regulate banks. But these are hardly radical ideas. Far from it.

The need for increased banking regulation, for instance, has been argued for by many in positions of power, including: the UK Lib-Con coalition government; Ed Miliband; heads of states in both European countries and in the US. And so mainstream is the desire to ‘tackle inequality’ that it proved to be the centrepiece of Obama’s State of the Union address earlier this year. Elsewhere, both UK prime minister David Cameron and his opposite number Miliband have been battling it out to see who can be most opposed to inequality. Angst over income gaps is now a feature of virtually every stripe of political discourse.

So while Occupy might fancy itself as radical, the fact is that the only ideas and concerns it seems to have generated are rather conventional ones. Occupy styled itself as a sort of umbrella organisation, and refused to put across what the left used to call ‘concrete demands’. Instead, it expressed little more than a general indignation at the way things are.

It seems that a lack of any real and serious idea about how fundamentally to change the world left Occupy hamstrung from the start. This lack of vision, the failure to put forward any real alternative to the present state of affairs, combined with the conscious refusal to define itself as a movement, meant that the meagre intellectual legacy of Occupy was vague and inoffensive: the banks need reform and wouldn’t it be nice if people were more equal. These are ideas which all but the most back-benched of Tory MPs seem to agree with.

So why has the BoE launched a semi-official attempt to pander to Occupy? The answer would appear to lie in the BoE’s own institutional confusion. Unable to act with any semblance of a mandate, or sense of purpose, the BoE has sought to leech some popular authority from Occupy. It can then say that it is listening to, and acting in accordance with, the interests of ‘the 99 per cent’.

Between Occupy and the BoE, it is a mutually beneficial and parasitical relationship. Haldane’s endorsement of Occupy’s seeming mission allows the residue of the Occupy movement to talk proudly of its impact and legacy. And in return, the BoE receives what look likes radical, popular endorsement of its regulatory proposals.

Tom Bailey is a history undergraduate at University College London and a columnist for spiked. Visit his personal website here. Follow him on Twitter: @tbaileybailey

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Topics Politics


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