Pardon me for being somewhat sceptical about the motives of students jumping on the ‘burn the bankers’ bandwagon. Perhaps those who, having ‘found themselves’ during a spiritual gap year in the Amazon, become a vegan, and decided that religion is “all relative man”, don’t feel they’ve done enough to conform to the student stereotype. Unless you’ve been living under a rock (one of those that hasn’t been hurled through Sir Fred Goodwin’s house window) you’ll be aware that our University campus has been quite ‘political’ of late. The student activism box on our stereotype checklist has been ticked with a large red pen. Whether it’s our open deploring of Israel and general letting off of Hamas, or our disgust at the University’s investment in our arms companies, we seem to have shown that we’re able to shout pretty loudly.
There is one problem with these large, loud protests: they aren’t really suited to those expressing more moderate views. The rallying cry of “Burn the bankers!” that we’ve heard in London today has a bit more of a ring to it than “conduct an independent inquiry into actions of executives and revise regulatory frameworks for our institutions!” The latter has problem with the word count – it’s too long, not punchy enough… perhaps its best just to burn the bankers and avoid being long-winded.
We’ve all heard about protests on campus which are normally over genuinely controversial issues. Given all the rhetoric, the excitement, and the chance to talk to the cute dreadlocked protester that you’ve been ogling at in seminars, it’s easy to get sucked in and join whichever camp happens to be protesting. Choosing between going to a vector calculus lecture or joining the nearest excited throng to further your credentials as a ‘politically active student’ seems like a no-brainer – whether you actually care or know anything about the cause might sometimes be a secondary consideration.
The temptation is also there, perhaps even more so, in London. I wonder about how seriously these protests should be taken – do they reflect the attitudes of those with genuine, well informed political opinions? I don’t doubt that some people are genuine. I do, however, think we should avoid underestimating the ease with which people can get seduced by these demonstrations. In a big crowd no one is going to cross question you about the details of the issue, you’re at the centre of the action, you get a great story to tell to your friends, and you might even get a chance to pretend that you’re humping a fellow protester as a BBC reporter broadcasts live beside you. You can’t lose.
Will these protests make any difference to G20 decisions? Probably not. Maybe there’ll be a slight compromise – perhaps the singeing of Adam Applegarth’s toes. But, on a serious note, I remain sceptical about how happy these people would be if their demands were actually met – especially those who call themselves ‘anarchists’. Being an anarchist is probably a bit of laugh but I’m sure that living in an anarchist society is much less fun than being an anarchist in a capitalist society. Still, as the anarchist movement has no real chance of having its demands met I guess it’s all good from their perspective – they may as well enjoy all the perks of a good old protest.
What’s the figure now? 4000 protesters? Let’s take this statistic with a pinch of salt. We shouldn’t kid ourselves about how people just came along for the ride.