From an Arab spring to a new English winter of discontent?

November 10, 2011

By Mark Kobayashi-Hillary. The author is the chief executive of technology research group, IT Decisions, based in São Paulo, Brazil. The opinions expressed are his own.

Labour leader Ed Miliband used a column in last weekend’s Observer newspaper to suggest that it is time for politicians to listen to the protestors at the Occupy London protest camp next to St Paul’s Cathedral.

In a clunking attempt to align the Labour party with the views of the protestors, Miliband seems to have lost the plot. He might want to cast aside any party allegiance, just for a moment, as he reads the home page of the protesters in London.

In stark contrast to the glossy flyers and gushing prose handed out to Labour party campaigners in the run-up to an election, the manifesto of the protestors runs to just 52 words:

“Occupy London stands together with occupations all over the world; we are the 99 percent. We are a peaceful, non-hierarchical forum. We’re in agreement that the current system is undemocratic and unjust. We need alternatives; you are invited to join us in debate and developing them; to create a better future for everyone.”

Two important statements leap out from this text: the system is undemocratic and unjust and you are invited to join us in debate.

The protestors don’t believe that the present system of parliamentary democracy, stuffed with lawyers and Bullingdon Club alumni arguing the toss in Westminster, really represents the country anymore. And they freely admit to not having all the answers.

This latter point has been the stick used to metaphorically beat the protestors by many. Not only is there no list of demands, but any normal person with a family, job, and mortgage to pay wouldn’t be loitering around the City pavements for weeks on end.

It is easy for Ed Miliband to make conference speeches that talk of ‘producers’ and ‘predators’ — veering to the left of the New Labour project and bringing back some of those who felt excluded when Labour went all centrist. But does the real world care for alliterative metaphors when they have no job security, no opportunities to improve, and basically no future?

And anyway, who attends party conferences these days? I’ve been to a few in my time and found them just a whirlwind of parties and irrelevant debates sponsored by lobbyists and big business. The predators have already eaten the producer’s lunch and left for sunnier climes.

What the Occupy movement is trying to say to the politicians is that their time is drawing to an end — they are the dinosaurs of society. It is not conference speeches bashing the policies of the Prime Minister and his deputy that are needed. It is not tinkering about with the constitution of the House of Lords that is needed. It is not even newspaper columns pledging allegiance to the protestors that is needed.

The people of Britain started to make their views known very clearly this summer when the cities boiled over into riots that had apparently no cause — and were spuriously blamed on career criminals.

The style of politics we have shaped over the past century and the shady business practices that ensure immense wealth for a few are all going to have to change. The people have had enough.

The Harvard dropout Mark Zuckerberg may well have done a lot more than just invent an incredibly efficient way to share information and monitor what your friends and family are up to — better known as Facebook.

Perhaps he has built the initial framework on which twenty-first century democracy is going to be based. Social networks have enabled political change across several intransigent Arab and North African states. Our own ideas of how representative democracy should work will not last much longer if our elected leaders are so far removed from the life of their electorate – and Occupy has already realised that transparency and information sharing is what the people want.

Are we moving from the Arab spring to a new English winter of discontent?

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