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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Well said!

Voting in an election these days has become the old Hobsons choice of which lot will muck it up the least. A total waste of time.

But the status quo cannot continue.

The ponzi scheme that was western capitalism has collapsed, and those at the top have shown their true colours by offloading their losses onto the tax payer while they continue to sip champagne, if not actually make more money.

I am one of those people who has a family to support and a mortgage to pay, if I didn’t, I’d be at St Pauls or Finsbury Square.

I don’t want what they’ve got, this isn’t the politics of envy. I just want to be able to live without the constant stress of whether I’ll be able to pay my mortgage and keep my house next month.

Posted by Zed0 | Report as abusive

At last, a serious discussion forum!!! I can’t wait to start the meaty chunks !!

I’ll just share with all of you you this link: uare-an-online-platform-for-our-movement  /

It’s a call to help set up an online “global square” or a global “occupy camp”

It’d be a platform, similar to facebook, that would simbolically link up all camps and all individuals who want to participate in the running of what should become our first global democracy …

I leave it with you for comments

Cheers 😉

Posted by fernrivas | Report as abusive

I don’t know whether or not you have experienced Anonymous’ preferred form of debate (although it seems evident that you have not)., but I think I have.

For the past few years, their agents provocateurs have been stalking those social websites which offer a home to the emotionally vulnerable and easily groomed (one such in the UK is Informed Consent, but you may need a strong stomach and a robust sense of humour to go there). They’ll troll around on the bulletin boards, starting threads about how we live in a police state (“I watched V for Vendetta last night – it’s like a documentary!”), or how capitalism is dead, or… well, you get the picture. Their arguments are as full of potholes as ever, and the response to anyone who points this out is, as ever, to shout them down. And to wear them down. They can post ten copy-and-paste tirades while I’m typing one rebuttal.

They may be operating in places you don’t visit, but their methods haven’t really changed since Dostoevsky wrote “The Demons”. The word “dinosaur” would seem more applicable to them than to anyone else; at least our mainstream politicians and press don’t look like they did 150 years ago.

Posted by IanKemmish | Report as abusive

And i quote
“The people of Britain started to make their views known very clearly this summer” – no they didnt, a bunch of parasites decided they could loot and burn without consequence.

Posted by Bigshoes | Report as abusive

voting is absurd, think about that for a momement. we are told that they rule so we don’t have to, we are told we give them to the power that we hold, so that they can make all the right choices for us. Well, it is plain to see that are not up to the task. it is not time to stop giving them this power & for all of us to collectively use our power ourselves. Don’t Vote!

use your power the way you choose, far less wasteful, much less damaging, less war, more peace, cheaper, less stressful, much more moral. better all round.

PEACE, but not to statism, corporatism & hierarchism
“No service should be provided out the barrel of a gun. This is not freedom, it is tyranny” ~

Posted by voluntaryist72 | Report as abusive

If the Occupy mob had organised a “standard” demonstration and got a million people to turn up, they would still not be worth listening to, for the simple reason that they have nothing useful to say. But there aren’t a million of them, and far from representing the “99%”, they’re much closer to representing the 0.0003%. Just because a small number of people can cause a lot of inconvenience to people with jobs, does not make them representative. Even if they were representative of a larger section of society, they should go home until they work out what they think the “answer” is. Until they do so, their “message” is utterly fatuous, and for the Church to seek to cosy up to them merely highlights how ridiculously irrelevant that institution has become.

Posted by CO2-Exhaler | Report as abusive

Our destiny is in the hands of a faceless few. The banker, Bob Diamond, has emerged from the woodwork to make some attempt to gain sympathy for the banks. In doing so however he merely demonstrated the arrogance and contempt with which the industry deals with the public. It’s clear that these organisations will continue to abuse the trust that first allows them to take our money as deposits and then, when they have magically transformed into into piles of junk debts take more money to ‘bail them out’. Or in other words to cover up their incompetent greed and allow their gravy train to run on.

Meanwhile they remunerate themselves as if they had done well. Which of course they have: for themselves.

Our political leaders stand like dazzled, fascinated rabbits while these wide boys run rings round them.

Posted by ninety-niner | Report as abusive

Easy Money, Simple Solutions and Media Sound Bites rules Britannia. It is all too easy to slam all bankers/city folk as greedy exploiters as it is to lambast all on benefits as idle good for nothings. Whilst in reality such people do exist irritation at them should not cloud objectivity as to the true causes of our current predicament. Easy money, whether it is sub-prime borrowers, governments in deficit, quick deal bankers, benefits scroungers or maxed out credit card holders, has been and remains the route of our problems. People wanting things, or in the case of politicians offering things, that have not be earned. This notion of entitlement/rights without graft is the only thing that I think was reflected in this summer’s riots.

The great thing about true capitalism is that it has no regard for race, creed or social standing in fact it is a great social leveller. Remove anti-capitalist restrictions to trade and anyone in any part of the globe can earn their reward for graft. So it is that power is slipping from the comparatively lazy profligate consuming West to the hard working thrifty East. Whilst there are problems with people exploiting the system the true problem is too little capitalism; too many do-gooders and too few doers.

Ironically the protesters in front of St Paul’s fail to see levelling effect of capitalism and are not short of some exploitation of their own. They exploit the position and notoriety of the church in furtherance of their own political objectives and take benefits to sustain them and at the same time they do nothing to enhance the wealth of the nation or advance the condition of mankind one bit. In short they are sitting of their arses expecting someone else to do something rather than doing anything themselves! Rather than greedily complaining about the slice of the cake more consideration should be given to making the cake in the first place!

Posted by I_R_Responsible | Report as abusive

It’s great to see so many comments on both sides of this debate. Having worked in the City myself and ended up writing after working on development research for a major NGO I have been pretty much on all sides of this discussion at some time. I think the important point is that whether you agree with Occupy or not, there is now a social media framework that could push beyond being just an activist organisation tool and into representation…

Posted by markhillary | Report as abusive