As I was meeting a (fashionably late) friend by the Metrolink tram stop in St Peter’s Square I was lucky enough to pass some time by the “Occupy Manchester” camp, that they’ve moved to the adjacent peace gardens.
As someone who believes the role of the state should be as limited as possible (and practically limited to protecting the young, old and incapable in society and raising tax money for non-political experts to run our healthcare, justice, defence and education systems) it isn’t much of a surprise that I have little common ground with any bunch of rag-tag lefties who don’t believe people can be trusted to control their own lives and demand regulation, state control, spending and protectionism for just about everything and anything they can – but I have always respected people’s right to an opinion, and am happy to engage with people who can hold an intelligent and informed discussion, (though as it happens most people I know seem to have new and ever-changing views, taking issue with things depending on what circumstances they suddenly find themselves in, or are influenced by whatever opinions of a new group of friends they have hold, but that’s another matter).
The first thing that struck me about the protest “camp” was that there were far more tents there than actual people (no more than 20), the second was that there were no real stated aims or demands from these “protesters” , in fact the banners and posters around were often contradictory – “Stop NHS Budget Cuts” next to “Stop buying drugs from big pharmaceutical companies, traditional medicines work” – I can’t think of anything that would lead to a bigger cut in any health budget – but I think people might be a bit pissed off when we go back to having a life expectancy of 46 and infant mortality spirals out of control if we followed this advice. It seemed they were just happy to have any kind of “protest” sentiment displayed, whoever it was from and whatever it was about. This contrasted quite nicely with the Spanish “M15” movement which picked up in the Spring (and many say has inspired these “occupy” protests) – where (in the camps I have seen in Santiago de Compostela and Valencia) clear demands and issues were highlighted, and the organisers made it clear people with vested interests such as trade unions and political parties weren’t welcome to try and further their own agendas.
"The Manifesto" at a Spanish M15 camp in Santiago de Compostela
The other big difference between the two camps was the behaviour of the protesters, the civilised debating and events from Spain’s camps as opposed to the Manchester version where (in fifteen minutes) I saw a girl flee the camp pursued by her boyfriend hurling abuse at her about how she had stabbed him in the back by sleeping with someone else, and another “protester” chase after a couple of kids threatening to beat them up because they’d shouted something not very nice as they walked past. One hell of a way to make a political or sociological point that.
The system we have in this country, and in the world as whole, is far from perfect and there are plenty of things that could and should be changed, however what these people are expecting to achieve I don’t know. I’d have a lot more time for them if they just admitted they like the idea of camping out, while the weather just about allows it – getting drunk/smoking weed/popping pills and hopefully getting laid as a result, because for a lot of them that’s what it is all about.