Violent protests have engulfed the G20 summit. Peter Mullen, who lives in the City of London, reflects on what the conference actually achieved.
WEDNESDAY was a perfect day for a riot – the best day we have had in London this year.
Thankfully, the riot did not happen, not quite, although there were 88 arrests for, as the police said: “Violent disorder, obstruction, aggravated burglary and arson.”
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There was a vaguely pantomime flavour to the police description of a particular offence: “Unlawful possession of police uniforms.” It could have been a lot worse.
Even so, I saw more than a few bloodied faces of officers and protestors, and a spokesman for the Met said: “There were high levels of violence in isolated incidents throughout the day.”
About 5,000 protestors turned up in my parish near the Bank of England and the saddest event of the day occurred in St Michael’s Alley, a narrow passageway along the west wall of our church next to the Jamaica Wine House, an ancient and much-loved local watering hole for City bankers and brokers – and parish priests.
It was one of the first London coffee houses in Dr Johnson’s day. Here in St Michael’s Alley the police went to the aid of a man who had collapsed.
They were pelted with bottles before, eventually, they got the sick man away to hospital where, unfortunately, he was pronounced dead.
Thursday lunchtime saw a melancholy, though dignified slow march of about 500 protestors through the City in a mark of respect to the dead man. The procession was monitored by a police cordon moving alongside. It was then that a small group broke through the police ranks and created disorder – enough for police to draw their batons. A handful of people were arrested. The protestors, some laying flowers, were demanding a public inquiry into Wednesday’s death.
Also on Thursday, police raided two squats in East London which they believe were being used by some of those responsible for the violent outbreaks.
One of these addresses was in Rampart Street, in Aldgate, and there was a large police presence by the front door. On Thursday afternoon, a further four people were arrested – two for violent disorder and the other two for possession of offensive weapons. Another squat near Liverpool Street mainline station was also raided.
Overwhelmingly though, the protestors were the usual fairly amiable gaggle of political enthusiasts making their point – the usual suspects, as they say. Given the lovely weather, the occasion had more of the flavour of a nice day out. That was until the heavies in the black balaclavas put into action their plan to storm the Royal Bank of Scotland building which, thankfully, was empty of staff last Wednesday.
The thugs sprayed THIEVES and SCUM on the walls of RBS, smashed the bank’s lower windows before entering, and proceeded to throw into the street various bits and pieces of office equipment.
Who were these masked rioters? Reports said they were from various anarchist groups from all over Europe: the French Anarch-Autonomist – which sounded to me like the title of a radical cookbook – Guerrigilieri Anomali, from Italy, and the German Antifa. There weren’t many of them, but their extreme and well-planned aggression spooked the crowd and the police, turning the atmosphere suddenly less like an urban picnic and much darker, threatening. That was when the police were obliged to draw their batons and many of the originally cheerful protestors looked frightened and tried to leave through any gaps in the crowd they could find.
I saw a couple of hastily discarded posters: BUILD A BONFIRE OF BANKERS! And the highly predictable WHAT A LOAD OF BANKERS!
First thing Thursday morning you could join an ingenious game of giant Monopoly outside the Stock Exchange. This was all set out in the shadow of St Paul’s Cathedral, in Paternoster Square, the dinky toy-town building project with the babyish architecture that always reminds me of watching Camberwick Green years ago with the children.
The protestors, dressed as old-time City financiers and surrounded by huge boxes of funny money, played good-naturedly and spouted all the City jargon: “piggybacking”, “backstabbing”, “backhanders”, “swindles” and “scams.” This was such an agreeable interlude, with everyone frolicking about in the early morning sunshine as if they were part of an open-air performance of Alice In Wonderland.
Away from the protests, the bread-and-circuses aspects of the summit have given us something to goggle at. Gordon Brown seems to have strutted his stuff in front of Number Ten so ferociously these last few days that you wonder if there is any pile left in the red carpet. With multitudes of heads of state, he has been in and out of the front door like a model figure in a weather house in the middle of a hurricane.
BARACK Obama joked with Prince Philip that he and David Cameron had held conversations with innumerable dignitaries, “...and we didn’t nod off once.”
Philip’s rejoinder was all we have come to expect of him: “Could you tell any difference between them all?”
After all the hype, the disruption of traffic and the police helicopters still whirring overhead at well past my bedtime, I’m rather relieved it’s all over. Certainly, if I had to hear any more of BBC finance whizz Robert Peston’s giddy intonation, I’d be seasick. What has it all achieved?
As I write, the telly is chattering that leaders of the world’s largest economies have reached an agreement to tackle the global financial crisis with measures worth $1 trillion (£681bn).
And, to help countries with troubled economies, the International Monetary Fund will get extra resources worth up to $750bn. There will also be sanctions against secretive tax-havens and tougher global financial regulation. And the G20 has committed about $250bn to boost global trade.
Meanwhile, I see that Bob Geldof is asking for more international aid. That is poor people in rich countries giving their money to rich people in poor countries. No change there then.
Goodbye G20. Why did you bother coming? After all, it’s only money, innit?
■ Peter Mullen is Rector of St Michael’s, Cornhill, in the City of London, and Chaplain to the Stock Exchange.