Walking past St Paul’s Cathedral earlier this week, I was accosted by a member of the Occupy London movement – whose tents are pitched on the pavement outside – to be told: “We’re only here because bankers like you messed things up.”
Now what surprised me about this encounter was not the case of mistaken identity. Rather, it was that the encounter took place at all. To be candid, I thought the movement was over: I had assumed they had all packed up and gone away.
Occupy London – love it or loath it – has faded from the national consciousness. Events earlier this week only go to support this: both the decision by RBS’s Stephen Hester (eventually) to decline his bonus, and the move to strip Sir Fred Goodwin of his knighthood, were down to interventions by Messrs Miliband and Cameron. A ‘victory’ for the old politics then, rather than the new.
You can also see this graphically, if crudely, in my ‘Occupy-London-news-ometer’ which I’ve just invented. This charts the number of mentions the movement has had on BBC News each month since it was begun, in mid October.
As you can see, after an initial burst, the number of mentions has fallen steadily, and now stands at less than half its level at its inception. Today’s news has indeed become tomorrow’s fish and chip paper.
What does all this mean? Maybe it’s because the British are inherently more sceptical of protestors than, say the French or the Americans. Maybe it’s just a lull, and interest will surge again soon. Or maybe the protests of 2011 just don’t have the same cache of coolness as their counterparts in the late 1960s.
Maybe the British just get bored easily. Or maybe it raises more fundamental, existential issues altogether. After all, if there is no one watching you doing something, what’s the point in doing it in the first place?