Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Hippies or Harlow?

George Orwell would see right through the mishmash of unfocused causes that make up the St Paul’s protest and would warn Labour to stay well away

The St Paul’s protestors represent an unpalatable smorgasbord of religious, political and cultural ideas. The tent city is home to hippies, anarchists, peaceniks, and Green party activists. Their numbers swell with political tourists who join the camp for a couple of hours before heading back to the office. They demand disparate things. Some want the end of capitalism. Some want it to end as long as they can still pop into Starbucks. Some are happy to spend their time in the meditation tent, or engaging in composting. Some are delighted by the chaos being caused to the cathedral authorities, the sole part of the military-industrial complex to have been noticeably affected by the protest. Others see the true enemy as the British Legion volunteers as they sold Remembrance Day poppies.

Like the permanent camp outside parliament, which started as a protest against sanctions on Iraq, then became antiwar, and now includes those objecting to everyone from freemasons to the state of Israel, the longer the St Paul’s protest goes on, the more causes will be added to the menu. George Orwell’s famous litany of leftwing cranks – ‘every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, “Nature Cure” quack, pacifist, and feminist in England’ – will seem like the Chambers of Commerce compared to what is about to hit St Paul’s.

The only political viewpoint – the only one – which is shared by every one of the protestors is their loathing of the Labour party. Be they anarchists, Marxists, Greens, pacifists or merely the well-meaning hippies who view the protest as a concrete Glasto, they all hate Labour. As the Trotskyites always argue, the priority is not the capitalists. First against the wall will be the moderate leaders of the Labour movement, who for decades have suppressed the workers’ revolution. And yes, Ed, Douglas, Ed, Andy, Caroline, Yvette and Liam, that includes you.

The St Paul’s protestors have no leadership, no tangible list of demands, no agreed strategy. The Greenham Common camps, the Jarrow March, the defence of Cable Street against the fascists, the civil rights movement in the US, the popular uprisings against Marcos, Ceaușescu, or the Burmese junta, the peasants’ revolt, the revolt of the slaves in ancient Rome, the suffragettes, the chartists, the campaign to bring back Cadbury’s Wispa. Each and every one of these campaigns had a clear goal. Within every progressive campaign down the centuries there have raged disagreements over tactics. Martin Luther King disagreed with Malcolm X, Gandhi fell out with Nehru. I am told even Tony and Gordon had the odd spat. But on the big strategic questions – ending apartheid, independence for India, votes for women, or the reintroduction of 1980s chocolate bars – there was unity and focus.

What can the St Paul’s protests teach the mainstream parties? For Labour, the answer has to be: nothing at all. That is not to say Labour should reject all extra-parliamentary campaigns. So often a campaign from outside the mainstream can shape the debate: the green agenda is perhaps the best example. Today’s mainstream view started life as the unpopular, the unorthodox or the unpalatable. That is as true of the smoking ban as it is of civil partnerships. But whatever social progress may come in future decades, whatever reforms to the global banking system are agreed, they will not come from the fetid squalor now spreading outside St Paul’s.

The idea that the St Paul’s protests represent a broader social movement which in some way may aid the Labour party is like saying Labour should get the ranters at Speakers’ Corner to write our manifesto. We know that is not what Ed Miliband meant with his piece in The Observer. But it is how it looked, and in politics that is all that counts.

Tony Benn made the same mistake in 1970 when he wrote a Fabian pamphlet called A Socialist Reconnaissance. He looked at the political and cultural movements of the late 1960s, such as the civil rights movement, the anti-Vietnam movement, the squatters and the hippies, and concluded we were on the brink of a new era of radicalism. Instead we got Richard Nixon, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.

Labour’s electoral challenge is endearingly simple: to get people living in 50-odd key seats such as Harlow to stop voting Tory, Liberal Democrat, BNP or staying at home, and vote Labour. You do not need an expensive pollster to tell you what they are like. They get up in the morning and go to work, they fill in their tax returns, they look forward to their summer holidays, they go to supermarkets, and buy a poppy in November. They want decent wages, safe streets, good schools, free healthcare and a thriving town centre. The biggest question the swing voters of Harlow would have for the hippies outside St Paul’s, should they ever meet, would be ‘how can you afford to spend weeks in a tent?’ Hippies or Harlow? One route leads to a Labour government, the other not so much.

Are we quite sure which is which?


Photo:  SJ Pinkney

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The Progressive


  • 1: So you’re against new people getting involved in politics unless it’s to vote more pigs like yourself the trough.
    2: united in hating Labour? What planet are you on? Labour members are often part of the Occupy movement around the country. You have no basis for that assertion. It’s ridiculous.
    3: The camp is there because people want to discuss a better world. People have lots of different ideas, and the reason for that is that they have had no voice in the lobbyist-lined corridors of power.

    People like you let these people down. Don’t tell them they have no place in making a better world. It’s pathetic.

  • OMG this is left left left wing propaganda. What are you talking about. Have you been down there. BS journalism at the core

  • “Labour’s electoral challenge is endearingly simple” + “You do not need an expensive pollster to tell you what [southern voters] are like. ” What utterly patronising and lazy statements. It’s this kind of arrogance- a lazy assumption about what southern voters care about rather than bothering to actually engage with them, that is as much a cause as anything else for the reason why we lost touch in the south.

    Also- in which parallel universe did the civil rights movement have a clear and unified goal? And if so who is this “Malcolm X” I hear so much about?

    Fatuous, incoherent nonsense not worthy of publication. Poor show progress.

  • Er, there are plenty of Labour members and activists at the Occupations. I’ve spoken to a number of them. Unless they’re self-loathing depressive masochists I don’t see how the camp can be “loathing of the labour party”.

  • This article, and I use the term loosely, bears absolutely NO similiarity to the experience I have had at Occupy London St Pauls, Finsbury Square or Occupy Bristol. It is so completely uninspiring and stuck in this old system of – the most important thing is us getting elected. It’s not. We have every much a responsibility and duty to consider new means of organising socially and economically in tents as MPs do in parliament buildings. It is an astonishing act of arrogance to consider yourself so above the people you would claim to represent, the people you would request give you sovereignty. This is precisely why I stopped voting Labour. I dont hate Labour, I just understand that the bulk of the party is now far removed from issues that matter to me. Where exactly is the Progress in abandoning the people for whom your party is titled – the labour force. The people who make things, the people who teach, who nurse, who serve and protect?
    Perhaps the reason you look at St Pauls and see what you see (if infact you have actually looked at it at all) is because diverse, open, questioning, thoughtful, considered, emotional, human expression is so very far removed from the daily adversarial, corporatised, dehumanised sham of a political system in which you operate. For your own sanity and soul, I advise you get a tent and go reconnect with what it is to share space with other human beings without heirarchy and badges….you may well find you have substantially more to contribute there, than with this apallingly ill informed and poorly constructed ‘journalism’.

  • Funny how good old Orwell is used and abused for unpalatable purposes. I am afraid he was him who went down in London and Paris to see how the poor and the down trodden were living. He had the curiosity and the humanity to do so. This article shows how the labour party is totally disconnected with its constituency. Between the Evening Standard and this article, there is very little difference, but here there is a kind of viciousness which augers very badly for the future of the labour party.

  • What is so wrong about concerned citizens making their concerns known to the government, the banks and society as a whole. Surely is good to see people with differing beliefs coming and making a stand together against a system they see as unfair. You will alienate many potential Labour voters by branding them “hippies, anarchists, peaceniks” just because their views are more radical than your own. Politicians constantly complain their is a lack of real politcal passion in society and they laugh when people, who feel their voice is not being heard, have to make a more public point in order to be listened to.

  • The notably anonymous author of this article thinks that there are no clear demands from the occupation. She/he ought to have done some research. Demands were issued and reported on here:

    These are all straightforward, reasonable and quite actionable. They all concern the organisation and accountability of the City and Corporation of London and include:

    • An end to business and corporate votes in elections, which can outvote residents.

    • Removal of “secrecy practices”, and transparent reform of institutions.

    • Decommissioning of the City of London police, with officers put under the Met.

    • Abolition of the offices of lord mayor, sheriffs and aldermen.

    • A truth and reconciliation commission to examine allegations of corruption

    Perhaps the anonymous author could put aside his/her rhetorical invective (“ranters”, “hippies”, “fetid squalor”) and explain why she or he disagrees with these demands.

  • “Labour’s electoral challenge is endearingly simple: to get people living in 50-odd key seats such as Harlow to stop voting Tory, Liberal Democrat, BNP or staying at home, and vote Labour.”

    Well I live in Southwark. Presumably not one of your “50-odd key seats”. So thanks for letting me know that I shouldn’t waste my vote on you ****s in 2015.

    Calling Progress ‘Progress’ is like calling meat vegetarian.

  • “News and debate from the progressive community” is the tagline to this Progressive publication. Yet the anonymous (ashamed?) author offers neither news or progressiveness. Debate? Hardly worth our while trying to debate with the specious twaddle spurted here, this feeble attempt at historical, humorous, pseudo-artistic confusion written under the guise of objective political journalism.
    I hope for the sake of the author’s self-esteem that someone will post a comment favourable to this article.

  • Labour’s electoral challenge is endearingly simple: to get people living in 50-odd key seats such as Harlow to stop voting Tory, Liberal Democrat, BNP or staying at home, and vote Labour.

    Well, Progress was supremely influential before the last election.

    How did that strategy work out for you?

  • The problem with the Labour Party is that Progress and the 1% have too much influence and Party members and the 99% have too little. Solution? Invite ocuppy activists to CLP meetings; arrange visits to occupy lsx.

  • Worthy of the Daily Mail.

    Congratulations, ‘Progress’, on being on the wrong side of history, yet again. Still, what more could we expect from Labour’s multimillionaire-funded fifth-column?

    As an aside, I was going to suggest that, since dubious George’s first act on becoming a father was to sign his son up for Eton, we all go an do that; but then I realised, Progress members wouldn’t find any contradiction in that at all.

  • As a Labour card carrying member of the Occupy camp at St Pauls I find this piece insulting, and it smacks of someone whose sole experience of the camp is through the pages of the Daily Mail, and who simply doesn’t understand. It makes incorrect assumptions about the people who come here; as well as the ‘anarchists, Marxists, Greens, pacifists or merely the well-meaning hippies’ we have professionals, students, soldiers, graduates, civil servants, housewives, tradesmen, church goers. We are serious, dedicated and intelligent people. One thing we do have in common is that we are all extremely pissed of at the situation we find ourselves in, and Labour bear their share of responsibility for this in that they failed to provide an alternative to Thatcher’s de-regulated neoliberal economic consensus that allowed the banks to run amok. Failure to understand that is suicide. It also fails to understand either our goals, or our achievements in changing the terms of the debate both in this country and across the globe. Shame on you for this Progress, this is a really shoddy article

  • Hey ‘Progressive’, plan to stop by and defend your mumbled apology of an article? You’re taking a bit of a pasting down here in the comments. Or maybe you don’t actually give a toss what anyone thinks unless it’s voiced through the Daily Mail?

  • Now, I know that the raison d’être of this article is to be provocative. However, I think you’ve got it profoundly wrong this time.

    I always wince a little bit when people, and this apples across the Labour spectrum, carve up the electorate and present a set of false choices, masquerading as strategy. ‘Hippies or Harlow’ ; ‘progressive or communitarian’; ‘core vote’ or ‘centre-ground’ etc. etc. etc. You win an election by creating a broad majoritarian consensus that has an appeal across all constituencies of the electorate. We should be campaigning for every vote and our communication should reflect this: we should not castigate sections of the electorate, be that St. Paul’s ‘quacks’ or ‘evil’ Tories (this is a particular bugbear of mine… why do so many Labour speakers decry the Tories as ‘evil’… How do you think that makes people who have voted Tory, whose votes we need to win any election, feel?).

    This is not 1995. We can no longer rely on electoral support from the more woolly left-wing types that are legitimately protesting at inequality in St. Paul’s. And we can not win an election without aspirational voters in the South East. It is not an either/or. The challenge is to join up the dots. Ask yourself, is it really beyond us to connect the concerns of those at St. Pauls, about the inequality financial elite that have absconded from the real economy and whose growth no longer trickles down, to the people of Harlow who, whilst not understanding the Occupy protest, nevertheless see their businesses being refused credit and bankers’ bonuses growing whilst they are struggling to get by?

    I do not think it is. If it is, we will not win. Either Harlow or Hippies alone and we lose.

  • I think ‘PROGRESS’ are actually a Conservative group intent on splitting the Labour Movement. We should disown this lot immediately. Just to confirm. I am White, male 44 and work in the public sector – morons

  • Bit of an attack on anyone who might be a voting socialist, but not unexpected really from Progress is it.

  • Funny. This morning walking into work, having attended at event at St Paul’s yesterday, I was thinking: ‘Orwell would have been a huge supporter of the occupy movement’. The truth of the quote that you pick up from Orwell, is that he was a great supporter of grassroots movements, but he felt that some of the people in them meant that their ideas were not taken as seriously as they should be. How can you so barefacedly state that Orwell: the rough sleeper, the one-time anarchist, the disliker of Empire (which he saw as one big money making adventure), the fighter in the Spanish Civil War, the writer of essays in the 1940s predicting a people’s revolution in the UK would have been against this movement.

    I can tell you one thing he would have seen straight through: the Labour Party today!

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