David Blackburn

The view from Threadneedle Street

The view from Threadneedle Street
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Despite appearances, the G20 meltdown protest around the Bank of England is fertile ground for the Conservatives. There is an enormous middle class presence here that is nothing short of livid with the government’s economic policy. I spoke to a group of young women from south east London who would have looked more at home Sloane Ranging than in the midst of an allegedly anti-capitalist demonstration. They were aged 18-24, the age group the recession is now hitting hardest, and they made it clear they were opposed to nothing other than “excessive bailouts and stimulus at the expense of hard pressed taxpayers” and the government’s “headless chicken approach”. They expressed “broad support” for the Tories’ caution.

This supports recent poll findings that the Conservatives are now more trusted to run the economy than the government. If the Tories are finding widespread support here, then surely this government must be lurching to its deathbed.

Obviously, not everyone here is for Cameron and Osborne. When I first arrived, a group of cultured anarchists were taking elevenses outside the Bank of England; they were breakdancing unenergetically, labouring under a surfeit of tea, crumpets and other substances. Russell Brand was also spotted, fully made up for the cameras, standing next to a banner titled: ‘Consumerism Sucks’. That his magnum opus, My Booky Wook, was last year’s celebrity bestseller was an irony entirely lost on him.

There are a number of environmental campaigners here, but the largest contingent was sponsored by that ultimate contradiction in terms, The Socialist Worker. They were armed with four bamboo Horsemen of the Apocalypse, a plethora of Hammers and Sickles and rousing slogans from the past. A representative of the socialist youth movement ‘Revolution’ said she wanted to take the banks away from “fat cats” and award control to the workers. When asked who those workers might be she replied, “The people who work in them.” So more bourgeois bankers then; I’d say that’s a non-starter for Marxists.

Up until about half-past one, this protest had a carnival atmosphere. Admittedly there were cranks: groups in threatening looking Balaclavas and people alleging that 9/11, 7/7 and probably the Princess of Wales’ death were organised by Anglo-American security services. Prior to one thirty, a few scuffles led to the arrest of 11 people, but other than that it was placid. At around two o’clock there was an upsurge of noise and, I imagine, violence at the RBS end of Threadneedle Street, but I couldn’t get through the crowd to investigate. Despite the BBC’s alarmist reporting, this protest remains largely peaceful, certainly nothing on the scale of 2000’s May Day riots at the moment.

Even more surprising is the number of former bankers who are protesting about the need for effective supervision in financial services. Again, this is good news for the Tories. People I spoke to agreed that soft-touch supervision is preferable to heavy-handed regulation. A former banker, Damian McAllvenna was contemptuous of the government and proposed - as Nigel Lawson has and George Osborne seemed to at yesterday’s treasury debate - dividing retail and investment banking arms and supervising level three assets, derivatives that are manipulated by financiers to inflate their value. “Something remains seriously wrong with this system...the government has achieved little so far.” There is enough evidence at this protest to suggest that people think the Conservatives would do far better.