I recently travelled to London to stand with the Occupy Democracy protestors in Parliament Square as they call for a return to real democracy in the UK – particularly to stand for a breaking of the collusion between corporations and government. To get a handle on how we have got to this place Ferdinand Mount’s ‘The New Few – a very British Oligarchy (power and inequality in Britain now’ charts our journey in the UK in this century towards centralisation of power in to the hands of few (MP’s, City of London, heads of corporations and bankers) – see The Literary Review for a synopsis of his book. He is a right wing Tory and a political journalist and it’s an interesting read.
I am convinced that we need to see a shift in power away from centralised government in the south east to the local communities, cities, regions and nations across the UK. There has to be a recognition and debate around the fact that what we have now is not working for so many people as the UK is the most unequal society in Europe.
My journey to Parliament Square took me to the Travelodge in London Docklands and as I came into Poplar on the Docklands Light Railway I was hit by the towering office blocks of HSBC, Barclays, Citibank and KPMG accountants – edifices to money rising out of the land. It really upset me as I was also aware of the attempts at social cleansing in the Newham area that have recently being profiled in the media – Focus E15 Mothers.
I passed East India Dock House and felt prompted to do some research and was surprised by what I found – a clear example of collusion of UK Parliament with corporations for profit and the expansion of trade and territory. I am sure I haven’t picked up on all the issues and missed some points but these struck me in particular –
· The establishment of the docks was supported by the East India Company (EIC) and this company was founded by Royal Charter (a legal instrument also used to found cities) by Queen Elizabeth 1 in 1600 and it’s shares were owned by wealthy merchants and aristocrats. It’s main purpose was trade in commodities – cotton, silk, tea, salt, opium etc and at one point accounted for half the world’s trade.
· Having been empowered by Charles II the company acquired land in India and beyond, minted money, commanded its own army, formed alliances, made war and peace, exercised both civil/criminal jurisdiction over lands acquired. In effect the East India Company ruled India at the beginnings of the British Empire in India from 1757 – 1858.
· The company was very successful which resulted in the officers of the company establishing large estates and businesses in the UK, and obtaining political power through a lobby in Parliament.
· The government came under pressure from other merchants to break the EIC’s monopoly and passed Acts that allowed others to trade in India and also to form a parallel East India Company (backed by a £2 million state indemnity). Shareholders of the old EIC bought shares in the new EIC and dominated its affairs until the 2 companies merged in 1708 in a 3 part venture with the state.
· The newly merged company lent £3,2000,000 to the UK treasury for exclusive privileges for the next 3 years. During the following decades there was conflict between the EIC and the government over control of the company, trade issues, finances and the colonies.
I was struck by the fact that effectively a state backed corporation owned and ran a nation, and that the government wasn’t prepared to separate from the company as it didn’t want to lose the access to the finance it was generating.
Needless to say after researching I was prompted to pray at the East India Dock House on my way to Parliament Square – simply repent for the sins of the past and call for the righteous decisions in the business and corporate sphere. There is so much that could have been touched on, but I sensed limits on what I could do on my own. However, I particularly called for young entrepreneurs to rise, those with creative solutions to entrenched problems that result in transformation in the lives of ordinary people.
As I travelled on the tube towards Westminster I became aware of an angelic presence that had joined me, I believe, as a result of my prayers. This angel was called ‘Commerce’ and is with me for the next phase. I am learning to co-operate with the angelic so it will be exciting to see what opens up as a result of our partnership.
Arriving at Parliament Square I stopped in front of the Houses of Parliament and prayed similar prayers to those outside East India Dock House. Does it make a difference when the issues are so huge and so entrenched? I believe so. Choices, actions and words all have an impact – might not see the fruit myself but trusting that they carry something of heaven’s purpose and impact in this world.
Crossing the road to the square it was clear that this phase of ‘occupying’ was nearly over. Having occupied the space since Friday night the police were surrounding protestors sitting on the tarpaulin and dragging them off to clear the ground – a state visit was imminent so they had to be removed from the green. I was disappointed I couldn’t get on to the tarp, and my support amounted to some eye contact that gave emotional and spiritual strength to a few of the young women who were holding fast their positions with tears streaming down their cheeks, and a few shouts of “This is a peaceful protest.” Most of the other protestors were from London or southern England so it felt good to be Welsh and in the mix!
Talking to other protestors, reporters, speakers and the police gave me a sense that these guys were genuine and passionate about these issues. some not so ken on the police tactics, but they were just doing their job.
Throughout the week Occupy Democracy had been attempting to stimulate open and public debate. Something which I have heard MP’s comment has been pretty non-existent in the House of Commons for some time. That chamber appears to have become more of a ‘rubber stamp’ mechanism to decisions already made. Occupy Democracy is moving forward and shifting into speaking out some positive ideas for change, see Resilence’s article for details on how things are developing.
I am hoping to get to some of the The New Putney Debates in November – inspired by the Levellers and Diggers who called for social justice, civil rights in the 17th Century when England was described as ‘a nation of prophets.’
As part of the community at Antioch, Llanelli and with the wider community I attempt to walk these things out, looking to express the life that Jesus has written into my spirit and reaching for different ways of doing things. Firmly believing that how we live has to have a positive impact on the very least and the last. Some of this is by providing various strands of support for those struggling financially through food/clothes/furniture bank or supporting families through school holidays with hot meals and play activities. I am also hoping to see a collaborative social enterprise emerge that will equip marginalised and disadvantaged people through learning new skills for life and work that will give them a chance to find a healthier, happier way of living. Whilst calling for change to unfold on a national level its important to keep in mind the impact of everyday choices that have the potential to bring change to those around us.