St Paul's 'wrong over demo snub'


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The Independent Online

St Paul's Cathedral was wrong to shut its doors as protesters camped out on its steps, the shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander said today.

Mr Alexander said the job of the church was not just to "comfort the afflicted but to afflict the comfortable", adding the demonstrators camping outside the cathedral were speaking to a "general unease" in the country.

Speaking to Jeremy Vine, standing in on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, Mr Alexander said he felt uneasy when the cathedral's authorities decided to close its doors.

He said: "I think the job of the church is not just to comfort the afflicted but to afflict the comfortable.

"Its calling through the ages has been to be a prophetic voice on issues of public morality and I think... what the protesters are doing in a very distinctive way, which many of us wouldn't ourselves engage in, is speak to a much deeper unease in society about the rules by which society is being run.

"Righteousness... the literal translation is 'right relationships', and I think most of us feel that the relationship between the very top of society and the rest of us is pretty broken at the moment.

"I think the protesters often have incoherent demands, a range of different interests.

"But I think the much more significant point is that they are speaking to a general unease, indeed a general anger, that I sense in my own constituency, indeed I sense in communities right across the country.

"In that sense, it is something of a distraction to talk about the people in the tents or the protesters. I think the issues they speak to are actually much more profound and much more widely held."

Earlier, Labour leader Ed Miliband, writing in The Observer, said the anti-capitalist protesters reflected a "crisis of concern" in mainstream Britain which must be addressed by politicians, the business community and the Church of England.

He acknowledged that those camped outside St Paul's had "a long list of diverse and often impractical proposals" and that many people would not agree with their demands or their methods.

"But they still present a challenge: to the church and to business - and also to politics," he went on.

"The challenge is that they reflect a crisis of concern for millions of people about the biggest issue of our time: the gap between their values and the way our country is run.

"The role of politicians is not to protest, but to find answers. I am determined that mainstream politics, and the Labour party in particular, speaks to that crisis and rises to the challenge."

The camp was set up three weeks ago under the name Occupy London Stock Exchange and has plunged the Cathedral hierarchy into turmoil as it has debated how to respond.

The Dean, Canon Chancellor and part-time Chaplain of St Paul's have all resigned.

Mr Miliband said that the protesters had set up camp at "a frightening time for Britain", citing record unemployment, the crisis in Europe and a Government "unwilling or unable to help".

The Labour leader likened the current situation to 1945, 1979 and 1997 in that "business as usual is not an option".

"This is another of those moments because the deeper issues raised by the current crisis are too important to be left shivering on the steps of St Paul's," he said.