The G20 meets in London next week and the City is bracing itself for protest. Bankers have been told to dress down in "chinos and loafers". As this has been widely reported I would have thought chinos and loafers would now be the worst thing to wear. I suggest jeans and hoodies. And now that the Brazilian president, Lula, has told Gordon Brown that white, blue-eyed bankers are entirely to blame for the financial crisis, those City folk had better be wearing coloured contact lenses too. In fact, wouldn't it just be easier if the bankers dressed up as protesters next week?
If they don't, they apparently risk being strung from a lamp-post. Chris Knight, a professor at the University of East London and organiser of the G20 "Meltdown" campaign has been suspended from his job for purportedly inciting violence in an interview he gave this week. He thinks that "the anger of the middle classes" is such that there will be a velvet revolution next week. "The police, backed up by the army, will try to hold the ExCel centre. While they hold that, they will lose London. Then I think Gordon Brown will go." He was photographed with a placard: "Eat the bankers" it said.
How do you eat a banker? One slice at a time. I have to confess it sounds pretty yummy to me. I know, of course, that rationally speaking the bankers shouldn't bear all the blame. The politicians were in it too – we, the middle classes, were in it too. I'd even make a case for Gordon Brown being the least to blame because – while guilty of complicity with boom and deregulation – he was also at least partly preoccupied with alleviating poverty and giving tax credits to the single mum.
As for us middle classes, vast swathes of the population got used to crowing about property prices, got used to easy money, loans on demand, buy-to-let mortgages and high-street shopping sprees for clothes so cheap they could only have been made in sweatshops. If we made it to Live Aid to wave a fist or two about famine we felt good about ourselves. But at the same time we voted with our feet against tax rises that might have made a real difference to poverty here in the UK.
That being said, I'm going to go with Chris Knight and mainly blame the fat-cat bankers anyway. They arrogantly thought themselves the geese that laid the golden eggs. They were wrong and they were unforgivably ignorant too.
In 2008, when high-earning bankers were asked what they thought the poverty threshold was, they answered a £22,000 annual income. In fact, £22,000 is just under the average wage in the UK. If anyone lived in a bubble, it was the bankers. They really didn't know how the other half – actually the other 90 per cent – lived.
So I'm not going to be too apologetic for wanting to rub their noses just a little bit in the shit. I mean, it turns out they weren't masters of the universe at all. Quite the reverse in fact. They seemed to have lacked some fairly basic economic sense. Why do they – above all other workers – deserve bonanza bonuses? Surgeons and army generals and pioneering scientists – all these people provide essential services and are willing to go the extra mile to do their job well. So although Chris Knight sounds a little wild when he talks of "losing London" and the Prime Minister's demise, there's no denying that the new-wave anti-globalisation protesters are going to enjoy far more public sympathy this time round, far more than they did in 2001 at the time of the bloody G8 riots in Genoa. The world has changed drastically since then, a "summer of rage" has been predicted, and arguably, the time of the anti-globalisation movement has come.
The movement is a broad church these days and on 1 April, "Meltdown" are planning a Financial Fools Day "protest carnival" involving four separate marches which will converge on the Bank of England. Each march is to be led by one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse: a red horse against war, a green horse against climate change, a silver horse against financial crimes and a black horse in honour of the Diggers (last seen being agrarian communists in 1649).
These are ideas, broadly speaking, that many of us might now find time to get behind. There's no doubt that the old world order has been profoundly shaken by the financial crisis and there is a new – humbler – atmosphere and the possibility of change. There is an essential dilemma, however. Assuming we're not on the extreme end of anti-globalisation, we want economic growth to return. We want people to be in employment, to have healthy pensions. We want to spread our wealth to the developing world. Our system is a capitalist one and the very lifeblood of capitalism is economic growth. But economic growth is destroying the planet. What we do about that, I don't know.Reuse content