Leading article: From protest camp to festival


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For all the laudable display of compromise, it is difficult not to feel a twinge of disappointment at the deal to allow the St Paul's protest camp to remain in the cathedral precincts until after Christmas, in return for removing those tents which block the thoroughfare.

Whatever else, the encampment is not, apparently, a very rebellious rebellion. Such easy accommodation with the prescriptions of the establishment render it more like a festival than a protest, a tourist attraction rather than the passionate outpourings of the disaffected.

That said, the Occupy protests – both here and around the world – have still achieved much. As even the Archbishop of Canterbury eventually realised, the St Paul's camp is only the most obvious expression of a growing national frustration. The irresponsible behaviour of bankers and regulators which caused the global financial meltdown – the consequences of which are now working their way through the lives of ordinary people – is essentially unchanged. Huge remuneration packages are still being paid to top executives as working people lose their jobs. Bankers' bonuses rack up as fast as the value of ordinary pensions plummet. There may be something inchoate, even incoherent, about the Occupy movement, but the issues it is complaining about echo in the conscience of the nation and should not be ignored.

Equally, there is something overdue about public protest and the growing impatience it signals among a younger generation whose parents succumbed to the lure of satiating consumerism and weary political fatalism. After the excitement of the student protest movements and agitation of the 1960s, a generation of Thatcher's children found a more individualist and materialist focus to their lives. But so much of the promise of their era – among other things, the liberation of the financial market at the City's Big Bang 25 years ago – has proved to have serious downsides.

Those asking questions about the ethics of finance, and its relationship with fairness and justice, have found eloquent voice with the return of protest to our streets. Even if they will go home by January as agreed.