The demise of the Occupy camp outside St Paul's Cathedral was long overdue. That is not to say it should never have been there at all. The protest that the police dismantled late on Monday night was loud, scruffy and angry. And embedded in its sometimes incoherent messages was a core feeling of dissatisfaction which spoke to many struggling to make sense of the most severe financial crisis since the 1930s. A world in which the richest few grow ever richer, while everyone else feels the squeeze cannot possibly be justified, and Occupy can take credit for providing a focus for a much wider concern.
By this week, however, the point had been altogether made. After 137 days of demonstration, costing the taxpayer more than £600,000, it was difficult to see the benefit of the continued presence of a camp that had slid into a series of distracting rows over its occupants' impact on their cathedral neighbour. By the end, the unhappy campers with their cardboard signs, cooking stoves and waste disposal problems were merely hampering the daily work of St Paul's, rather than curbing the forces of unfettered capitalism. In fact, the longer the demonstration continued, the more it turned into a self-indulgence for those who remained.
"This is only the beginning," the protesters claimed as their encampment was torn down. Possibly. But if the Occupy movement is to offer anything more than a left-wing equivalent to the fundamentalist conservative activism of America's Tea Party movement, it needs more than a scuffle over the right to clutter up public spaces for months on end. Ultimately, protest can only ever be of the moment. Better to look for longer-term, workable curbs on the excesses of an uncontrolled free market.
The debate on how we put in place a more responsible form of capitalism is a vital one. And occupy has done much to get that debate going. But it will demand more than slogans shouting down blanket assumptions of corporate greed. And it will require a forum a good deal wider than the small pavement between the capital's principal cathedral and the shops which surround it. Real change will involve the realpolitik of a politics beyond protest.