Bill Carmichael: Occupy was an empty protest

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REMEMBER Occupy? You couldn’t miss it late last year when activists set up tented encampments in about two dozen towns and cities across the UK.

It was hailed as the fastest-growing political movement in the country and promised to reform or even abolish capitalism and replace it with something “fairer”.

When asked how long they would stick it out, the usual response from the campers was “for as long as it takes”.

Yet today hardly any camps remain. In Yorkshire, Occupy Leeds disappeared at the beginning of January and Occupy Sheffield packed up last weekend.

There are similar stories from around the country – Occupy camps at Bristol, Exeter, Edinburgh, Newcastle and Liverpool have all given up the ghost. Even the flagship protest outside St Paul’s Cathedral in London is, according to a prominent supporter, “exhausted and jaded”.

With bewildering speed the entire movement, which was bristling with confidence and enthusiasm just three months ago, has disappeared up its own fundament.

What went wrong? Well partly the weather. The first half of the winter was unseasonably mild but the recent cold snap has seen the campers packing up their tents and heading home.

As uprisings go, this is a bit pathetic. Can you imagine the Bolsheviks calling off the October Revolution because it was getting a bit parky? Or Mao’s Red Army abandoning the Long March because they didn’t want to catch a chill?

But probably the main reason for the collapse is that no one could say with any degree of coherence what Occupy actually stood for, beyond a general anger over “greed”.

Okay, you might say, greed is a bad thing. What are you going to do about it? I must have spoken to more than a dozen Occupiers in several cities over recent months and every time I got a different answer.

Some were hard-left activists who want to destroy capitalism and replace it with state socialism. Some want to see capitalism reformed by giving the state more power to control businesses and by increasing taxes.

Others were angry over unemployment, or bankers’ bonuses or the NHS or “the cuts” or half a dozen other things. The problem with this lack of clarity is that it is deeply corrosive to any sense of purpose. Instead of looking outward and trying to connect with local communities, the camps gradually became ever more introspective and narcissistic.

Eventually the biggest debate that came to dominate Occupy was not about high- minded concepts such as equality and justice, but whether the camps should continue at all.

I’m not sorry to see them go. Behind the sanctimonious do-goodery there was a strong current of nastiness. The Occupy Sheffield camp, for example, was characterised by a vicious campaign of bullying of the city’s Cathedral that culminated in December when an Occupier interrupted the Eucharist to scream obscenities at worshippers.

In the end, the empty tents became a symbol of what was essentially an empty protest.

Rangers’ penalty

I feel sorry for fans of Rangers Football Club which was forced to go into administration this week.

And, because the club has been docked 10 points it effectively ended this season’s Scottish Premier League with Glasgow rivals Celtic virtually certain to win the championship.

One thing puzzles me though – how is it the club has been allowed to rack up such a large unpaid tax bill when ordinary mortals are hit with a £100 fine if we are a day late with our tax return?