Some food for thought for Polly Toynbee and the Occupy London protesters

October 18, 2011 2:01 PM

In her piece for today’s Guardian, Polly Toynbee describes her trip to the protest camp outside St Paul’s in the City of London on Sunday night, shortly after her “fierce argument” with me on Sky News on the subject.

I’ll overlook the fact that she misquotes me in the piece – and for branding me “disgraceful” in a Tweet yesterday – in the hope that she can be persuaded that not only are there more useful responses to the economic crisis than setting up camp in the City, but also that there is much on which all of us frustrated  about the situation should be able to agree.

In the initial statement agreed by Occupy London – which Toynbee commends – there are key points on which the TaxPayers’ Alliance can find common cause, namely in our opposition to bailing out the banks and in wanting “regulators to be genuinely independent of the industries they regulate”.

At the time of the last Government’s £50 billion bank bailout, we expressed our opposition to the move, not least because of the increased risk to which taxpayers’ money was being exposed. Why didn’t the politicians instead look at making deposit protection more credible, changing broken rules that were making the crisis worse, or push for faster interest rate cuts?

Moreover, there are big questions to be asked about the regulatory framework in the City and the mistakes made by politicians which led us to the position in which we find ourselves today. Again, the TPA has done work on this, as published in our comprehensive report, How inept regulation and poor policy decisions drove the financial crisis.

Why did ministers encourage off balance sheet debt, whilst driving up borrowing – and claiming to have put an end to the economic cycle of boom and bust? Was it not wrong that the Bank of England didn’t have the information it needed to work effectively as a lender of last resort? Why were concerns about the FSA’s incompetence and ineffectiveness ignored? Were there not regulations in place that made the crisis worse – including those emanating from the European Union?

Considering all these questions and more would be far more productive than merely condemning bankers and the capitalist system which has doubled people’s wealth every generation around the world, lifting countless millions out of poverty. Moreover, I fear that this new wave of protests has already lost its focus, with all manner of other causes tacking along to campaign against the military, in favour of the NHS and so on, which distorts the message they were trying to get heard.

Furthermore, the protesters are signalling their support for the nationwide strike on November 30th, whilst refusing to accept the Government’s cuts as “either necessary or inevitable”. On these matters, I’m afraid they are they are starkly out of step with public opinion – as evidenced by ICM polls for The Guardian, no less.

There is not majority support for strikes: people recognise that as we are trying to harness economic growth, the last thing the economy needs is for the country to be brought to a halt for the day. And on the issue of the cuts, only 8% of Britons believe that the Government should not be cutting public spending at all, whilst there is massive net support (66% to 12%) for the statement that the government has been spending too much [of our] money.

So the 500 protesters in the City purporting to represent 99% of the country ought to not only spend their time a bit more productively by establishing the lessons to be learned  from the economic crisis, but also considering the evidence, as published in The Guardian, which shows that the British people by no means share all of their views.  We can differ on what needs to be cut and when, but most people understand that spending cuts are right and necessary.  The Government can’t keep living beyond taxpayers’ means.In her piece for today’s Guardian, Polly Toynbee describes her trip to the protest camp outside St Paul’s in the City of London on Sunday night, shortly after her “fierce argument” with me on Sky News on the subject.

I’ll overlook the fact that she misquotes me in the piece – and for branding me “disgraceful” in a Tweet yesterday – in the hope that she can be persuaded that not only are there more useful responses to the economic crisis than setting up camp in the City, but also that there is much on which all of us frustrated  about the situation should be able to agree.

In the initial statement agreed by Occupy London – which Toynbee commends – there are key points on which the TaxPayers’ Alliance can find common cause, namely in our opposition to bailing out the banks and in wanting “regulators to be genuinely independent of the industries they regulate”.

At the time of the last Government’s £50 billion bank bailout, we expressed our opposition to the move, not least because of the increased risk to which taxpayers’ money was being exposed. Why didn’t the politicians instead look at making deposit protection more credible, changing broken rules that were making the crisis worse, or push for faster interest rate cuts?

Moreover, there are big questions to be asked about the regulatory framework in the City and the mistakes made by politicians which led us to the position in which we find ourselves today. Again, the TPA has done work on this, as published in our comprehensive report, How inept regulation and poor policy decisions drove the financial crisis.

Why did ministers encourage off balance sheet debt, whilst driving up borrowing – and claiming to have put an end to the economic cycle of boom and bust? Was it not wrong that the Bank of England didn’t have the information it needed to work effectively as a lender of last resort? Why were concerns about the FSA’s incompetence and ineffectiveness ignored? Were there not regulations in place that made the crisis worse – including those emanating from the European Union?

Considering all these questions and more would be far more productive than merely condemning bankers and the capitalist system which has doubled people’s wealth every generation around the world, lifting countless millions out of poverty. Moreover, I fear that this new wave of protests has already lost its focus, with all manner of other causes tacking along to campaign against the military, in favour of the NHS and so on, which distorts the message they were trying to get heard.

Furthermore, the protesters are signalling their support for the nationwide strike on November 30th, whilst refusing to accept the Government’s cuts as “either necessary or inevitable”. On these matters, I’m afraid they are they are starkly out of step with public opinion – as evidenced by ICM polls for The Guardian, no less.

There is not majority support for strikes: people recognise that as we are trying to harness economic growth, the last thing the economy needs is for the country to be brought to a halt for the day. And on the issue of the cuts, only 8% of Britons believe that the Government should not be cutting public spending at all, whilst there is massive net support (66% to 12%) for the statement that the government has been spending too much [of our] money.

So the 500 protesters in the City purporting to represent 99% of the country ought to not only spend their time a bit more productively by establishing the lessons to be learned  from the economic crisis, but also considering the evidence, as published in The Guardian, which shows that the British people by no means share all of their views.  We can differ on what needs to be cut and when, but most people understand that spending cuts are right and necessary.  The Government can’t keep living beyond taxpayers’ means.

Latest Blogs:

TaxPayers' Alliance Icon

The sugar tax and the public finances

6:00 AM 05, Dec 2016 Harry Fairhead

TaxPayers' Alliance Icon

Working for the taxman

6:00 AM 26, Nov 2016 Harry Fairhead

TaxPayers' Alliance Icon

Further thoughts on the Autumn Statement

4:56 PM 24, Nov 2016 James Price

TaxPayers' Alliance Icon

Have we had too much austerity?

10:57 AM 23, Nov 2016 Alex Wild