Barclays Protest launched in Westminster against Bob Diamond
As Westminster waits for former Group Chief Executive Bob Diamond, 'Right to Work' occupied the nearby Barclays in protest. Earlier they had protested at Downing St against David Cameron's proposals on housing benefits.
The group of around 20 protesters gathered with sleeping bags, cardboard boxes and banners opposite Downing St, where there were a few short speeches of protest at Tory plans to cut housing benefits, including all those to under 25s, which will make many homeless.
They then moved across the road to the fortress-like gates of Downing St, guarded by armed police and staged a protest outside these gates, with one protester getting out his sleeping bag and getting inside it on the pavement, holding up a notice reading 'Cardboard City - Never Again'. A police officer asked them to move away as protests are not allowed here, but was ignored, as the protest went on with several short speeches. A few minutes later more police turned up and one tried to find out 'who was in charge', but of course nobody was. A few minutes later, having been informed yet again that they could not protest in this place, although police indicated they could continue on the other side of the road, the protesters decided that they had made there point and would move on, rather than risk arrest.
The group crossed the road and continued with their banner, placards and cardboard boxes down Whitehall towards Parliament Square. Here they paused briefly in front of the vehicle entrance to the House of Commons before being moved on by police as a car made its way in. The pavement here was crowded with tourists as well as some pension protesters and didn't seem a good place to continue the protest, so they moved on past Westminster Abbey and out of Parliament Square to Victoria St.
Here on the corner is the Westminster Branch of Barclay's Bank, and they came here because Barclay's boss who resigned earlier in the week, Bob Diamond, was expected shortly in Westminster to testify at a House of Commons committee about his bank's lying over interest rates - something that made millions if not billions for the bank and huge bonuses for individuals working for it.
At the bank around half of the protesters walked in the main doors and began another protest there, again with the same man getting onto the floor in his sleeping bag while others made short speeches about why they were protesting. It was an entirely orderly and peaceful protest, although the protesters ignored the efforts of the security guard to prevent them. Using the megaphone they made clear that it was not a protest directed at the staff of this branch, but against those at the top of the bank - including Bob Diamond - who had profited immodestly from the banking crisis and their lies while the rest of us had now to suffer for their crimes. At one point the security man tried to turn off the megaphone, but his hand was pushed firmly but carefully away.
After a few minutes, when the protesters felt they had made their point (and we had taken our photographs) they left the bank of their own accord, continuing the protest on the pavement outside with those who had remained outside with the banner. The branch is only a couple of minutes walk from New Scotland Yard, and several bank staff appeared to be making frantic phone calls during the occupation and we had passed many police on our way to the bank, but none had appeared by the time I decided to leave for home around 15 minutes later. Either the bank had decided Barclays was already in the news enough and not to call the police or the police had decided they didn't want anything to do with Barclays today.
The protest was organised by the Right To Work campaign which was set up to oppose the cuts, "defend public services and the welfare state and fight for every job." Like many others they feel that those who had least part in causing the economic crisis are being asked to take far more than a fair share in getting us out of it. The poor - low paid, unemployed, students, pensioners and those who depend on the NHS and public services - are suffering, while bankers still get obscene salaries (and severance payments) and the rich are still allowed to evade or avoid billions in taxes. Right To Work is backed by many affiliated unions and union branches and anti-cuts and other campaigning groups.
On 25 June, David Cameron gave a chilling view of the cuts to the welfare system that a future Tory government would bring in, suggesting that almost all under-25s would lose housing benefit and that couples with three or more children would be penalised under the benefits system. Single lone parents with more than one child would also be targeted for cuts.
Although the harsher excesses of Tory benefit cuts will have to be delayed until the party is in power on its own, as they are unacceptable to their Lib Dem coalition partners, we have already seen some drastic cuts from the coalition with the imposition of an unrealistic cap on housing benefit for those under 35 renting from a private landlord, which at least in high cost areas such as Greater London will make many homeless. It will not only hit the unemployed - the great majority on housing benefit are working in low paid jobs. It is hard to see how London will keep working if a great mass of the low waged who perform essential jobs are no longer able to afford to live in London. Already many face long bus journeys to and from work from the cheaper areas around the capital.
The protesters see these proposals as clear evidence of how out of touch Cameron and the other wealthy cabinet members are with the problems faced by ordinary people, with millions living in poverty or on the edge of poverty and likely to be pushed into it by the benefit reforms.
There are of course problems with housing benefit, which actually works as a subsidy for wealthy landlords rather than those to whom it is paid. They have to have homes, and the problem is that there are virtually no affordable homes, at least in London or the South-East. Prices are not driven up - as the government suggests - by the existence of housing subsidy, but by the shortage of housing. Many houses and flats that are to rent specifically exclude people on housing benefit (perhaps the government is not aware of the significance of the message 'No DHSS' on many adverts, as the DHSS is long gone.)
For various reasons, including the 'right to buy' but also the bias of central government against local government over the past 35 years, there has been little or no building of the low cost social housing that we need. Although some building schemes now include an element of 'affordable' housing, this is now priced at a level that puts in out of reach for those on lower pay - and it will be above the level allowed by housing benefit.