Fox (n): carnivore of genus vulpes; crafty person; scavenger; (vb) to confuse; -ed (adj): to be drunk.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Make it count.

HACKS have a different way of counting things to the rest of the world.

So one will report a million people on Bournemouth beach on a sizzling summer day, and another that it was a bit chilly and there were only 800,000. Today The Groaner claims there are 400 people camping out at the Occupy London protest, while the Daily Glimmer says it's 300 and the Daily Wail's hack on the spot can see only 250 and "a number" of tents.

The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, but I'll bet you any money by the end of the week it won't be in three figures anymore, or at least not overnight. Gets chilly this time of year.

And while we're at it, in my lifetime there's not been a sit-in that counted at all. They were a useful tool for Gandhi and Martin Luther King back in the day when The Man cared about how he looked and could see the point of behaving better. But today? Well, Tiananmen Square was a sit-in and that didn't go too well. Greenham Common was occupied and we still have the threat of nuclear war, only these days it's Iran rather than Russia. Brian Haw sat in Parliament Square for 10 years and didn't stop any wars. The Occupy Wall Street protest has been going a month and Wall Street is still quite happily trading.

I don't want to appear cynical - all those protests showed public anger and disdain for very bad things, and everyone has the right to throw their two penn'orth in. But they didn't change anything, because The Man does not care and the people who organise such stuff aren't exactly rocket scientists.

Successful protests have to be held in warm weather, for a start. People are more inclined to take a week off work if they can sit in a deckchair drinking beer rather than stamping their feet trying to keep warm. They need to attract Joe Public too, rather than the usual suspects who flit between saving traveller sites, marching for the gender-confused and hanging banners off power stations. They may be very well-intentioned people, but a protest is never going to get public traction if the people on it all look like they don't wash very often.

And it needs a clear purpose. The democratic statement released by the London protesters called for world peace and the end of all general oppression, for goodness' sake. It doesn't have a single clear aim or intent beyond 'we don't like bad stuff'. Well, I don't like peas but I'm fairly sure I could get them all painted pink before this lot manage to achieve anything.

If you want to change the banking system, sitting outside St Paul's while the bankers walk past to get their Starbucks latte just isn't going to do it.

The only thing that would is if you cut off their life support - and take your money back.

No more hours spent talking to customer disservices. No more proving your identity 18 times a day. No more bankers' bonuses and tiny interest rates on your meagre savings.

'What a great idea!' I thought. So I rang my employers' finance department, and asked if they would pay me in cash. Er, no. They don't have any cash, the computer's not set up to do it, the PAYE coding would get all SNAFU'ed. Can't, won't, not gunna.

So I rang my bank, and asked what they would do if I took all my cash out every month, once I was paid. Nothing much, they replied, except I can't pay my mortgage in cash so that has to be paid through the bank, and I wouldn't get as favourable a deal if their computers didn't show my money flowing through their account all month, which would mean selling the house, and that involves paying the bank a few thousand, and then I still have to buy another house which, oh yes, involves paying the bank a few thousand. Hmmm.

Then there's the direct debits - electric, gas, telephone, council tax, TV licence. To pay my council tax by cash would involve a three hour wait with a numbered ticket down at the council offices, and the utility companies give you money off for paying through your bank. I'm not even going to start on the palaver of trying to get a new cheque book so I could do it by post.

So The Man has us by the short and curlies, and he knows it. That's why he doesn't give a damn about your tents and your protests and your bailouts, and is quite happily carrying on like Mr Potter in It's A Wonderful Life, screwing everyone just because he can.

But then it's not really The Man's fault - he is, after all, just something else that humans have made, along with guns and insurance firms and car accidents. But there is a choice other than beating him or joining him, and that's to go around him.

If you want to protest, put your money in the dwindling number of building societies, which do good things with it. Find a bank which doesn't invest your money in the arms trade, deforestation in Indonesia and rapacious mining in the Congo. Tell the Big Five of Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds, RBS and Santander to sod off and find an ethical bank that suits you better here.

You'll have to keep everything crossed they don't turn turtle like Northern Rock, but hey, life's a risk. You just have to decide whether you want to gamble with The Man or not play his game at all.

The only thing worth doing outside St Paul's with your two penn'orth is to use it to feed the birds, rather than hand it to a banker and hope he does it for you.

The only way to get The Man to do what you want is to deny him your tuppence.

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