Inspired by the frat-house hippies, meditating flash mobs and politicised drag queens currently sticking it to The Man in their napping zones on Wall Street, a handful of agitated lefties decided to bring the money and irony-hating circus to the UK this week. Their quest for... something was to begin in my hometown. It all sounded like great fun. It wasn't.
Leaving their Home Counties estates in the care of their house-stewards, university dropout children and wanting housewives, members of the UK Conservative Party flocked North to the charming provincial hamlet of 'Manchester' for their annual Party Conference last weekend. From Sunday the 2nd until Wednesday the 5th of October, the Tories discussed the future of their party, did runners from restaurants, announced one thing then did the opposite; you know, the sort of stuff they do every year.
Unfortunately for them, an organisation identifying itself in the form of a Twitter hashtag had decided to disrupt their sojourn in the North. Unlike the group's peers across the pond, who decided to gatecrash America's immovable quarter of Capitalism, these numpties chose to "occupy" a transient event. Those spoilsports are #occupyMCR, and it fell to me to spend as much time as I possibly could in their presence.
After pitching up with a couple of tents and some tarpaulin, they unpacked their banners and placards and began to decorate Albert Square, which is where the bourgeoisie of Manchester come to drink, marry and celebrate how great their lives are. It's also where lowly paid councillors and civil servants fight to save both the city and their jobs. But you try explaining the shades of proletarian grey to a mob of people convinced they should be running the world when they still haven't figured out how to wash themselves or their own clothes.
The crowd was a weird one – it was a lot smaller than the marching TUC guys I'd been hanging around with earlier that day, and their motivations and aims seemed to deviate wildly. The protesters' targets were so unfocused that it was less like a protest and more just a collection of people who were angry at stuff that doesn't bother me (something they share with the Conservatives). A few people spoke about the need for peaceful protest, and then this guy grabbed the loudhailer and started chanting slogans about "stringing up bastards":
The radicals kept coming. The next speaker had his speech cut short because he had to catch a coach. In terms of occupation, I can't imagine a one-day coach trip qualifies. He had a lot to say, but his speech was so incoherent that the only people I can imagine benefitting from his presence were the greedy, baby-guzzling, cocaine fatcats who run Mega Bus.
Finally, this young chap in the decorative shirt arrived the other side of the loudhailer, spraying such gems as: "The Coalition brought the EDL into existence."
Eventually, we arrived at a point when no one else wanted to speak. So there was a short break when a soundsystem was linked up to an iPod, which was then used to pump out awful music. This guy was clearly enjoying himself, despite later having an argument with his girlfriend. I've no idea what they were arguing about, but somehow I don't think it was the 1922 committee or Gideon Osbourne's plans to freeze council tax. More likely he just got brainfreeze from the McDonald's milkshake sat next to him.
What would a modern British protest be without a terrible rap duo? The lead "rapper" was this guy. His mum was allegedly born in Barnsley and he was very angry with Margaret Thatcher and the Miners' Strike. I got the impression that because he doesn't play many gigs t'up Narth he had to resort to some slightly outdated material.
This was another thing I noticed: the large amount of regional interlopers. Most of the TUC marchers from earlier in the day actually seemed to be from Manchester. They all talked the same as me, and, like true Mancunians, all of them ended up in the pub at the end of the day. But the #occupyMCR protest was more surreal. No one there was more drunk than the TUC members who at that point had flocked to the pub, but at least they were still making sense. Indeed, these glorified squatters made as much sense to me, a local, as Rab C Nesbitt would have made to the men and women bravely camping out in the freshly dug poi-trenches of Wall Street.
Every so often people would shout, "Get your phones out… Twitter… Facebook." They may position themselves as truth-sayers and political clairvoyants, but they still engage in PR, happily manipulating numbers to their own gain. "There's 30,000 people here," was a classic bit of bullshit that did the rounds on Twitter.
Although these pictures hilariously suggest that a couple of police officers joined in with the lunacy by chugging on Carling and Strongbow, in reality they are confiscating them. Cue an announcer: "Don't let them take our booze." Stirring stuff. If only the politicians were around to hear this, the furious voice of young England. At this point, I felt we were merely a game of Beer Pong away from truly emulating our American cousins. Damn you Britain and your civilised and generally reasonable police officers!
Then this kid was taken aside by the police and questioned, apparently because he observed the arson of Miss Selfridge during the riots. This enraged the protesters, sparking them to shout abuse at the police. "You cannot stop and search him, we are not terrorists," they screamed. "The stop and search act is an invasion of our privacy!" When you're hanging out with a bunch of people who are threatening to cut the heads off government ministers, such arguments kind of fall apart.
Word spread within the mob that delegates from the Tory Party Conference would be attending a meeting at the Town Hall, so they decided to boo anyone who walked past wearing a suit. They would shout "Tory Scum" at almost ever passer-by, failing to take into account that a) not everyone at the Conservative conference was actually a card-carrying Cameron lad, and b) people wear suits in Manchester all the time.
When they tired of haranguing innocent bystanders, the crazy gang proceeded to play an iPod DJ set through the PA which peaked with Queen's "It's A Kind Of Magic". They split from the #occupyMCR protest and allegedly were later arrested for the admittedly rather minor crimes of playing their jukebox too loud and wearing masks. Others left for a squat, just before George Osrborne announced that he will not be increasing Council Tax next year. It's a shame that these angry youths will not be able to benefit from Osborne's act of kindness. Now I understand their rage. If only they could make protesting a little less terrible.
The fundamental problem with this movement is that, just because Manchester City Council doesn't have a single Tory on the Committee and the vast majority of the parliamentary seats in the area are held by Labour, they have presumed we are all unemployed, willing to camp in a shitty square, not wash, listen to crap music and call for the death of all politicians. Then they have the audacity to assume that they are part of "the 99%", when really their views are more isolated, less popular, and more idiotic than the policies of those they seek to depose. Manchester is a broad church, but if you think that means we've got time for these Human Traffic extras, think again.
On the upside, I guess we have to deal with fewer of them than the Yanks do.