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Driving the moneychangers from the temple: a technical guide

A cunning plan to use the government's Localism Bill to declare London's Pasternoster Square a community asset, purchase it … and drive the moneychangers from the temple.

Let me start with some facts and basic assumptions, which I will then proceed to weave into a rich tapestry of Christian socialist subversion:

1) The Occupy London Stock Exhange movement (#occupylsx) originally intended to occupy Paternoster Square, in front of the London Stock Exchange, but was prevented from doing so by the police because Paternoster Square is in the private ownership of the Mitsubishi Estate Company.

2) There have been attempts in recent years by other stock exchanges to buy the London Stock Exchange which is, ultimately, just a very big building with a lot of computers (and quite a reputation for exchanging stocks, regardless of government regulation), with a big square in front.

3) As a result of the police action stopping entry into Paternoster Square, #occupylsx ended up occupying an area in front of St Paul’s Cathedral. This has had a lot of unintended consequences. As Paul Mason has noted, it might not have started a revolution, but it does seem to be kick-starting a second Reformation.

4) The Church of England, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, have now professed concern about the issues raised by #occupylsx, but has not as yet acted substantively in support of #occuplylsx.

5) There is a good deal of energy and commitment within #occupylsx at the moment, with a lot of press coverage and a good deal of day-to-day development. However, one of the quiet concerns members will have is that, once this initial excitement fades and the press goes away, settling in for the long haul through to Spring (and the potential for eviction action) will be difficult, and numbers may dwindle. This is nothing to be ashamed of – I’ve been on dwindling picket lines – but it is something to plan for.

6) One of the ‘demands’ set out by #occupylsx, mocked by the more short-sighted, is “an end to business and corporate block-votes in all council elections, which can be used to outvote local residents”.

7) The government’s Localism Bill yesterday completed its passage through the Lords. This bill contains within it provision for what has become known as a “community right-to-buy”, although, as I have explained previously on False Economy, this is inaccurate. This legislation requires that local authorities (including the City of London Corporation) draw up a list of “assets of community value”, and that they should take submissions from community groups on what should be on this list. When an asset is put on the list, any owner of that land or property who wishes to dispose of it must first give community groups the chance to prepare a bid within a specified period (likely to be 6 months). There is, despite government rhetoric (ie lies), no requirement for the owner to accept that bid (hence the inaccurate titling), but the chance to bid must at least be given.

8) According to three of the four gospels, Jesus drove moneychangers from the temple. At that time, economic anthropologist David Graeber suggests (though he says it of a somewhat earlier period), temples would be ‘gigantic, complex industrial institutions often staffed by thousands (p.64)’, including many people involved in secularized finance. That is to say, a temple in Jesus’s time may have been much more like the current London Stock Exchange, than the current St Paul’s cathedral. The Stock Exchange is effectively the high temple of capitalist finance.

So much for the facts. Now let’s get Christian socialist subversive tapestry weaving:

First, building on prior engagement, #occupylsx should write formally to the City of London Corporation, setting out its intention to nominate the London Stock Exchange (or at least Paternoster Square in front of it) as an ‘asset of community value’, as soon as the Localism Bill legislation is passed.

#occuplylsx should stress a) the urgency with which it hopes the Corporation to carry out its duty, under the legislation, of drawing up the list of assets of community value; b) the legal precedent in planning law (I can provide previous examples), under which pending legislation should be taken into account when a local authority makes relevant planning or enoforcement decisions, and how the possibility of a later transfer of #occupylsx to the Stock Exchange itself will need to be taken into account by the Corporation’s Planning and Transportation Committee at any future meeting to consider enforcement.

Second, #occupylsx should approach the Church of England with a view to the church formally supporting the inclusion of London Stock Exchange on the City of London’s assets of community value list. As and when this achieved, the plan should be for the church to work with #occupylsx and its fund managers (including CCLA) on the development of a business plan for the purchase of some or all of the London Stock Exchange/Paternoster Sqaure; the area would then be leased by the Church, at affordable rates, to #occupylsx and to other organizations interested in finding an anti-capitalist/faith-based use for the space.

Third, #occupylsx should build on its initial demands for the democratization of the City of London Corporation, which will now of course seem very far-sighted, by focusing on how the London Stock Exchange will only finally end up on the list of assets of community value through the democratic process, and why this democratic process needs to be fair, rather than biased to business interests. This will ‘make real’ the democratic process (including for local elections in 2013) for a section of the population who might otherwise see control of local government institutions as something of an irrelevance.

Fourth, a message should go out loud and clear to the current owners of Paternoster Square, the Mitsubishi Estate Company, that in the fullness of time they are likely to be faced with the community right-to-buy process, and that #occupylsx is now in league with a newly motivated church on this matter. #occuplylsx should also point out how such a process might muddy the waters in respect of any purchase of the Stock Exchange by any rival stock exchange. While the outcome of any such move is difficult to guess at, this might at the very least unnerve the current owners, faced as they will be by the potential loss of value in their prized asset.

Finally, the end objective should be kept it sight. This is, in very real terms, to allow the Church of England, with the support of a wide group of people, to fulfill a prophetic mission – the driving of the modern day moneychangers from their temple.

Paul Cotterill blogs at Though Cowards Flinch.


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