Even though I am an absolutist with it comes to the right to protest, I couldn't help feeling relieved when a court decided this week that the Occupy camp outside St Paul's Cathedral should sling its hook. For what started life as a middle-class shantytown packed with self-righteous haters of the rich – an annoying spectacle, yes, but hardly the end of world – has in recent weeks descended into something far more degenerate. Occupy London is now effectively a holding camp for the mentally ill, a space where the psychologically afflicted and deeply troubled can gather to eat, drink and be un-merry. And to have such a makeshift lunatic asylum on the steps of St Paul's is not good for London nor for the inhabitants of the camp, who clearly need somewhere better to go.
On the five occasions I have visited Occupy London, I have noticed a steady decline in the calibre of the campers. To begin with, the inhabitants were mostly young, with red cheeks and purple hair, talking utter rubbish, of course, but not unpleasant to look at. Before long, that contingent seemed to disappear, to be replaced by straggly-haired conspiracy theorists banging on about 7/7 and the chemicals in our food. Now the camp has the distinct whiff of rotting food and decaying socks, and its dwellers are all sad-eyed and pathetic, many of them old, confused, and clearly too fond of booze. "GET TAE F**K!" one of them was shouting, at absolutely no one, the last time I was there.
The Occupy organisers admit that their political project, which both the media and political establishments hailed as brilliant and inspiring when it first appeared, is now full of deeply troubled folk. In a recent press communique they put a call out, not for more protesters, but for mental-health workers. "We have people with alcohol and drug addiction issues, we have people with mental-health problems", they said. "We have more and more of these people and fewer peaceful activists. If you can help with these issues, you're particularly needed." In short, they need mental-health experts to come to the camp and nurse the lost souls who have made it their home. But if it was inappropriate to have a tent-city full of middle-class brats slap bang in the middle of London, it's even more inappropriate to have a kind of open-air mental hospital there, cold and damp and depressing. ...