Monday, August 7, 2006

Can Posh People Do Protest?

- London - August 2006
- From The Guardian

Countess Anca Vidaeff is about to get militant. The 53-year-old descendant of White Russian nobility occupies one of London's most desirable addresses and is better acquainted with Tatler magazine than with the vagaries of direct action. But this week she announced plans to hold a three-day hunger-strike in an effort to bring the American government, or at least its Mayfair representative, to its knees.
Primarily, her cause is inspired by fear. "Every time I leave my house I cross myself and plead with God, if he is going to blow the street up, do it while I am away," the countess fumes. "All this security is for the United States and there is nothing for the residents." And so Vidaeff is leading a formidable alliance of Swedish financiers and minor British royalty who reside in the streets surrounding the American embassy to protest that plans to protect the building from terrorist attacks will leave their neighbouring Georgian townhouses somewhat exposed.

The problem, as Vidaeff discovered when she attempted to whip up publicity on the subject on previous occasions, is that no one seems to take insurrectionary aristocrats very seriously. Only last month, the sight of 100 blazer-clad City bankers pounding the streets in protest against the extradition of the NatWest three was met with barely disguised derision in most sections of the press, and on the streets, despite considerable sympathy for their cause. It appears that, for some reason, the general public can't quite accept the idea of the upper class as revolutionary.

Historian Andrew Roberts, however, will reel off examples to prove that "posh protest" is nothing new. "The foundations of English liberty came from a barons' revolt," he says, "and it was the willingness of a toff squire, John Hampden, to face jail sooner than pay a measly 40 shillings ship money that led to the English revolution and parliamentary democracy." The rebellious barons were angry at the government's priorities (believing King John had been frittering away their money on foreign wars); they confronted the monarch at Runnymede in 1215, and ensured the creation of the Magna Carta, guaranteeing all free men the protection of the law.

In calling for a few road closures and some aesthetic changes to various security fences, the goals of the Mayfair malcontents are marginally more modest and, some might say, a degree more self-interested. None the less, if Countess Vidaeff were to study other examples of rich people emulating the protest tactics of their proletarian underlings, she might be confident of success. Though whether she will emulate the well-to-do Pankhursts and endure force-feeding for her cause remains to be seen.