Nearly half a million of us marched in London, yesterday, challenging the unelected coalition government’s policy of slashing public services. Well, it would have been ‘challenging’ had anyone on the platform laid out a counter policy and some sort of strategy to stop a vicious band of millionaires making the weakest in society pay for the greed of the bankers. With the bottom three percent of the population shouldering 25 percent of the cuts some sort of sign of life was long overdue.
To mobilise the largest group of protesters since the February 2003 anti-Iraq war march was a triumph on the part of the TUC. To then allow this huge demonstration of discontent pour out of the north end of Hyde Park almost as fast as others were arriving through the Queen Mother’s gate at the south without having heard any sign of what the alternative is or how we are to restructure the finances of this nation was a crying shame. The speeches in Hyde Park were often overblown and meaningless, not to mention contradictory. The germ of truth in the Tory argument, that Labour would have been doing pretty much the same had they been in power, still stands. The message we took from the rally was that the Tory narrative is unassailable and true: Labour would also cut, only slower.
Pulled leftwards by widespread public support for recent student and UK Uncut action, Ed Miliband had agreed, seemingly reluctantly, to address today’s rally. However, sitting on the fence and hopefully getting splinters where the sun don’t shine as a result, ‘Red’ Ed declined to march with a huge slice of his own constituency, leading many of us to suspect he’s more afraid of making waves with the press barons and whoever’s really running the show than offering leadership in this crisis. As it was, with only the head of this massive march in the park, Ed gave his speech at 1.30pm and avoided the bulk of the protesters, many of whom still hadn’t left the Embankment starting point. He was booed and barracked by a minority present who were aware of the Iraq-shaped elephant in the room, and whose repeated refrain, ‘You’ve had your chance,’ struck a chord.
The nice lady from the Unitarian Reform Church was on hand to ensure the middle classes weren’t scared. Simon Woolley of Operation Black Vote alarmed me with his crucified Christ arms and his ‘my people’, ‘you are my brother’ asides, despite the substance of what he had to say being OK. You got the distinct feeling that few of the speakers were used to speaking in front of the multitudes and that, when they did, it went to their heads like a glass of champagne.
Mark Serwotka, Mick Leahy and a smattering of trade union leaders gave solid workmanlike performances, but the best speaker by far was without doubt Dave Nellist who should have been on the platform but had to set up his stall with the National Shop Stewards Network in Speakers Corner, away from the main drag [Edit: I thought the stall was Dave’s Socialist Party comrades but turns out it was organised by the NSSN) . Here is someone who is clear that we have to fight the cuts every inch of the way, even if it means breaking the law. When have unfair laws ever been changed in our favour without a battle? Go ask the suffragettes. Nellist is a Coventry councillor who has consistently voted against the cuts. I was too busy applauding to take notes so sorry for not giving you a full report here.
Some of us watched BBC coverage on the Marble Arch Wetherspoons screen and walked up Oxford Street, site of the youth wing’s sparring with authority, amused that UK Uncut had the police chasing phantoms, mustering forces to protect every Boots, Wallis, bank, Dorothy Perkins and Top Shop in the vicinity, while the scamps’ secret target was actually posh grocer’s, Fortnum and Masons in Piccadilly. We heard later from an American who’d been having tea and cake there that the protesters had invaded, sung songs and read poetry while the breakables around them remained intact. Ah, the barricades will be full of romance.
I never got to Trafalgar ‘Tahrir’ Square as we joined David Allen Green for his birthday celebrations at the Phoenix Arts Club, a few hundred yards up the road. A great way to end the day. We departed, thinking about dem yoot and wishing them well. I don’t condemn them for vandalising rich people’s premises. What’s a bit of plate glass? Their lives are being wrecked by the bankers, the tax dodgers, the Bullingdon bully millionaires and Ramsay MacClegg, and that is the worst vandalism of all.
Laurie Penny reports from Trafalgar Square.
Eyewitness report from Harpy Marx: from Embankment to Piccadilly.
An account from UK Uncut.
A good video of the event from the Socialist Party
Anna’s food blog here: