By Simon Childs. Photos: Oscar Webb
and Chris Bethell
Jun 22, 2015
Arriving at the Bank of England for Saturday's big anti-austerity demo, there was a sea of Tory-haters of every conceivable type. You had your animal lovers dressed as badgers, your percussionists in samba bands, unreformed Stalinists, people wearing "vote Labour" rosettes like the election hasn't already happened, Green Party supporters and those who don't fall into any of these categories and therefore are probably either hardworking families or skivers, AKA the general public.
I'm not sure where this guy falls on the spectrum that starts at Mondeo Man and ends with Aldi Mum, and that's probably why he was there: he, like many others at the march, likely feels that he's been forgotten by the arbiters of power in Westminster, so has to take to the streets in a sleeveless Ed Hardy vest if he wants any chance of having his voice heard.
The organisers estimated that there were 250,000 of these people at the demo. That might be a bit optimistic – others put attendance at anywhere between 70,000 to 150,000 – but whatever: a large number of people turned up to show that they're not up for George Osborne's big plan to return to Victorian values.
mpressive though the turnout was, it didn't mask the sense of a left still reeling from the Conservatives' shock election win. Jeremy Corbyn's leadership bid has given some a sense of direction, but is it a good direction? At one point, I came across a man shouting that if every person in attendance signed up as a supporter of the Labour Party and voted for Corbyn, he'd be a shoe-in. "Do it today!" he exhorted. The maths are pretty inarguable, but even if everyone did sign up you have to wonder if they'd just be more fodder for Labour's centralising party mincing machine.
Less optimistic than this man was another Labour supporter who I overheard saying that he hopes his preferred candidate, Yvette Cooper, loses. The rationale was that Labour will lose in 2020, so this way – he reasoned – Cooper can swoop in, untainted by failure, and lead Labour to victory in 2025.
At one point, a black bloc of anarchists split from the march and headed to Elephant and Castle. When they got there, they sprayed "FUCK CAPITALISM" onto one of the gentrifying new apartment blocks that's being built there. They then threw a couple of paint-bombs and eggs at it. As a police line formed around the yuppie flats, the black bloc gave up and mooched off to re-join the main march, which was arriving in Parliament Square to listen to speeches by trade unionists, left-wing academics andOwen Jones.
At the back of the square, a bonfire was started, before the police quickly put it out. That was as close as things got to an incident that might get the march noticed by the Mail(one of the war memorials on Whitehall was boarded up to prevent anyone writing on it).
Perhaps the only other incident of note was that this guy accidentally fell into a Socialist Workers Party stall, completely taking it out. Although, again, I doubt Paul Dacre and his readers will care too much about some bent signs and a flattened trestle table.
With celebrities as diverse as Charlotte Church, Russell Brand and a print-out of the Wealdstone Raider in attendance – all of them telling the Tories, "If you want some, I'll give it ya" – the left can surely take heart.
Nevertheless, the question of what exactly should be done is still hanging about. According to John Rees, one of the People's Assembly organisers, the march was "only the beginning" of a much bigger campaign. "We need to hit the government again and again and again," he said.
But there's no point in swinging endless left-hooks that don't land. The day after the demo, Chancellor George Osborne and Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith wrote an article for the Sunday Times.
"This government was elected with a mandate to implement further savings," they wrote, announcing a plan to further cut benefits spending by £12 billion a year. It was a strong reaffirmation of their commitment to not giving a shit about the opinions of people who would never vote for them anyway.
And, of course, the march wasn't the "beginning" – that was the student movement in 2010, followed by the "March for the Alternative" in 2011. That day, twice as many people went to London as were there for Saturday's End Austerity Now demo. That also didn't stop the years of austerity that followed.
The danger is – as the saying goes – that like a cute dog wearing a snapback, a skull scarf and a muzzle, the movement has lost its bite. Sometimes it looks like the left is stuck on an endless protest loop, gearing up for the next "big one" as soon as the last one finishes, none of them going anywhere except to build for the next, again and again and again, on repeat, ad nauseam.
If Tony Blair could ignore a million people saying he shouldn't murder hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, David Cameron can certainly ignore a quarter of that number telling him to please not pursue policies that mean terminally ill people are required to work until they die. The protesters need only to read their own banners about how heartless the Tories are to realise that.
After five years of austerity with no end in sight, maybe a huge demo is just what the doctor ordered for Britain's tortured left. But with the news that child poverty is on course for the biggest rise in a generation thanks to benefit cuts and the bedroom tax, they'll soon need something that does more than act as a political comfort blanket.
@SimonChilds13 / @owebb / @CBethell_photo
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