TOM MOULE argues against a press spin of peaceful protests against the cuts in London this weekend.
On the morning after The March For The Alternative the headlines spoke of the carnage, violence and destruction of the demonstration against the cuts. Those watching the news were confronted by pictures of masked thugs viciously attacking the police. But this was not the march I experienced.
I went to London to march peacefully alongside members of mainstream Britain who wanted to send an important message to the government. Our message was spoken through our sheer numbers, our diversity and above all our solidarity. The bellicosity of a few diluted this message. But it would be a stark injustice to all us mainstream Britons if our side of the story was muted by the antics of these ostensible revolutionaries.
The moment I walked out of Charing Cross station I was gripped by one of the most poignant sights of the day: a frail and elderly lady in a wheel chair baring a sign stating “spare a thought for us”. Organisations concerned with the welfare of the elderly have stressed that the government’s plans to cut winter fuel allowance could result in fatalities. Her vulnerability was manifest, yet despite mobility difficulties she had attended because her cause needed to be heard. She was not there for mindless brutality.
Despite people’s obvious anger at the government, there was a genuinely friendly ethos throughout the march. Families had turned out together, their lunches packed for a grand day out. Groups of pensioners, charity workers and other professionals could be seen everywhere. There was humour in people’s protests too. One man walked a dog clothed in a banner that read “don’t suck up to these fat-cats”. My favourite sign of all read “not even Charlie Sheen would take this rubbish”.
Yes, there were those who chanted incoherent profanities: they were vociferous but they were vastly outnumbered. TUC workers stood alongside the police at various points to make sure that this was a worthwhile experience for the prolific amounts of law abiding citizens present.
Occasionally you’d see a banner with Che Guevara’s face on it. Whether these people seriously want British democracy overthrown, or just think the symbol is cool is unclear. Perhaps they’d have done well to have passed by the group of Libyans (not part of the main march) calling for the overthrow of Gadaffi’s tyrannical regime. It’s obvious to most that undemocratic endeavours have no place in a progressive society.
An integral part of our democracy is The Queen’s loyal opposition, whose constitutional role is to hold the government to account. Ed Miliband’s presence, therefore, served to ensure legitimacy for the causes of all peaceful protestors. His speech at Hyde Park showed that he was in touch with those whose friends, families and wider communities were suffering because of the government’s high-risk strategy. He will doubtlessly be sneered at by those on the right. They will tenuously link him to the concomitant violence. They’ll probably omit to mention that the Labour leader was one of the first to express his unreserved outrage over the disgraceful antics of some extreme groups.
The speeches at Hyde Park all contained well reasoned arguments: the detrimental effects on growth that the coalition’s economic schemes are causing; the considerable addition to the plight of the disabled brought about by the cuts; Michael Gove’s assertion that kids should read 50 books a year (good) while libraries are being shut down all over the country (bad). The reprobates decided not to go to Hyde Park and listen to what others had to say. They stayed behind to reap havoc on the streets of London.
They were in their hundreds; we were in our hundreds of thousands. Yet it was their faces that made the front pages. It’s not fair that they should be able to strip this movement of its value. This was most definitely a march of the many. These people were angry and frightened but above all they were peaceful. Their voices deserve to permeate the cries of anarchists pelting the police with missiles.