Monday, March 28, 2011


A march or demonstration that is reasonably well-attended can lull you into a false sense of security. I’ve been on plenty which, however well-organised, have hardly set the world on fire and, surrounded by people with the same unshakeable faith, I have come away feeling ever so slightly complacent. We came, we protested, we conquered, we went home with a fuzzy glow.

The fact that Saturday’s march against the Coalition’s cuts was so well-attended – and for half a million people to travel the length and breadth of the country in order to walk uncomfortably slowly in the drizzle is a really extraordinary thing – means such complacency is impossible. I did not go home with a fuzzy glow (though two and a half pints in the Shakespeare at Victoria afterwards did give me a fuzzy head). In fact, we stayed up until late worrying and deliberating about where this protest should go next – such is the massive opposition to the cuts, a general strike is an absolute minimum.

But any such conversation inevitably proceeds from opposing the cuts to opposing the whole structural framework of society. A long and sorry saga tells of how the global economy got into this current mess, but while the politicians and business people still desperately cry “business as usual,” I really think that most people who were marching on Saturday – and many people across the country and the world who did not march – were marching for a new society.

Even if people cannot yet articulate what that new society could look like (I’m not at all sure myself), most people know that it wouldn’t involve older people’s day centres being the price we have to pay to convince the financial markets that we are credit-worthy; nor would it involve a teenager selling his or her right to go to university by buying a pair of jeans from Topshop; now would it involve unemployed people being hounded into finding work, while workers from the public and private sector are thrown on the dole; and nor, most of all, would it look like ANYTHING resembling the Big Society.

One banner on Saturday summed up the mood that something big has got to change: “This is just SILLY”.

Finally, a word about those marchers who were, shall we say, not quite so well-behaved. First and foremost: they smashed the windows of a few branches of HSBC, they sat down in a few high-street stores whose owners refuse to pay their taxes, and they wrote “tax the rich” on the entrance to Fortnum and Mason’s. Really, if this is what you mean by evil (or fascism, as the Deputy London Mayor described it), you’ve led a very sheltered life. Secondly, it’s not good enough to dismiss this as the actions of a renegade minority: all the marchers shared a feeling of visceral anger, which some vented by creating wonderfully inventive banners, others by playing the Brazilian drums at full pelt, and others by throwing paint at the police. Far be it for me to predict which of these tactics will prove most effective. Thirdly, on Saturday (and at numerous demos recently) the violence can broadly be categorised as that against property (windows, cash machines, cars etc) and that against people. The perpetrators of the former are vilified, while the perpetrators of the latter (overwhelmingly the police) are portrayed as the victims. This says something very damning about the priorities of our ruling classes. And fourthly, I think we all need to stop apologising for the antics of others and stop worrying about how many middle Englanders they will upset. People have generally picked their sides already, and it is ours that is in the majority.


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