Political Promise

A Message Lost

In David Brownsey-Joyce on March 28, 2011 at 7:50 am

David Brownsey-Joyce is furious that all the hard work that went into the TUC March for the Alternative was lost by mindless idiots who destroyed what hope we had for a moderating the Government approved cuts to services.

I joined upwards of a quarter million people marching to show our anger towards the extent of Government cuts this past weekend in London. The TUC ‘March for the Alternative’ was suppose to be a moment in history when with one voice people said ‘NO’ to cuts, whether that be in their entirety or like myself on specific services this was a chance to deliver a message that voters would hold this Government accountable if they did not alter their stance.

Instead the day ended with the Government getting all the ammunition they needed to dismiss the protesters through violent clashes with police, they have now dug in, entrenching their positions and dismissing the protesters as the usual suspects. The minority, and it was an incredible minority, less than 0.1% of those on the march, have destroyed what little hope we had for an alternative.

The TUC, other unions and even the police have been quick to differentiate between those that protested peacefully and those that committed criminal acts, there have already been over 200 arrests and there will probably be more, but it doesn’t matter the lasting image is one of violence against police officers. And for all those out there that advocate direct action I would like to point out, that this is Britain, it is not Egypt, it is not Libya, it is not run by a dictator, but by a Government that we installed through open and transparent elections, we are permitted under the law to protest and we are protected from harm whilst doing so; unless we commit a criminal act.

We have been routing out expenses corruption, have seen Phil Woolas, former MP removed from office for campaign material that directly attacked a rival. There are consequences for politicians for their actions in this country.

Back to my main point, this protest was suppose to be different to those others in recent memory, this was a collection of people, not just students (though there were a lot there and good on them), there were many workers both from the public and private sector, pensioners (ran into a 105 year old woman who was promptly interviewed for TV), unemployed, families, children, disabled. It was a small part of our whole society airing their displeasure in what could be described as a family day out, at least to begin with.

I got to Embankment around 10am and there were already at least 20,000 people just in my section of the crowd, and it was only getting bigger as the start time drew closer; but there was a good feeling about the day, people wanted to be there and there was smiles all around. Even the police were smiling, though those I spoke to were worried about the minority, one female police officer I spoke to as I walked around Westminster checking which roads were closed so I could give my Mum’s coach a heads up on the best route to take, said she was worried about 10% of the crowd.

It was a good thing it was less than 1% or else the police would have been in real trouble. Imagine 25,000 violent protesters rather than around the 250 to 500 mark. What would have happened then? The Government cannot be seen to negotiate with bullies or those that terrorise others. It simply cannot do it.

I started walking around in my brand new Coalition of Resistance t-shirt handing out material, banners and just chatting, and as it got closer to 11am we got packed in tighter and tighter but it was still good natured, we would make room for wheelchair users to get to the front and in one instance a guide dog and his owner get through; it was all very civilised.

We got moving in my section around 11.30am and whilst a few people did start chants it was all drowned out by the vuvuzelas (UNISON wins the prize for the most annoying piece of protest kit plus one of your members hit me on the head with one of your banners, literal lump on my head) which made it sound like one rather large bee hive moving.

Until my section got to Downing Street, that’s when it went a little quiet, before the booing began, it popped up in little pockets all across my section and it was like I was watching a pantomime. The Prime Minister as the evil nemesis, coming out on stage to be royally booed for their sheer evilness.

We just marched and marched round London, past Trafalgar, along Piccadilly and the official observes from Liberty, which was truly a nice touch from the Police to request independent witnesses, past the Ritz Hotel and I should have really known that something was going to happen as I could hear people asking where exactly it was on the route, up to Hyde Park and then to what felt more like a festival than a protest.

My point about all of this is that until the trouble on Oxford Street and later in Trafalgar it was just a good natured demonstration by everyday, rational people. Taxpayers in the majority of cases and more importantly voters, those individuals who actually turn up to vote every time and they can’t be as easily dismissed as troublemakers because they have the power to take seats away from MPs.

Now they have only one option left to register their disapproval at the polling station. It won’t be enough.

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  1. Hey man this is a really good article! I was a CoR volunteer as well, around the Temple Station area.

  2. The suggestion that the protests in Oxford Street and elsewhere somehow detracted from the message of the main march may not be fully accurate. In fact, a case could be made that direct action of the type practised by those affiliated with groups like UK Uncut could be just what this movement against public sector cuts needs. Many claimed the sight of protesters rampaging through parts of the capital distracted the public from the issues raised at the rally in Hyde Park, but the fact is only the violence, the arrests and the damage to property has kept Saturday’s events in the news. Otherwise we might still be talking about Ed Milliband and his speech, and how his credibility continues to recede amid accusations that he panders to the unions.

    I attended the Hyde Park rally and it was genuinely inspiring to see so many people marching in support of the public sector. The march was a timely reminder of the vast depth of the public sector. The police, libraries, fire brigade, schools, the health service and the civil service all sent representatives. Bin-men, bus drivers, pensioners, students and council workers were all visible too. Every attendee was present with the sincere aim of making their voices heard, in protest at government policies which they believe will rip apart the fabric of Britain as we know it and wreck the lives of millions. But were their voices heard? Vince Cable said the protests would not alter government policies one little bit. Many will not be surprised. The government was never going to re-think its economic strategy as a result of the vocal opposition of even a million concerned parties, that was proven in 2003 when around that number protested fruitlessly in opposition to the invasion of Iraq. So while the speeches were getting underway at Hyde Park, just down the road another group of protesters had foreseen the limited potential of the march and were instead engaging in direct action.

    Most people cannot understand the mentality of those who come out intending to instigate violence against the police, and nor could anyone justifiably condone those who damage public property. It is senseless and unnecessary. But we have to differentiate between genuine protesters taking part in direct action and mere troublemakers with no coherent political message. I witnessed some of the so-called anarchists or Black Bloc activists and frankly, many of them looked like they didn’t have a job and probably never will. They don’t support the public sector; they preach the illegitimate political aim of anarchy. But I can support genuine direct action, especially the kind undertaken by the groups and individuals affiliated with the amorphous UK Uncut organisation. The protesters were colourful with many turning up in fancy dress carrying witty banners and placards. They were humorous and intelligent. They were out in support of the public sector, and protesting against those who by their actions have put jobs, services and pensions on the line. They argue that many companies and individuals get away without paying their fair share of UK tax, through a series of tax loopholes and offshore avoidance schemes (all legal and ultimately facilitated by the government). They claim that if this tax were to be collected, then many of the cuts planned by the Coalition government would be unnecessary. They argue that the poor are being lined up to pay the price for the greed of the wealthy few. UK Uncut and others targeted various outlets including Vodafone, Boots and Topshop. All of them were businesses they had targeted before on high streets across the country via sit-ins and pavement demonstrations. But this time the protesters created a national story as they also took aim at the Ritz Hotel, Fortnum and Masons and several banks, all of whom stand accused of avoiding tax in addition to being symbolic targets inextricably associated with the rich.

    The majority of the protests were peaceful. Even police chiefs admit the sit-in at Fortnum and Masons by UK Uncut was entirely non-violent, even genteel. Despite the damage to the front of Topshop, the police officers who came to guard the shop were able to share jokes and smile as protesters chanted ‘your jobs next’ and ‘if you want police protection pay your tax’ to the tune of If You’re Happy and You Know It…. Outside Boots a young man using a megaphone listed the retailer’s alleged misdemeanours while bemused shoppers were brought to a standstill-some angrily barged past the protest-but many stopped to listen and even ask questions. This is the dual value of direct action.

    Not only did the protesters succeed in bringing down the shutters at alleged serial tax evaders Vodafone, Boots, Dorothy Perkins and Topshop, they were able to deliver a message to a section of the public that were not interested in going up to Hyde Park to listen to the concerns of public sector workers. But as they went about their business on Oxford Street, many of them laden with bags from the very stores targeted by the protesters, they had no choice but to at least pause and think about the demonstrator’s message, even if they ultimately rejected it. At Hyde Park I had watched Michael Leahy banging his fists on the lectern and deliver a typically rousing piece of oratory. But he was a missionary preaching to the converted. To the crowds on Oxford Street the men with the megaphones were apostates, greeted with derision by the shoppers they were obstructing.

    It wasn’t all fun and games. The peaceful protesters gradually dissipated, and the hardcore, presumably many of those responsible for much of the property damage and violence at Piccadilly, gathered in Trafalgar Square. Certainly the marchers from Hyde Park would have preferred no trouble at all, and they have a right to feel aggrieved that the extraordinary turnout for the march became a story subjugated to media coverage of the less salubrious elements of the apparently professional protest movement. But the demonstrators who managed to close down half of Oxford Street and other surrounding stores could feel hard done by too. Many of them were arrested on trumped up charges and tarred with the same brush as the ‘anarchists’. Yet I have no doubt they will be there time and again whenever the occasion arises to take direct action against those they perceive as being culpable for the country’s current economic malaise. Partly as a result of their actions over a sustained period of time, Parliament is taking a closer interest in the affairs of Vodafone, Boots and Philip Green’s empire. Newspaper reports have today suggested that it will not be long until we see representatives of these firms appearing before a parliamentary committee to discuss their tax contributions. Far from maligning the rally at Hyde Park, the protesters in Oxford Street augmented it, by bringing home to the otherwise disinterested public and big business the powerful feelings felt by many in this country whose jobs, pensions and essential public services are now under threat.

    For anyone who is interested I took some pictures on the day both at Hyde Park and during the protests on Oxford Street, which show some of the peaceful demonstrators in action and also illustrates the very professional and commendable behaviour of the police. Just follow the link below:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/jlucas1983/

    WRITER APPLICATION

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