I march, I protest, therefore I am. The Tories, UKIP and their LOLibertarian friends don’t protest because they don’t need to and even when they try to organize a rally, it’s a complete flop. The word “pathetic” springs to mind when I recall The Rally Against Debt last year, which attracted a mere 150 people. With that kind of dedication, it comes as no surprise that the Chinless Ones can’t even muster an insignificant counter-demonstration. But perhaps it’s not a lack of dedication, rather, it’s more a sign of their complacency and the notion that they are born to rule. They don’t march or protest, therefore they rule.
As usual, I set off late to the march and it’s unlikely that I’ll reach Embankment in time. Somehow today feels different to the other rallies and marches that I’ve been on – even my choice of music seems strangely out of place. I have Be-Bop Deluxe’s Modern Music on mp3 player instead of my usual march-rally-demo music courtesy of The Redskins. I’m sitting on the Number 10 bus; it moves slowly up the road as we pass a row of 8 Number 9s. The bus pulls up at the stop outside Olympia and people seem to appear from nowhere as they jostle to get on the bus. I’m expecting heavy traffic along Kensington High Street. To my surprise it isn’t too bad. Then, the driver comes upstairs to tell us that the route’s been changed because of the march. I should have known, really.
The bus heads down Bayswater Road, taking me away from the march but close to the rally point in Hyde Park. It’s getting late, there’s no point in hopping off the bus and taking the Tube to the Embankment. It’s Saturday and a lot of the network is closed for the ongoing upgrades. This is London. To be honest, I’m not sure that I want to listen to a load of dull speeches from the likes of Prentis and most of all, Miliband, whose appropriation of the phrase “One Nation”, still makes me feel queasy. Why is he speaking anyway? I’m at Marble Arch, there are tourists and shoppers (probably one and the same, really) not paying attention to where they’re going.
My ankle, which hasn’t been hurting up till now, starts to hurt. It’s an old war wound, so to speak; a compound fracture held together by a steel pin. It’s been giving me a bit of pain recently, often making it hard to walk. I limp through Speakers Corner, where there are, oddly enough, no speakers. There’s the usual range of left-wing paper stalls; all of them competing with one another for the ideological souls of passers-by. Gawd, even the RCG are here displaying a banner with their ever-present “Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!” slogan in big bold letters. The issue of class doesn’t interest this lot. Some things never change.
After 24 hours of rainfall, the ground is heavy with ponds of water in between the woodchips and patches of mud. It looks like the aftermath of a festival. It’s swampy. I fear I’m going to be on my feet for much of this.
I limp towards Hyde Park Corner. As I arrive I can see the head of the march and behind that, a big brass band coming through the somewhat blingy Queen Mother Gate. Gawd, it’s ugly. Unite has given out vuvuzelas to people. Some may think that’s an inspired move. I’m not so sure. Lee Jasper rides past on his bike one-handed, a vuvuzela pressed to his lips. His saddle is far too low – again. I can see a helicopter hovering over what seems to be Oxford Circus/Regent Street. I know UK Uncut are focussing their attention over there and I’m tempted to quick-march over but my ankle has other ideas.
I hang around the gate, in the hope that I might see someone I know, but it’s pretty hopeless, so I limp back towards the rally point and take photos of some banners.
Richard ‘Tidy Beard’ Branson gets the caricature treatment on this one. Here’s another that caught my eye
The kindest cut, for sure.
The first speakers come and go and then, Christine Blower of the NUT comes on but I miss most of her speech because I’m looking for the loo. It goes down well. She’s the scourge of Hon Tobes and his chum Pob. Len McCluskey follows Blower and comes on like a rock star, saying all the right things. “We’re marching against a millionaire government… the whole rotten elite!” he says. The crowd loves it. He talks about the recent government scandals. Mitchell’s gone and Osborne’s been caught trying to blag first class travel with a standard class ticket on a train journey. One rule for them? You betcha. McCluskey starts to wind up his speech, “Food banks in one of the richest countries in the world?”, he demands in mock disbelief. He tells us that he want to “boost the minimum wage by a pound an hour”. I think we need to do better than that. Everyone should be paid a living wage. A citizen’s wage, maybe?
I need to eat my sandwich but there’s nowhere to sit… well, nowhere dry at any rate. A placard would be handy but I don’t carry other people’s placards; I prefer to make my own, if possible. I’ll have to bide my time…
The Daily Mirror’s Kevin Maguire bounces onto the stage and announces that he’s going to be the compère for the next half hour. He’s an entertaining fellow on television but working this crowd could be a tough gig for him. He looks cool and casual, he cracks funnies but I’m not sure they’re hitting the spot. There are huge Daily Mirror balloons being suspended from people who wandering about the space. The presence of these balloons tells us something about the ideological tenor of the British press: it is overwhelmingly sympathetic to the Tories. But the Mirror is not The Morning Star. That’s on sale too, along with the smaller Weekly Worker. More people are arriving and it’s starting to look more like a rally. There are over 100,000 here already. There was just 150 at the Rally Against Debt.
Ed Miliband is introduced. He is greeted with a mix of boos, heckles and polite applause. I add my obligatory cry of “Traitor!” to the mix. Behind me someone says, “Blair never did this”. Yes, but that doesn’t prove a thing. Mr. Ed is playing liberal father to this crowd of, what he sees as, naughty children in need of a damned good chiding. “End the privatization of the NHS” he says. That gets a cheer but then he begins to talk about this newly-resurrected “One Nation” stuff. He’s in denial. It’s true. He repeats Labour’s commitment to cuts if it got into power, which gets the boos it deserves and makes me wonder why he bothered to come here in the first place. He leaves the stage to the sounds of boos and applause ringing in his ears. Here’s a choccy drop, now sit up and beg, Ed.
The dreary Prentis comes on. He’s still dull and still running his union like a brothel but he leaves to cheers and applause. He pressed the right buttons for some folk, I guess, but not The Cat. I find my friends to the left of the stage in time for Big Bob Crow. I find a discarded placard and sit down and eat my sandwich. This is better. Crow speaks about the changes in employment laws that strip workers of the right to take their employer to court for unfair dismissal. He also calls for a 24-hour general strike. Come on, be bold! Call for a three-day strike!
Crow is followed by Mark Serwotka. “Francis Maude walked into the Coventry tax office and the workers walked out”, he tells us. The crowd loves it. Maude is another relic of the Major sleaze years; the man who advised the nation to store petrol in jerry cans, empty baked bean tins and old milk bottles to beat a manufactured panic at the pumps. He’s not the sharpest tool in the box. Serwotka tells us of the need to have “strike action right across the country”. The crowd concurs. It’s the only way.
It’s 3pm and there are still marchers arriving at the park. My friends want to leave. I’m feeling a little tired too. We part and I head to The Bling Gate to meet someone else who’s just arrived. On the way, I bump into someone from uni who’s in the Socialist Party. We have a chat. For some reason, the Worker’s Revolutionary Party is mentioned, I make some comment about Gerry Healy and his sexual abusiveness and go off to meet my other friend. It’s getting late and when I meet her, it’s time to head home. It’s starting to get dark and my ankle is really giving me a hard time.
When I get home I hear there were 200,000 at the rally. The Rally Against Debt could only muster a tiny 150.