In the days leading to the anti-war demonstration on Saturday and immediately after the Commons vote, which saw the government defeated, we have been treated to a deluge of macho language from politicians and right-wing hacks alike. As most readers will know that at times like this, I am fond of quoting Gil Scott-Heron’s powerful poem, B-Movie:
Clichés like, “itchy trigger finger” and “tall in the saddle” and “riding off or on into the sunset.” Clichés like, “Get off of my planet by sundown!” More so than clichés like, “he died with his boots on.” Marine tough the man is. Bogart tough the man is. Cagney tough the man is. Hollywood tough the man is. Cheap steak tough. And Bonzo’s substantial. The ultimate in synthetic selling: A Madison Avenue masterpiece – a miracle – a cotton-candy politician Presto! Macho!
As you many of you already know, B-Movie was written about Ronald Reagan, the macho president of the United States, who borrowed themes from his filmography to impress the gullible public of the need to do this or that thing. Again, we have politicians and their friends in the media using the most extraordinary macho language. I kept hearing words like “diminished on the world stage”, which almost suggests a form of emasculation. Then there is the phrase “standing tall”, which conjures up an image of a Wild West gunslinger. But if the dominant ideologues are that worried about their big tough image, then perhaps they need to spend some time on a psychoanalyst’s couch rather than pursuing unnecessary wars that have the fig leaf of legitimacy that is conferred upon them by the laughable phrase, ‘International Law’. “But look” they’ll say, “there’s a ban on the use of chemical weapons”. This generally overlooks the US and Israel’s recent use of white phosphorus and the American’s use of Agent Orange in Vietnam. Where’s the irony?
And so, on Saturday, I went to the anti-war demonstration organized by CND and the Stop the War Coalition. I wasn’t expecting much. In fact, I wasn’t expecting a massive turnout for this hastily convened march and rally.
I arrived in time to join the head of the march on Victoria Embankment. The march snakes its way towards Westminster Bridge, where I can see dozens of gawping tourists,with their cameras at the ready to take snaps of us as we march by. I pass, what I believe to be a small group of German tourists, one of whom remarks “I think they are marching against all wars”. His tone is half-mocking. Only morons are in favour of wars, mein freund.
We’re on Whitehall and we pause briefly outside the gates of Downing Street… on the opposite side of the road. We’re not allowed anywhere near Dippy Dave’s London residence and besides, he’s apparently holding a barbecue for his MPs at Chequers, which is designed to do two things: admonish those who voted against the government and reward those who voted the correct way.
As I said, this is a small march of perhaps around 1,000 or so people. Still, it isn’t that bad a turn-out for a quickly arranged demo. I can see bourgeois SWP splitters and café owners, Counterfire, posing in their designer clothes and mingling with the less bourgeois marchers.
It’s unlikely that this march will attract any attention from the BBC, which has been quick to march in lockstep with the government, the intelligence services and the Military-Industrial complex. In the media, anti-war voices are rare, while pro-war macho voices are ten a penny.
We arrive at Trafalgar Square and I can see a small number of Guy Fawkes masks… they’re so passé. The compères for the afternoon are Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn and Kate Hudson of CND and Left Unity. The first speaker is Counterfire’s Lindsey German, whom Corbyn introduces as a “brilliant advocate for peace”. Her speech is an uninspiring tickbox list. She says “UKIP are not welcome on this march” but to be honest, I don’t think I’ve seen any UKIP members. I have seen a couple of conspiracy theory types, both of whom were carrying placards with the words “9/11 was an inside job”. Given their love of conspiracy theories, perhaps they’re Kippers?
Andrew Murray is up next. He is animated and his speech is passionate. He’s certainly more interesting than Lindsey German and the best speaker of the afternoon. But as I look around the square, I am struck by the absence of anything cultural. Where is the street theatre? The sound systems? The scratch bands? I’ve heard no dubstep since I’ve been here. It’s weird.
Natalie Bennett follows Murray and while she makes some good points, she is a terrible orator. Someone with a great deal of experience of this kind of thing is Tariq Ali, who seems to be a professional protester. These days, he hasn’t got much to say that I haven’t already heard. Someone from the back heckles him with a loud hailer. I turn around and I recognise the heckler. I used to work with this guy! He’s immediately surrounded by more serious types who like their speeches formulaic and unchallenged. “Listen to what they’re doing to your mind”, he protests. I’m not sure what he means. Perhaps he’s suggesting that these people mould one’s thoughts. If so, then he’s mistaken. I can think for myself, thanks.
Tony Benn comes on and he looks and sounds frail. I have trouble hearing what he’s saying. He was a pretty bad cough too. Usually, you can rely on Benn to put in a rousing performance but I think those days are behind him now.
A poet arrives on the platform. Wow. Culture. But it’s brief. We need more of this kind of thing. I decide to leave when the President of ULU rocks up. he’s pretty dull, probably not used to public speaking or has taken his oratory cues from Britain’s current crop of politicians.
When I get home, there’s no mention of the demo on the BBC News Channel (I didn’t expect it to be honest), Sky News or ITN News. The only mainstream media report of this demo can be found on the Evening Standard’s website.
PS. I’d actually taken a quite a few photos on my BlackBerry but it has deleted all of them without asking me. The photo at the top of this blog was sent to Facebook before my phone had a chance to delete anything. The phone will go back to the shop for the third time this year. I really should have taken a proper camera instead.