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We Watched Anti-Tory Protesters Battle with Police Outside Downing Street

The first riot against David Cameron's new government.

by Simon Childs, Photos: Oscar Webb and Chris Bethell
11 May 2015, 8:30am

Photo by Oscar Webb

It took less than 48 hours of Tory majority rule before people were rioting against it. Protesters and police officers fought in the streets of Westminster at Saturday's "Fuck the Tories" demo, with the Met using batons and pepper-spray as traffic cones and smoke bombs flew at their heads. The anti-Tory victory party, attended by thousands of activists, carried on all the way from Conservative HQ to outside Downing Street.

If the Conservatives' shock election win was a punch in the ribs for Britain's left, then the demonstration, hastily organised after the results came out, was a dry-heave of disgust, wheezing and spitting onto the streets. The day started outside the Conservative Party HQ, where socialists, anarchists, the skint, Green Party supporters and people wearing Anonymous masks had gathered to chant: "Tory scum, here we come."

Talking to people on the march, there was a general sense of doom, with most anticipating another five years just like the last five. "He's a nurse. He works 13-hour shifts and gets paid for 11. He's exhausted and poor. That's why we're here," said Laura, referring to her boyfriend Tom, who complained about the Green Party receiving 1.1 million votes but just one MP.

Someone with a klaxon headed up the march, honking the way through a whistle-stop tour of London's landmarks – Parliament Square, Downing Street, Trafalgar Square and the trampled flowerbeds of Hyde Park – before heading back to Downing Street, perhaps in the hope that the PM would be within earshot for some abuse.

Once there, people filed past a thick line of metal barricades and police blocking the way to the house. The chant of "David Cam-ron / is full of shit!" went up to the rhythm of "Oh When the Saints Go Marching In".

Then there was a bit of tit-for-tat shoving with police, which quickly escalated. This video suggests that the spark was a police snatch squad that waded into the crowd, roughly arresting people. However, it took a while for the aggro to spread. A few rows back from the front line, people were laughing, chanting and drawing chalk penises on the floor with the word "Tories" on the shaft and "UKIP" spunking out of the head.

I saw a police hat fly into the air before landing and rolling along the tarmac, with a guy chasing it like a frisbee on the grass. "Go, go, go – you'll never get one again!" his friend said, excitedly. He stuffed it into his hoodie and ran off with his trophy. People laughed. It felt like light-hearted Saturday afternoon fun.

But as more people were drawn in, it quickly became clear that there wouldn't be anything too light-hearted about the rest of the afternoon. A chant of "Shame!" went up as the atmosphere intensified.

At the front of the scrum, people were either having shoving matches with cops, playing tug-of-war over the metal barricades or standing there getting caught up in things, pushed by the police and protesting that they weren't doing anything wrong.

For a while the protesters were giving as good as they got. With smoke grenades and cones thrown at their heads, the police were forced back for a time. They reformed in a line and wielded their batons in the air. Throughout the day four police officers were injured.

Meanwhile, further back in the crowd, people were scattering – playing British bulldog with riot cops who had turned up and tried to form a kettle.

In the chaos, it was difficult to pinpoint the precise moment the mood changed, but this officer bursting through the barriers like the Peckham Terminator can't have helped soothe the tension.

It's hard to tell if this is a rucksack being pulled over someone's head or a particularly savage Met police issue wedgie. However, whatever's happening, it looks like the cops had the upper hand.

People were hit with fists, people were hit with batons, people presumably thought, 'Oh for fuck's sake,' as they felt the snap of cuffs on their wrists.

For a moment it seemed like this guy was about to have his ear ripped off his head, and then his head ripped off his shoulders.

One cop suffered the indignity of getting ketchup on his helmet. There are unconfirmed reports that this was a visual gag about bacon.

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After several failed attempts to contain everyone, the police eventually managed to corral a hundred or so protesters into the torporific grip of a kettle. That played out for a couple of hours until everyone was suitably bored and knackered and decided they'd rather go home. Over the course of the day 17 people had been arrested.

It didn't take long for the last government's austerity programme to galvanise people into smashing up the Tory HQ. And with the writing on the wall for further cuts, it looks like we could be about to see considerably more disruptive street protests.

To many, of course, this will simply look like the whinging of a bunch of political adult-children – a defeated left-wing about as gracious as Times columnist Giles Coren's bizarre Twitter victory gloat against "fuck-head lefty losers" who wanted a "stinky little fuckwad opportunist back-stabber trotboy to be king". A bunch of communist toddlers stamping their feet and screaming. Certainly that's the case for a woman I saw laughing as the demonstration marched past, shaking her head and saying, "You've missed the election – there's another one in five years!" It's a feeling that will clearly be reinforced nationally by whichever very thoughtful person wrote, "Fuck the Tories" on the Women of World War Two memorial.

But that misses the point. Following the election result, the hype was of a figurative Labour "bloodbath" and of the Lib Dems being "crushed", as if Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and their mates had been blindfolded, bundled into a van, taken to a field and thrown into a shallow grave. That will surely stand in contrast to mealy-mouthed words used to describe the very real deaths that will result from the policies the government will pursue.

There was a sense among those I spoke to that this had been an impossible result. From disabled people looking on with horror at the impending scrapping of the Independent Living Fund, to women campaigning against the closure of women's refuges (which mean women can't afford to flee abusive relationships), a government that has already ruined lives has been given an endorsement to do more of the same.

Even before David Cameron's "100 day policy blitz" there is already a death toll of people who have frozen to death because they couldn't afford to heat their houses, or a despair at benefit sanctions contributing to a number of suicides.

In this context, criticism that people who didn't get the result they wanted should just "deal with it" makes no sense. For many, "dealing with it" will mean refusing to accept being pushed off a cliff, because for those in power, pushing people off cliffs is a politically agreeable thing to do if it helps the economy.

@SimonChilds13 / @owebb / @CBethell

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