An army of angry plebs descended upon London on Saturday to tell the government where it can stick its austerity measures. Unfortunately though, the wind largely seems to have gone out of the anti-cuts movement’s sails. Which is a bit weird, given the recent PR blunders that left me wondering if the Tories are trying to add Armando Iannucci to the unemployment stats by doing his job for him and satirising themselves.
I started the day watching trade unionists and campaigners make speeches in South London. They referred to themselves as the “Radical workers’ feeder bloc”. I'm still not sure what that means, but it was all very prolier-than-thou and organised by anarchists, so I was a little surprised to see Shadow Deputy Prime Minister Harriet Harman there. Have the Tories really swung so far to the right that Labour are now able to make a play for both the political middle ground and the ultra left?
Wait, what are a pair of Tories doing at an anti-austerity march?! Ahhh, they're not real Tories, they're just lampooning the situation by pretending to be a two-man toff counter-protest.
“The deficit is bigger than my country mansion,” claimed the hat wearer, though I was more interested in his shiny pleather trousers, which made me think that he might have been photographed by this website before.
Anyway, it was time for the march to set off. The black bloc looked pretty big and pretty bad ass, like an army of surly emos who have just been laid off en masse with less than satisfactory redundancy packages.
As often happens, the march caused a traffic jam, which led this taxi driver to complain. Our hooded friend on the left tried to placate him: “You have to take a stand,” he said. The cabbie was sympathetic to the revolution: “I wish the whole fucking government would get fucking blown up!” he said. But this traffic jam? Nope, political terrorism resulting in mass slaughter = totally fine, but block his route for a few minutes and well, then we're gonna have a problem, mate.
Eventually the radical workers reached the banks of the Thames, where they merged with the main march. This picture is of the radical workers, just in case you were wondering, I know that banner they're carrying is kinda ambiguous.
Speaking of banners, I don’t know why someone felt it necessary to bring this one along to a march against the cuts. I guess there’s never a bad time to point out that paedophiles are arseholes.
As is often the case at left-wing shindigs, not everybody was on the same page. This guy was keen to see the police remain under state control…
…while these guys wanted to see their budget drastically reduced. Or possibly they want to butcher them. IDK.
Again, can we stop with the ambiguity please, black bloc? I think you're in danger of muddying your message.
At Trafalgar Square, the black bloc split from the main march. A unit of Territorial Support Group (i.e. riot) cops had been shadowing them the whole way, so when the black bloc split from the main group they didn't do so unnoticed. At first it seemed like the cops were trying to block the road, but the anarchists just swanned straight through the human cordon and down towards Oxford Street without any resistance.
Or at least, that was the plan. For some unknown reason, the hundred or so people at the head of the bloc, having done absolutely nothing illegal, lost their heads and started running away from the cops who had been shadowing them.
What followed was a wild goose chase past bourgeois boutiques and home counties Saturday shoppers all the way to Hyde Park, where the main part of the demonstration was due to take place. Maybe they were just in a rush to hear Ed Miliband speak now that the media have deemed him to be the world's greatest living orator?
At the park (150,000 people were there, btw), the bloc were confronted by some people who reckoned masking up doesn’t do the labour movement any favours. Once again, it fell to this guy to explain the black bloc’s position. I guess he’s their PR guru. Like a more trustworthy-looking Alastair Campbell (Mock The Week producers, you can reach me through my Twitter).
Back near Oxford Circus, UK Uncut had arrived and were engaged in the standard UK Uncut tactic of running up and down the high street, charging at tax-dodging shops, or ones that use workfare (which feels like at least half of them), in an attempt to have a sit-in.
Unfortunately, the police are well aware of this strategy by now, and were ten steps ahead every time. So, rather than changing tactics or upping the ante, they satisfied themselves by chanting, “Pay your taxes!” at offending shops. Which looks pretty weird in the street because in effect you're chanting at a bunch of Saturday staff who probably have their 20 percent deducted automatically by PAYE every month, rather than a megalomaniac billionaire who spent the missing tax billions on pyjamas. But whatever, it's bad publicity and it must piss the owners off: job done.
That said, the whole thing did feel more like the celebration of a child's birthday than an outraged registering of political grief. Those balloons wouldn’t last five seconds in Greece. People would be attaching them to their arms and attempting to float out of the country.
There was one moment when things looked like they could get interesting, when this couple thought it would be a great idea to drive through a crowd of anti-capitalist protesters. This didn't go down very well at all, turns out that anarchists don't like it when a man in a convertible with a touch-screen entertainment system tries to run them over.
There was a time when broken windows at Starbucks were par for the course on any major protest in London, basically because they’re a corporation and all this generation's anarchists had their beliefs forged by Naomi Klein and that band A, who both fucking hate Starbucks. Just last week, Starbucks were outed as tax dodgers, so by rights this place shouldn't have been left standing, but on Saturday the people who sell the evilest coffee in the world escaped with a gentle jeering. What is going on?
Unless they sort their shit out, Britain’s radical left will soon hear the guffawing of their comrades from Spain, Greece and just about anywhere else ringing in their ears.
That said, at the rally Ed Miliband’s speech was heckled when he said Labour would make cuts too, whereas calls for strike action by Trade Union leaders were met with roars of approval. Those same Union leaders took over a year and a half to organise a follow up to the last march, so that strike action is no dead cert. Maybe the next battle in the war against the cuts will take place in the union hall rather than on the streets. Because to be honest, London doesn't seem quite sick enough yet to muster the stomach for the fight.
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