With a brain dizzy with the excesses of the night before and legs already in considerable pain, a lengthy march around the capital’s sights waving a sign was the last thing I wanted to do. But there is only one thing that can get me out of bed at 8 on a Saturday morning with a raging headache and that is my considerable hatred for David Cameron.
As the crowd swelled around the Embankment, my aches dissipated to be replaced with the friendly, carnival feel of those around me. People had come from all over the country to peacefully protest against the harsh cuts to the public sector. The turnout was incredible – even my dad, turning 65 that day gathered up his colleagues to ‘stick it to the man’ or whatever the kids are calling it.
People brought children, dogs and elaborately crafted signs and costumes while steel and brass bands played jaunty tunes to keep everyone going. A lovely atmosphere – but beneath it, palpable rage at our government’s actions. Particular vitriol was directed (peacefully) towards the Houses of Parliament as we passed, but the police let everyone get on with it, as long as the crowd kept moving.
As the march progressed towards Regent Street and Piccadilly, however things began to sour a little. My friends and I ducked into a Café Nero to use their facilities (I drank a great deal of Red Bull, OK? Don’t judge me..) as did a lot of others, picking up snacks and coffee for the final leg of the march. From the windows, we noticed a tiny surge of black-clad figures with hidden faces and the odd policeman trailing them. Prior to this, police were conspicuous by their absence but gradually their presence rose.
About halfway through my second Red Bull (a necessity, you understand) a guy wielding a bus stand slams into the glass front of the coffee shop, causing commotion among those inside. He managed to strike it several times, causing the lower part of the glass to partially shatter and a large crack to snake upwards from it before being chased away by several police in riot gear. Scary.
As we walked up to Piccadilly, more and more buildings were covered in brightly coloured paint with windows smashed and police outside. These however, were obvious symbols of wealth. Sitting ducks for those intent on blunt, vicious ‘class war’- inciting action. Branches of Santander and HSBC were clear targets, as were The Ritz hotel and purveyors of luxury jewellery, De Beers. Whether you condone or condemn these actions, they were at least methodical and symbolic.
A Café Nero though symbolises nothing to most but reasonably priced coffee and for those on the march, a free bathroom. Attacking a place seemingly at random considerably dilutes whatever statement the fringe group were trying to make. Are ‘Anarchists’ against Cappuccinos and muffins? Banks, sure. Most people can stand by that. But then again those working in high street branches of banks are merely trying to make a decent living, just like everyone else. They are the ones potentially frightened when windows get smashed.
The big bad guys earning millions in the ivory towers of Canary Wharf and other City headquarters remain unaffected and can call a contractor at leisure to fix and clean up the mess. To them it will cost next to nothing and by Monday will be business as usual. It’s sad but true – they probably couldn’t care less that a few high street branches got a bit trashed. I’m not at all suggesting that folk storm head offices and castrate CEOs, Fight Club style, but symbolically, it’d be a tad more apt than terrorising regular working people. (Please don’t actually do this) But I digress…
At long last, our weary legs managed to stagger into Hyde Park, where a large stage was set up for guest speakers and tents selling hilariously overpriced refreshments did a roaring trade. (£2.80 for a meagre portion of chips? But we’re in a recession! Etc, etc..) Our café deviation meant we missed out on Ed Milliband’s speech but those that we did hear were sufficiently inspiring. From where we sat Hyde Park seemed more like a campsite than a rally, a big music festival minus the music.
The atmosphere here was calm and peaceful, it’s a real shame that this part of the day received such minimal coverage on the news afterwards. It was here that I talked to a few people about their reasons for marching:
Why are you marching?
“I’m marching today to protest against the changes in teachers’ pensions. The government are altering the calculations involved in figuring these out, meaning some stand to lose up to 70,000 pounds in their lifetime. I think I’ll lose somewhere in the region of 40 to 50,000 pounds, I’m really disappointed in this government.
Teachers accept initially low paid public sector jobs with the promise of a secure and decent government pension at the end. I think they’re taking the piss – the pension fund is private at not linked with state pensions. Teachers are crucial to society and we’re the ones being messed around.”
Why are you marching?
“I believe that public services make Britain what it is. Those in caring professions keep everything going. They do the most important jobs in the country, yet they’re the ones suffering. It’s disgusting.
It’s equally disgusting that banker’s bonuses are so vast when public sector workers are getting their jobs cut. Those of us who work decent, moral jobs already get paid a pittance in comparison. It is deeply unfair. Their bonuses should be cut and the money used to prevent further cutbacks in public services. A government we didn’t vote in are making decisions that their people don’t agree with.”
So do you think the government are out of touch with the public’s needs?
“They are definitely out of touch with the public. Money problems higher up shouldn’t be solved by cutting funding to those who already have hardly anything!”
Why are you marching?
“I had nothing else to do?”
What do you think about the government?
“No-one likes the government, it’s rubbish.”
So there you go. Our government is rubbish. Sage words indeed, but it was really heartening to see such large numbers unprepared to put up with their savage cuts anymore.