Emerging from St. Paul’s tube station yesterday morning was a strange experience. The absence of traffic, coupled with a sparsity of people, produced a feeling of being on a post-apocalyptic disaster film set. Hardly what was expected as we set out for the anti-austerity march.
A relative handful of assorted groups (anti-Hinckley Point Nuclear station, UKUncut, Green Parties plus anti-banker/anti-financier/anti coalition ) were gathered on the steps of St Paul’s. Watching them were an equal number of police. A few puzzled tourists were taking in the scene. Apart from the odd bus and siren everything seemed unnaturally quiet.
Underwhelmed by the lack of numbers we retired for a cup of coffee. As we finished, the assembled motley (by then increased in numbers) began to move off towards the Embankment. As we marched (plodded more like) everyday London watched with resignation and or interest. The merry band of pilgrims walked on our own for about 10 minutes until we turned onto the Embankment and immediately spirits raised. As far as could be seen looking along the river were banners, placards, balloons and protesters.
Not quite a carnival atmosphere but pretty good nonetheless. Good vigorous drumming and a lovely brass band made the event rhythmic and moving. Other groups engaged in the call-and-response stuff which is ok when heard a couple of times but becomes very tedious over time.
We overtook the main body of the march as we were without allegiance to any of the many groups present. It was also good to walk at a purposeful pace. Home made banners vied with professionally made ones. One small group, wearing suits and magnificent pigs-head masks with lots of folding money attached, performed a dance to greed.
Irony of ironies; as we passed tax-avoiding coffee shops ‘Starbucks’ there were at least 7, yes SEVEN policemen guarding each of them. So we, the tax payer, fund the police to stand on guard to protect the non-taxpaying company from the wrath of the passing march. Something wrong somewhere...
Reaching Hyde Park was anti-climactic. As we turned up hundreds were already leaving. They had completed the march and were on their way home. We listened to some of the speeches including Ed Miliband’s. Yes, he did get booed, but only by a small section of the crowd. His speech was short and reasonably effective. Others were long on slogans and short of achievable action. There were several calls for a one day general strike.
We left and walked back along the route passing protestors still marching on their way to the park. This went on for several minutes. The march had begun at 12 noon and the back end was still en route to Hyde Park at 3-30pm.
It was big. It was very big. But it could have been even bigger.