‘We are the opposition’

Anna Aslanyan

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‘Does it look big?’ an elderly woman asked me, craning her neck to see down the street. ‘I’m afraid so,’ I replied, thinking she might be worried about getting to the Tube. ‘Good,’ she said. Like thousands of others, she was in London on Saturday for the national anti-austerity demonstration organised by the People’s Assembly.

As we marched from the Bank of England to Parliament Square, the crowd kept growing. The protesters, representing movements including Quakers for Justice and the Association of Child Psychotherapists, came from all over Britain: transport was provided by local People's Assembly groups and trade union branches. A group from Penzance, with a black banner and a little pirate in tow, said they’d had to start at 3 a.m., but 'it was all right, we managed to sleep on the coach'.

A man in white overalls had 'Chefs against austerity' written on his hat; another, all in yellow, had 'Grumpy old git against fracking' on his T-shirt. Other slogans included: 'Austerity: economically illiterate + morally abhorrent'; 'Stop the NHS becoming a skeleton service'; 'Cats not cuts'. There were Green Party supporters and other eco-campaigners; one leaflet claimed that 'veganism is the Swiss army knife of the future.’ A group protesting against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership dressed in yellow and black stripes because the agreement (which includes pesticide deregulation) threatens bees as well as so much else.

Familiar chants – 'Labour, Tory, same old story'; 'No ifs, no buts, no public sector cuts' – alternated with new ones: 'David Cameron, get out! We know what you're all about: cuts, job losses,money for the bosses.' A girl with a phone number written on her shoulder said it was a precaution in case she got arrested; some demonstrators hid their faces under black scarves or masks. A man in a toy police helmet introduced himself as a 'police liaison liaison officer'.

A bus tour operator was stationed in Whitehall (packed and closed to traffic) to inform potential customers that there would be no buses on that route (there were bus drivers marching with the RMT bloc). A hundred yards down the road, socialists agitated for a 24-hour general strike on 8 July, when George Osborne will deliver a new budget with planned welfare spending cuts of £12 billion.

An estimated 50,000 people gathered in and around Parliament Square. 'We are here to remind the government that 76 per cent of people did not vote for them,’ Caroline Lucas, the Green MP, said. 'David Cameron thinks... he can do whatever he wants to us over the next five years without opposition,’ Sam Fairbairn of the People's Assembly said. ‘He's wrong: we are that opposition.’ The singer Charlotte Church condemned politicians for 'selling out democracy'. The Labour leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn talked about housing and private sector regulation, immigrants and refugees. 'It is possible to have a different world,' he said, one in which there were no unnecessary austerity measures or 'ghastly inequality on an industrial scale': 'I think it's called socialism.'


  • 23 June 2015 at 6:33am
    cufflink says:
    Are we now presented with a new Agente Castrador? Life is not a carnival but is in deadly earnest when facing up to the governmental forces of neo-conservatism. What a romp it all was on Saturday and what satisfaction the powers that be will read in this blog.
    It is not the Centre Right that speaks but the Centre Wrong.
    Let us have fun but not at the expense of serious issues of governance.

    • 23 June 2015 at 12:49pm
      stockwelljonny says: @ cufflink
      Would you proscribe all laughter and smiling or just laughing? How much fun is permissible? Is it it permitted to celebrate the fact of the unity demonstrated by the march or is that alos proscribed?

    • 23 June 2015 at 1:56pm
      Alan Benfield says: @ cufflink
      I don't understand the first sentence. Are you referring to a character in Bernard Cornwell's "Sharpe's Battle"?

      If so, what do you mean by this reference? And how is it relevant to the post?

  • 23 June 2015 at 11:13am
    Simon Wood says:
    Were you there, cufflink? "What a romp it all was," you seem to recall. What I saw was the underpaid who, as Anna said, came all the way from Cornwall and Yorkshire, trudging through London to make a point. It was quite sad, I thought, and very commendable. It was good-natured, rather than a carnival, because there were many old people and children there. The police would probably have joined in, if they could.

  • 23 June 2015 at 4:52pm
    cufflink says:
    First, a reply to Alan Benfield in clarification of Agente Castrador; this person in Spain does the gelding of male animals. It is meant in this instance to be assocated with an Agent Prococateur implying that this sort of blog copy presented by journalist Anna Aslanyan might just serve the interests of our current Latifundistas in defusing the protest; though I recognise the effective power and result of the Gay Pride movement in unifying a wide cross section of motivated people to achieve their natural rights. It has nothing to do with Sharpe fiction.
    My reply to stockwelljonny is less certain. I too feel what he says and recognise the intense persuasive power of say Brechtian ridicule or indeed the Lord of Misrule - and the confraternity of the People's Assembly, and will not ever proscribe against such warm sentiment.
    But in the light of the Greek Debt crisis and the manifold protests in Spain against austerity as an instrument of repression, I have been forced systematically to re-reading my shelves on the Civil War in Spain and in particuolar Paul Preston's admirable Concise History.
    One cannot help but see and feel the iniquity of the landed governing classes. With us too, the Tories have the means and scope to control the media and the law, and if they succeed with the dismemberment of the BBC, all will be lost of an impartial People's voice.
    I believe Anna Aslanyan may have some tie-up with the Standpoint movement which is I admit an interesting formulation of democracy. It is a position that I as a man of 82 find difficult to use as a platform of action. It is too various in its composition and I think vis a vis the Tories too wishful.
    If Cameron takes us all the way back to Victorian Britain by dis-assembling our social services and curtails most of the provision against deprivation; it will take years of graft to put it all back in place.
    We must fight much harder now!

    • 23 June 2015 at 10:25pm
      Simon Wood says: @ cufflink
      Politics is funny and it may be that the Eton-led Conservative government might become embarrassing sooner than anyone thought. But well done, cufflink, for giving everyone a jolly good, folded-up brollying at the age of 82.

      I'm sure you're right that street protests make little happen and could even be collusive as merely a show of democracy, but as a youngster of 60 I was glad to cycle down there for signs of hope that the current batch of career toffs may soon be seen as rather discomforting even to their own fans.

      As well as wondering if the police might join in, I also thought I might see "Conservatives Against the Government" banners.

    • 24 June 2015 at 10:13am
      mototom says: @ cufflink
      Well said.

      My sources inform me that there was not one single arrest on Saturday. We'll get nowhere without a bit of transgression.

  • 24 June 2015 at 7:46am
    cufflink says:
    A reply to Simon Wood to clear my position. No, I was not there for I have need to look after my dear wife who has MS; but I would have been were this not so. I thank Simon Wood for bringing me back from my politisized acerbity into a better understood recounting of the event. My frustration was founded on the recent experience in Spain where by and large the assemblies were more focused and not so disparate and achieved a change of government.
    Nye Bevan said that if we wanted to keep a public Health Service we would need to fight for it at all times.
    When we speak of Conservatism it can be allowed that it has tenure in our political landscape and brings a measure of useful experience with it; but with Toryism it becomes an ideology of repression to satisfy what I see as inordinate and undemocratic greed. We will never be rid of it for it seems innate to the Guvnors wish for power and riches. It is no good touching your forelock for you only make things worse. I have the utmost respect for professional expertise and delight in the way that reading the LRB lifts me to a higher platform of consideration of things, and I welcome the chance to blog here in hope that in future a more conversational tone will be applied by me. I do not want to be that pariah whose bad utterance drives out the good.

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