Up to 250,000 people march against austerity
In a day of action against austerity, protests were held around the UK. The largest was a march held in central London where estimates of numbers suggest that there may have been up to 250,000 people in attendance. The protesters started at Bank, in the city, making their way to Parliament Square via Fleet Street and The Strand, before passing the end of Downing Street in Whitehall.
The march was good humoured and, in places, had a party atmosphere. At the end of the march, whilst some were listening to speakers in Parliament Square, others were dancing in Whitehall in scenes that resembled an illicit rave. Some protesters climbed onto window ledges of a nearby building, dancing and waving placards. The police watched on but didn’t intervene which undoubtedly ensured that things remained peaceful. There were a small number of isolated arrests during the day.
In Parliament Square some protesters set light to placards. A union steward unsuccessfully attempted to stop people adding placards to the fire. The protesters defiantly chanted ‘build a bonfire, build a bonfire, put the politicians on the top…’. The police response was not immediate but a group did respond with small extinguishers which failed to put the fire out. They withdrew but returned with more extinguishers. On the second attempt they achieved only partial success in quelling the flames using the extinguishers and also stamping out flames. The fire brigade were brought in to finish the job. This could have been a flash point for trouble but the police response was measured and showed no signs of attempting to escalate the situation.
In Whitehall, the Women of World war Two Memorial and the Cenotaph had been boarded up with the latter being guarded by a number of police throughout. Presumably this was due to concerns that these memorials may be vandalised; something that has happened during previous protests. The protective hoardings became graffiti boards where protesters penned messages until the police intervened and threatened arrests.
At around 6pm it started to rain and the thousands that had still been in Whitehall and Parliament Square soon dispersed.
The march was reminiscent of the 2003 anti-war protest in London, where a million protesters, possibly more, opposed the war on Iraq. Those attending believed they could change the government’s direction. Despite that being the largest protest seen on the streets of the UK, Prime Minster Tony Blair ignored the protesters and joined the invasion. Time will tell, but I have a feeling that David Cameron may well take the Blair route and ignore those who marched to reject austerity.