One sign of a good demonstration is the numbers, writes Veronica Fagan. Over 100,000 was what was fed back from the stage of the #Kick out the Tories #Not one Day more march. It certainly wasn’t the one million Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell had called for but for a demonstration called in 3 short weeks it was pretty impressive.
The real size was difficult to tell. It took just under an hour to move off but on the other hand most of the time it was extremely dense; making it difficult to spot banners let alone people. People were arriving all the time. Enfield North Labour Party for example marched down Regent Street towards the protest – doubtless minus their MP Joan Ryan, about 1.15pm just before we set off, as did a number of Manchester banners presumably just having arrived by train.
It seemed like a number of other Labour Parties had not taken the decision of the national Party to call a ‘day of action for July 1’ as an excuse to be absent from this crucial protest. In Islington North for example members were urged to meet at the tube, do some leafletting and go to the demonstration together. Hackney North and Stoke Newington, Lincoln, Crewe and Nantwich and Brent Central were also definitely present – as were many Momentum banners and probably many others I missed.
While undoubtedly a sizeable proportion of the marchers came from London there were contingents from as far apart as Glasgow and Plymouth – something you rarely see in Central London. I heard that seven coaches came from South Wales as well. The mood was a vibrant mix of anger and celebration.
Another telling factor is the proportion of homemade banners. There were loads – this is only a small selection. They tell a story of the creativity which is part of what powers this movement.
But demonstrators walking towards the assembly point could barely take three steps without a far left group offering them a placard advertising their organisation. Currents outside the Labour Party are responding to the mass movement created by Corbynism in an unhelpful way. They saturate events with their placards creating the impression that the movement is much less politically diverse than it actually is to preserve their brand identity, knowing that the people they’d love to recruit are all joining Labour.
The Socialist Party went one step further, holding their own rally in front of the assembly point, huddling together with their banners so that they could march together and hoping to catch media attention.
A third thing that was noticeable was the number of people who wanted to take my photograph – cos I was wearing a Jeremy Corbyn T shirt (in superman colours/design). I bought it during the first leadership campaign – it’s a bit old hat to political activists. But this protest reached way beyond usual suspects….
The trade unions were also in evidence, a central part of the protest as well as on the platforms at the beginning and the end.
UNISON’s Dave Prentis and the FBU’s Matt Wrack spoke at the beginning alongside Dianne Abbot MP and others. I didn’t hear them because I was too far down Portland Place at that point. The final rally included Frances O’Grady from the TUC, UNITE’s Len McCluskey, a woman from the GMB ( I didnt catch her name but she talked about the legacy of the Match girls strike in the East end of London in 1888}. Alex Kenny from the NUT was followed by parent from the Fair Funding campaign who made a powerful speech for a first timer at a national event). The final trade union speaker was the Civil Service union PCS’s Mark Serwotka who got one of the biggest cheers of the afternoon when he called for a public sector pay strike.
The marchers didn’t just have speakers to keep them in Parliament Square but music too. Captain Ska whose Liar Liar song was banned by the BBC played to the crowd who joined in with enthusiasm, particularly during that track.
And of course every little while there were the now obligatory chants of Oh Jeremy Corbyn…
John McDonnell was in insurgent mood when he made his contribution. He spoke about the way that women and disabled people are often the unnoticed victims of austerity. While focusing on what a Labour government would do when it came to office, he was also insistent that to get there – and to carry out those proposals, the whole movement needed to be involved. “We can do this together” he said and as he left the stage “Another world is in sight.”
By the time Corbyn arrived on the stage to make the last speech, it almost seemed that everything had already been said. But there was no doubt that for a sizeable proportion of the huge crowd (I don’t think I have ever seen Parliament Square so packed) this would be the highlight of their day – maybe their year.
I was standing next to a young woman, probably in her late twenties or early thirties on her own with a small child of less than a year. I reckon she worked in the health service as she cheered loudest when the need to defend it was mentioned time and again from the platform. When Jeremy said he wanted to see an end to privatisation in the NHS she could hardly contain herself, despite the fact that by then her child was covered in chocolate and pulling at her for attention.
Corbyn’s contribution continued with the political sharpness we have seen in recent weeks – talking for example about the neo-con project of the last three decades. That’s not a term I have heard him use before – but it’s as if building on the success of the election campaign, as well as the urgency imposed by the entirely preventable Grenfell tragedy, he is happy to expand and deepen the political conversation amongst his supporters, a diverse movement for change that I felt would be better organised from July 1 at every level – inside the Labour Party, inside the workplace and inside the community.
That’s the way to put flesh on John McDonnell’s slogan that ‘another world is in sight.’