So we came, we saw, we marched, it was an awe-inspiring, historic day, but What Happened Next?
Oz Girl and I started our own “What Happened Next?” with buying the newspapers, namely, The Independent (our personal preference), The Observer and for a different perspective, The Telegraph. I immediately turned to The Telegraph, bristling for an argument and the front page didn’t let me down – “Britain’s face of hatred” with a picture of a hooded individual, face twisted with anger, hitting a Police Officer in riot gear with a big wooden stick, masked characters loom in the backgroud although it should be noted that everyone in the background of this shot is looking pretty relaxed, most of them are cameramen who look fairly pleased to get an action shot. The other headlines through the paper are “The march for families that became an orgy of violence” (with impressive font size), “Masked gangs plotted mayhem” and “Could the police have done more to stop the thugs?”. Hatred, orgies of violence, masked gangs and thugs are certainly not what this day was all about and I’m sad to say that these parts of The March for the Alternative were disproportionately prominent in most sections of the press, including The Observer and my beloved Independent.
What amuses me is those in the media describing the “hijacking” of a peaceful day by a small minority. The hijacking only occurs if the media allow it to, or create the hijacking themselves. After all, the media chooses what to put on display for the public, so essentially they’ve hijacked themselves. Unless of course after taking a chunk out of Oxford Street, the anarchists stormed newspapers’ offices on Fleet Street, roughly removed the staff, then dusted themselves off and sat down to write the Sunday edition. In which case I retract my comments.
Another part of my own What Happened Next? was a very pleasant evening with an old friend. Holmesdale Blue and I met towards the end of the alphabetical seating order at Secondary School and our friendship was solidified through our mutual support of Crystal Palace Football Club. Under the onslaught of more Arsenal fans than there should be in a South London school, it paid for us to stick together. Our religious and political views divide us, him being a Conservative Christian, me an Atheist member of the Green Party, I guess sharing the trauma of supporting Crystal Palace creates a bond not easily broken.
After chewing the fat for a while we discussed The March for the Alternative, as a barrister likely to be affected by cuts to legal aid, Holmesdale Blue had considered attending but was put off by the assertion that there should be “no cuts”. As a budding political activist I felt that I should have an instant response, a well rehearsed, water-tight argument for my position. My mind raced, frantically flipping through brain files, did I think there should be no spending cuts, or just less? My thoughts came to a rest on some tired bleatings about tax avoidance and a Robin Hood tax, although suffice to say I was less than pleased with my contribution to this discussion and inevitably I thought of all the things I should have said as soon as I stepped out of Holmesdale Blue and his wife’s flat. I think I’ll contact the BBC and ask them to delay my invitation onto Question Time for now.
I realised that I’d been so caught up in the excitement of The March, both before and after that I hadn’t paused to consider exactly what I was standing for in quite some time. Some of my leftie pals, I can see you shaking your heads in despair right now. During the past two weeks I’ve observed many commentators making the point that “ok, you marched for the alternative, but you haven’t actually suggested that alternative”. I’m horrifed to think that my dilly-dallying bolsters this argument but in actual fact, it’s not true to say that no alternative has been offered. The lack of another way is an accusation that has readily and enthusiastically been levelled at Labour and Ed Milliband, but there are other groups and individuals who have made suggestions for an alternative. In fact three basic measures have been recurring themes;
1) Claw back some of the money lost through tax avoidance, I’ve heard vastly differing estimates of how much is lost through avoiding tax, ranging from £25 billion all the way to over £100 billion per year.
2) A “Robin Hood Tax” on investment bank transactions. A 0.005% tax would raise £13 billion, 0.01% would raise £25 billion.
3) Increase income tax on high earners. It makes sense to me to bring the 50p tax rate down to those who earn over £100,000 per year.
These alternatives have been discussed and proposed widely both before and after the march and indeed the first two of these proposals, along with “policies for jobs and green growth” were all over the TUC publications advertising the event, so the suggestion that no alternative has been proposed is patently false. The Independent reported this week that there have been £22 billion in spending cuts, the maths seem pretty simple to me here and I think the government should attempt to deal with the defecit without cutting public services. George Monbiot has written a very interesting piece on “What We Are For“, I urge you to check it out.
So, What else Happened Next? I had a facebook message from a friend in New Zealand asking what the government’s response had been. Hmmmmm, tricky. Well, they’ve done an excellent job of pretending that no alternative has been proposed. So that’s the 500,000 peaceful demonstrators dealt with. Now onto the real issue of a couple of hundred rioters in Oxford Street, Theresa May “will not hesitate” in granting the police more help to do their work and this is what the government will be considering in the wake of the largest demonstration since that against the Iraq War. As you can imagine, I find this enormously frustrating. In my view, the anarchists’ actions have played right into the hands of the Coalition government and it has become all too easy for them to ignore the purpose of the demonstration, they can throw their efforts into condemning the violence, which most people would agree is appropriate. I don’t know enough about anarchists’ beliefs but I think I’m right in saying that they are anti-state, a position which puts them in direct opposition to what the majority were marching for, i.e. no shrinking of the state. To me that’s a shame and I can only fantasize about what the headlines would have been had there been no violence, “500,000 march against spending cuts” in The Independent, “Coalition government under strain” in The Observer and “Angry demonstrator steps on cat” in The Telegraph.
But what about for us, the demonstrators? Most of us will have enthusiastically told our friends, families and colleagues about the day, what happened, how it felt, why we were there. Many of us will have put photos on facebook, tweeted and blogged about our experience. In doing so we spread the word, broaden the debate and influence opinion. I was enormously pleased with the reaction to my last post which many seem to have read, enjoyed and thought about. These are the ways in which attitudes are changed, votes won and how the world is changed. Every little bit that every little person does, helps. For many of us the day was also a massive outpouring of frustration in a healthy, peaceful, fun, friendly way with people that we care about.
Where we go from here I don’t know. Will our actions have some influence in the long run? Will The Coalition start to feel the strain? Was it all worth it? Definitely. Just how valuable the demonstration was remains to be seen.