Brothers in Arms


March26March

The Embankment in London at the start of the TUC anti-cuts march

I WOULD have more sympathy with left-wing protesters if they weren’t so chippy about the Tories. You’d think, from the language they use, that they’d been under the heel of a Conservative dictatorship for the past decade or more.

It’s no use telling us that Tony Blair was as good as a Tory: he flew under a Red flag.

Last month’s TUC march through London was a fascinating day which was spoiled for me by the actions of “the usual tiny minority” … but who were those rotten spoilsports?

The first of a reported 11 coaches from Plymouth left Bretonside bus station at 4.30am, but by the time I set off with the leading marchers on the Embankment in London at 11am there was no sign of weariness.

Packed shoulder to shoulder, we were like a colourful medieval army waving banners, placards and giant balloons instead of weapons, and led by a brass band.

At the corner of Parliament Square I broke away from the GMB group I had travelled with and clambered on to a vantage point to watch the marchers.

I watched for an hour, and still they came. And came: a crowd 30 or 40 deep, waving banners, dancing and chanting. It’s easy to get caught up in the mob mentality – and to enjoy it. We were all in it together and that created a kind of easy camaraderie that we rarely witness – and certainly not on such a large scale.

Slogans ranged from the aggressive (“Tory scum”) to the comic (“No kettling without tea and cake”).

David Cameron, the Prime Minister, and Nick Clegg, his Lib Dem deputy were the main targets, but no one in the Government was spared.

A large group flying a Unison union banner, their enthusiasm whipped up by Tony Staunton, secretary of Plymouth’s TUC, sang: “We hate Tories.”

Mr Staunton called for a general strike and said: “Either we have a welfare state or we continue with this Government.”

The march took an estimated six hours to pass Parliament, suggesting that the police estimate of 250,000 protesters was some way short of reality, with other observers claiming there may have been as many as 400,000.

From Parliament they headed up Whitehall towards Trafalgar Square. At the gates of Downing Street every group paused and booed.

Every so often cheers would ripple along the column of marchers like an oral Mexican wave, and after it passed grinning activists would redouble their chanting.

Most of the coach-load of Plymouth union activists I travelled with later shook their heads sadly at news reports of the mobs of masked anti-capitalist activists who used the cover of the march to attack targets like the Ritz Hotel.

“Don’t make those idiots the main point of your reports,” they pleaded.

It’s hard to defend the Anarchists, of course, but really I think most are just youngsters getting carried away. It’s a lot harder to be charitable towards grown-ups who openly use phrases like “Tory scum”.

I can’t really bring myself to hate anyone; not even those whose ideals I fiercely oppose, like the BNP.

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