Friday, 1 April 2011

A pleasant stroll with 250,000 friends

MY cousin Martin is a quiet, reserved sort of chap, as befits the service he worked in for many years.
At 67, he’s retired now but clearly still cares about the library, and indeed other public services.
On Saturday night he reported: “Cathy and I had a pleasant stroll through London in the company of quarter-of-a-million or so friends this afternoon.”
Barring some uncertainty about the total number gathered – a quarter-million was at the lowest extreme of the range of estimates – that gentle image seems to sum up nicely the experience of all those I know who took part in the anti-cuts demo.
Another friend, coincidentally also called Martin, took his seven-year-old daughter, at her request, and didn’t regret it.
At one point in the afternoon, a little after reporting on Ed Miliband’s speech to the throng, he tweeted: “Of course no expression of anti-establishment tendencies is complete without a trip to Claire’s Accessories…”
Which also puts the day’s events into a different perspective from anything you may have seen on the TV news.
Finally he concluded: “It was a great experience. Really lovely atmosphere. Too bad the real story of the day has been lost behind a cake stand at Fortnum & Mason.”
Too bad indeed.
And it’s an interesting question who you should blame for the news crews turning away from hundreds of thousands of peaceful protesters to focus on the less peaceful few.
Those inevitable few?
Or the news teams?
After all, isn’t a march by half-a-million disgruntled citizens (to move to the top of the estimates scale) of greater real significance than a sit-in at a posh shop by a few dozen?
In fact, video taken inside Fortnum & Mason shows even that sideshow to the main event was non-violent and non-destructive – as was admitted by police officers present.
Nevertheless, all 145 peaceful demonstrators were rounded up and arrested. That’s quite a high proportion of the day’s total of 201 arrests.
Leaving not many “mindless thugs” for Theresa May to get all unnecessary about.
When the home secretary talks about “thuggish behaviour of the worst kind” she is, frankly, raving. Except if it’s madness, there is surely method in it. A rather cynical and calculating method.
Suffolk teachers’ union leader Graham White was more measured, and more accurate.
He said: “The few who were intent on causing damage to property … targeted banks and big business – those who their research had shown to be substantial tax avoiders.
“It was damage to property and not to peoples’ livelihoods or personal circumstances. It will not cause intense personal suffering, unlike the Con-Dem cuts.”
It’s no surprise that Tories such as Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey should find such straight talk “appalling”.
It’s more disappointing that former county council leader Bryony Rudkin, speaking for the Labour Party, should describe Mr White’s comments as “unhelpful”.
Much as it’s disappointing that Labour should go along with the Tory cuts as far as saying they themselves would merely cut more slowly and more sensitively.
Instead of being bold enough to stand up and tell the truth.
That in percentage terms Britain’s debt is not unusually high – either by comparison with other countries, or with our own history.
Messrs Cameron and Osborne say savage cuts are needed because Britain is bust.
But it’s no more bust than it was at the height of the industrial revolution.
No more bust than when the British Empire coloured a quarter of the world map pink.
Less bust than when we went to war with Hitler’s Germany and won.
Much less bust than when the NHS, social services, the welfare state – all those vital services the Tories are now intent on destroying – were set up in the wake of that victory.
On all those occasions, the nation got itself out of trouble by going to work. Not by throwing people out of work.
The same policy would work now, if only the toffs at the top weren’t intent on out-Thatchering Thatcher.
On taking an axe to the caring state – and, incidentally, to the economy.
That’s why somewhere between 250,000 and 500,000 law-abiding people took to the streets of London last weekend.
That’s why their legitimate protest must be heard, not drowned out by the home secretary’s hysterical reaction to the tiny minority of the slightly less law-abiding.


POOR Nick Clegg got caught in an old trap this week – the informal, “off-the-record” chat with reporters that goes on the record when he makes the mistake of saying something interesting.
What he said, in a nutshell, was that the Fukushima incident will make the future cost of building nuclear power-stations so great they won’t get built. Essentially, that the nuclear industry is a dead duck.
Terribly bad form, that. Breaking government ranks by telling the truth.

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