The first full day of the Tory government has seen inspiring resistance – but also police attacks on the right to protest.
The protest was defiant from the beginning, as Neil Rogall reports. “In the wake of the election demoralisation and depression the last thing I expected when I got off the bus by Westminster Cathedral was to find a 1,000 strong vibrant demonstration. This was not a protest of the old and tired, but one that was very young and very angry. Clearly most of those marching had been too young to be at Millbank, when protesters attacked Tory HQ six months after the Con-Dems were elected in 2010. This was already a new generation.
“The march, called by London Black Revs and Brick Lane Debates, was built almost entirely through social media. As it went to Conservative HQ by St James’s Park and then up Whitehall and through Trafalgar Square it grew in size and volume, maybe reaching over 2,000. This was a march that wanted to tear the head off the system – not so much an anti-Tory march as an anti-capitalist one. The slogans chanted were aimed not just at the Tories, but targeted Labour and the whole rotten system. If the revolutionary and radical left wants to rebuild itself, here is an audience that we need to be listening to and learning from.”
Slogans chanted included “one solution – revolution”, “Tory scum, here we come” and “no cuts, no cuts, no fucking Tory cuts”. The protest moved up and down Whitehall, from Trafalgar Square to Westminster Bridge – here at one point a sit-down stopped buses, which turned round and headed back south.
Pictures in the mainstream media show baton-wielding police. Shelly Asquith, president of the University of the Arts Students’ Union, described what happened in central London as “police violence”, and it is reported that protesters have been injured by the cops. Georgie Robertson, co-president of SOAS Student’s Union, stated that “Alongside hundreds of others I was kettled by the police for over three hours. Despite it being a non-violent protest, the police decided to randomly seal off a whole area outside Downing Street with everyone still in the area, including tourists, getting kettled.”
Another eye-witness spoke to rs21 about being kettled: “the police tried to kettle all of us. Most people got away but they got about a hundred of us. The mood in the kettle was pretty good with plenty of music and dancing. Eventually they let us go – I think this was about 8.30 but I’m not sure. They didn’t take down anyone’s names but filmed everyone as they let them out.”
The heavy-handed response of the cops is strikingly similar to the huge numbers of police in Walthamstow the same day, protecting the EDL as they marched and handing out legal notices to intimidate protesters there. The Tories are clearly determined to clamp down on protest. But it’s excellent that from day one of the new Tory government we are seeing resistance – as well as over 2,000 in Whitehall, 1,000 people opposed the EDL in Walthamstow, and dozens more leafletted for Rabina Khan in Tower Hamlets after the witch-hunt against Lutfur Rahman.
Report from Cardiff
There was also a successful protest in Cardiff, as a local activist reports:
“Around 200 people joined a protest organised by Cardiff People Assembly. There was a marked difference in mood to usual demos and plenty of new faces, although the demo mainly seemed to bring together old faces in a moment of anti-Tory unity. The singer Charlotte Church told protesters that ‘This is a government that does not care about its people and is only interested in cosying up to big business.’ The protest then turned into a march down the main shopping street. Certainly everyone who was there would have gone away feeling more positive and less demoralised, and so will have people reading about it in the press this morning. A very useful first step, but only a first step.”