Having come down from my Oldham constituency this morning, I joined the march in ‘Whitehall at at 1.15pm, about an hour and a half after the vanguard had begun the march to Hyde Park. After hearing the speeches I returned along Piccadilly where people were still marching towards Hyde Park at 4.30pm. People were still bringing up the rear 5-6 hours after the march first moved off. It is impossible to be sure how many took part, but the most likely estimate is 300-400,000. Ed Miliband made an effective speech which will certainly have enhanced his stature as leader. It was entirely peaceful throughout the march, and the mood was one of resolute defiance.
Will it have any effect? Of course it won’t immediately cause the government to change course. That is not the point: the key is whether it helps to consolidate public opinion against the cuts as well as strengthening the morale of the army of those fighting the cuts. On the first point an ICM poll has found that a majority, 35%, think the cuts go too far, while 29% think they don’t go far enough – and that’s before the benefit and spending cuts actually take effect. It is very likely that the former total will rise to well over 50% by the end of the year. On the second point, a protest rally on this vast scale will unquestionably embolden the resistance across the country.
Nor was this all the usual suspects, as Tory leaders and the armchair commentators in the Tory media will sneer. This was as near a cross-section of mainstream Britain as you’re likely to get. Nor is that surprising – it’s not any specialist interest group that was protecting its self-interest, but representatives across every class, every age group (pensioners as well as students), employed as well as unemployed, who stand to lose on average £15 a week together with the NHS and a whole range of other public services that they deeply cherish.
The trap too was avoided of committing to all-our strikes which would play straight into the hands of the Tories and turn off a public who are now moving strongly Labour’s way. Quentin Letts of the Daily Mail, who I happened to meet in Hyde Park, opined that David Miliband would not have attended or spoken at the rally at all. Ed certainly took the right decision to take part, and his stance was right too: pledge the Labour Party unremittingly to fight the cuts, promulgate the alternative growth strategy, and reject self-destruct strikes.