Placard-waving protesters from across the country join to make their frustrations known in largest protest against cuts since the Tory election victory
|Charlotte Church attends an anti-austerity demonstration, along with tens|
of thousands of others, in London. Photograph: Zak Kaczmarek/Getty Images
A single fiddle vied with the rumble of drums as a chorus of whistles filled the air. Two police helicopters loomed above the river of placard-carrying protesters that stretched from the Bank of England towards St Pauls.
Marijuana smoke drifted in the early afternoon drizzle as the chants began. Cheers went up when the poster girl of the anti-cuts movement snuck through the crowd to join the front of the march. Clutching an “End Austerity Now” placard, Charlotte Church stood smiling as the good-natured crowd counted down to the start of the largest protest against the cuts since the Tories won the election.
The singer was joined celebrities including Russell Brand and Julie Hesmondhalgh, the actor who played Hayley Cropper in Coronation Street. Politicians Martin McGuinness and Diane Abbott – one of Labour’s London mayoral hopefuls – also lent their support, along with Unite leader Len McCluskey.
|Protesters set fire to placards in central London during a demonstration against|
austerity and spending cuts. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Despite the sprinkling of showbiz and political glitter, it was a day when middle England came out to make its voices heard. The march was no urban-led, youthful demonstration. The placards told of long journeys made from the far corners of the country. They came from Shropshire, Suffolk, Chesterfield and Wiltshire. And while many carried banners urged “Defy Tory Rule” and “No Cuts”, there was a wide spectrum of agendas being pursued. “NHS Not Trident” was a popular placard. So too was a call for an end to war. Some signs were heavy on humour. “Heaven knows we’re miserable now” read one placard. “Fuck the fucking fuckers”, in fluorescent pink and yellow, was one that caught the eye.
There were groups opposing fracking and others attacking funding cuts faced by mental health services. Some sought to promote veganism or the rights of migrants. Some wanted a greater say for Cornwall, while others demanded respect for the transgender community. Finance was a major preoccupation. Many demanded an end to tax havens. “We are all Greeks” read one banner. “Banker Wanker” read another. Bottles of wine and cans of lager were passed around. People took selfies as they marched passed some of London’s most famous landmarks pushing buggies and wheelchairs.
Lending her support was Katie, 40, a teacher from Walthamstow, and her three young children, no strangers to anti-austerity protests. “I hope it will make a difference,” she said as thousands of people chanting “no ifs, no buts, no public sector cuts,” streamed past. “People have finally had enough. I’m hopeful that this is the start of something. This is definitely the biggest march I’ve been on.”
|A red flare is kicked by a demonstrator as they march to protest against spending|
cuts and austerity measures. Photograph: Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images
Her children looked a little tired. She had promised to take them for lunch somewhere as a treat. So had she any experience of the austerity the crowd was protesting against? “I’ve got less money now than I used to have,” she said. But the real impact, she said, was felt not in her home but at her work. “We’re sending kids home with leftover school dinners because they’re not getting fed at home. If I’ve got some spare kid’s clothes, I’ll bring them in for them. Lots of our teachers bring in breakfast for their pupils.”
Had it always been like this? She shook her head. “Only in the last four years have I noticed it. There’s just less and less support for low income families. Once they would have intervened to help them but not now.”
On the crowd ploughed. Up it went to the Royal Courts of Justice where those carrying banners defending the Human Rights Act gave their loudest cheer. As it passed a particular well-known bank on the Strand a chant went up: “Pay your taxes.” Diners in the restaurants near to Trafalgar Square waved, and Japanese tourists filmed the spectacle on their smart phones. Outside Downing Street the crowd halted to boo. Someone let off a few smoke cannisters. “David Cameron get out, we know what you’re about,” they sang, before marching on to Parliament Square. Along the Embankment fleets of coaches waited to take them back to the shires and market towns.