End of capitalism would be nice

Observations - May Day protests

Winston Churchill no longer glares over Parliament Square. He has been boxed in, his iron skull covered with green gauze to prevent any stray mohicans. Either the Turner Prize has a new entrant, or it's May Day again.

Last year's protest fizzled out after police trapped protesters for more than seven hours in Oxford Circus. Determined not to allow it to happen again, this year's protests were called for Mayfair - an area without any obvious congregating points (no Tube station or central square, for example) and with many narrow streets to escape into.

This posed an immediate problem for protesters: it was pretty hard actually to find the protests themselves. Central London was filled with stray packs of demonstrators, desperately seeking a larger crowd: I even saw one ask a policeman. Virtually every other protester seemed to be barking into a mobile phone, asking what was going down at the other side of the West End. "Where's the fucking riots?" one bloke yelled.

But if you stayed in any one spot long enough, one of the many marches or bike rides would eventually pass by anyway. The sheer array of banners and slogans drifting past immediately revealed how eclectic this movement is. "Hands off the animals - hunt the rich"; "Vote Nobody"; "No bombs, bosses or borders"; the anarchist symbol; its polar opposite, the hammer and sickle - the presence of all these showed that any central figure, such as Naomi Klein or Tony Benn, who might try to claim that these marches reflect their philosophy, was just wrong. One CNN camera crew was asking what the protesters want, but it was a flawed question. The anti-globalisation movement isn't just eclectic, it's incoherent.

Some of the protesters were from Christian Aid, and handed out leaflets which could be folded into postcards to send to Tony Blair, asking for reforms in the international trading system. Others saw this as risibly "bourgeois" and "reformist". One group thrust a paper into my hands headed: "The newspaper of the Norwich anarchists - fighting molotov and half-brick for the people of Norwich".

The most striking thing about the march - and this was almost certainly what the mainstream press would not tell you - is how laid-back and non-aggressive it seemed. The most hard-core action I saw was when one teenage protester threw a large inflatable shark at a row of policemen. As the march passed John Lewis on Oxford Street (a shop which had a window smashed last year), we all noticed that the execs were standing on the roof, next to the John Lewis corporate flag.

"Don't jump - it's not that bad," one protester yelled. The crowd laughed and waved to the store's staff. They waved back. No bloody revolution, this.

The flip side of how relaxed the march was, was that very few people seemed to think it would make much difference. There was no 1968-type sense that the world would change tomorrow - this was a pessimistic march. Indeed, the journey from Paris in 1968 to London in 2002 could be seen in the exchange of the old slogan, "The End of Capitalism is Night", for a new banner: "The End of Capitalism Would Be Nice".