I don’t like hummus. In fact, I despise hummus. I prefer going straight for the main “dead animal” course in my local Lebanese — a shawarma, perhaps, or even a lamb chop. But hummus? Never.
So the claim that those of us who preferred to go on the TUC march — rather than vandalise a state-owned bank or throw paint at the police — were just “munching houmous in Hyde Park and listening to some speeches” would have offended me if it wasn’t so silly.
But my fellow NS blogger Laurie Penny is allowed to be silly if she wants to. If she wants to hang from a set of traffic lights in Oxford Circus, then that’s her prerogative. She’s entitled to her views — and her “riot boots“.
But I’m entitled to my views — and I’m annoyed with the violent “protesters” (thugs?) who tried to wreck an important and historic march by rewarding right-wing, pro-cuts media outlets with the negative headlines and imagery that they had so craved. Then again, what else does one expect from a bunch of outraged kids who prefer to gesticulate for the sake of the Murdoch-owned television cameras? For whom “solidarity” is merely a word to daub on the side of Topshop, rather than a lived act of joining fellow citizens on a mass scale? In my view, solidarity isn’t about smashing windows in a co-ordinated manner. (Oh, and I refuse to refer to those louts as “anarchists” until I see any evidence that the disgruntled youth I saw kindling that pointless bonfire in the middle of Oxford Street has read even a page of Kropotkin.)
Here’s my rather simple and old-fashioned view: the trade union movement persuaded 500,000 people to turn out on Saturday to protest against the coalition’s spending cuts and “march for the alternative” — the Robin Hood Tax, green investment in education and jobs, reform of the banks and tax justice. Five hundred thousand people. That’s half a million people for those of you who can’t count.
There were dozens of speakers at the Hyde Park rally — from the leader of the opposition to elected general secretaries of Britain’s biggest and smallest unions; from the National Pensioners Convention to Operation Black Vote; from poets to freeminers. There was a call-centre worker who’d walked all the way from Cardiff to make his voice heard. And, no, I didn’t spot a pot of hummus in his hand.
So why was there a need for an “alternative” protest, away from the main march in London and the rally in Hyde Park? Why did UK Uncut — a group, incidentally, whose aims, principles and even tactics I have wholeheartedly supported since its creation last year — decide to stage a sit-in at a posh shop no one’s ever heard of on Saturday afternoon? Don’t get me wrong: UK Uncut had nothing to do with the violence at the weekend and have since been wrongly maligned by much of the mainstream media, but why consciously opt out of a march involving — one more time — 500,000 of your fellow citizens? Couldn’t the well-heeled shoppers in Piccadilly have been rudely interrupted on Sunday instead? Or Friday? Or Monday? Any day other than the day of the TUC march? This scene from the Life of Brian comes to mind . . .
It’s a point that Anthony Painter makes this morning over at LabourList. Like me, he objects to Laurie’s blog post on the NS site and I can’t help but agree with much of what he writes. Having said that, I was amused to see Anthony, an intelligent and informed blogger, whose posts I often enjoy and admire, making an idiotic demand via Twitter for an “apology” from the New Statesman. Referring to Laurie’s post, he says: “A hasty apology and retraction of that part of the piece would be welcome.”
First, isn’t it odd that centre-left bloggers should be demanding such brazen censorship from a centre-left magazine? We’re a broad church here at the NS; plural and proud of it. Second, I’m astonished that a clever, web-savvy guy can’t seem to distinguish between the New Statesman — the award-winning current-affairs magazine, founded in 1913, employing dozens of writers — and a single blogger on the New Statesman website. Third, I think it is remiss of Anthony to write a blog post in which he takes a potshot at the New Statesman on the subject of the march/rally without acknowledging that the senior politics editor of the magazine compered the final section of Saturday’s TUC rally (the video, if you want proof, is below). In return, I could now demand an “apology” from LabourList. But I won’t waste time.
Instead, I’ll carry on marching and rallying with the mainstream. Some of us actually want to try to change things.