The TUC’s anti-cuts protest was a good start, but much remains to be done to turn this widespread opposition into a movement that can really challenge the government.
Saturday’s TUC march against government cuts exceeded most expectations in terms of size and the good nature of the protest. Giving a proverbial two fingers to smug media cynics like the Guardian’s Simon Jenkins, well over 250,000 attended the March for the Alternative.
In evidence among the placards, banners and hand-painted signs were an inspiring range of causes. This was clearly a gathering of people, not just from across the public sector, but beyond, including many thousands who were roused to hit the streets to demonstrate their opposition to the socially-destructive programme being unleashed by Cameron’s government of millionaires.
To his credit, and taking something of a political risk, Labour leader Ed Miliband spoke to the rally and gave a competent speech, reclaiming the ‘big society’ mantle for the hundreds of thousands who had turned out to defend their communities (Miliband’s speech is available here). Despite rather luke-warm backing from the Labour Party until very shortly before the march, other Labour front-benchers such as Yvette Cooper, Harriet Harman and Hilary Benn were also present.
While not surprising, it was still galling that media reports concentrated overwhelmingly on the vandalism caused by small groups of anarchists. The ‘trouble’ was relatively minor, with only just over 200 arrests made, yet it seemed our public service broadcasters were happy to give some eighty per cent of their coverage to 0.1 per cent of the people.
Far be it for them to let political speeches, debate, or views critical of the government get in the way of more ‘news-worthy’ pictures showing the odd window being broken or photo-friendly paint balls hitting bank walls. (The web site Labour List is encouraging complaints to the BBC and Sky News over their routine bias in reporting anti-cuts demonstrations, see here.) .
Welcome though it was to have a chance to say ‘no’ to the Con Dems, the protest amounted to little more than a good start in a campaign that needs to become more cohesive, more broadly supported, and more popular as we seek to fight spending cuts and the destruction of the NHS.
Such a campaign requires much more work, especially in fashioning an alternative programme, and that’s a task requiring Labour’s front bench to play a much more forthright and critical role.