Gold Plated Armchairs

I had hoped to go along to the march against the cuts today, well, maybe not the march but perhaps one of the UK Uncut bails ins. In reality, I probably can’t risk exposing my current mental frailty to the West End on a normal Saturday let alone one like today, and the bail in I had earmarked didn’t go ahead as the target had preemptively shut.

Feeling guilty (default mode), I decided to become part of the Armchair Army on Twitter and Facebook. These are people who, like me, could not attend for a multitude of reasons but wanted to play a part. With the telly switched on to BBC24 and my Twitter feed fairly flying along like a ticker tape trying to outdo Usain Bolt, I began my afternoon.

We had been provided with a list of email addresses consisting of mainstream media outlets and senior members of our lovely government. At various points in the afternoon I fired off group emails, initially explaining the reasons for the march etc., and then in reaction to events as they unfolded and the way they were being reported.

Meanwhile, on Twitter, I was busy taking in information as it came through, analysing, deciding what I should retweet to keep others informed, and giving my own views on events based on what was being reported from those on the ground, and what I was seeing courtesy of the BBC.

Ah yes, the BBC. I love the BBC. No, I bloody love the BBC. But today I was made to feel ashamed of that love. One of the first things I heard was someone from the right wing Taxpayers Alliance being allowed to spout his guff completely unchallenged. Yet again the myth was trotted out that public sector spending and gold plated pensions are to blame. I mean, really, don’t these people have any sense of dignity; “gold plated pensions”, the hallmark of a morally deficient moron with no other argument to offer in their attempt to turn people against the ‘enemy’ – good old divide and rule. By the way, the head of the Taxpayers Alliance lives in France and pays no tax here. Funny, that.

The next person to be ‘interviewed’ was Francis Maude, sans neck wear in order to appear, what? Friendly? Not part of the establishment? Down with the people? He made it quite clear he was down with the people as he sympathised with their efforts, but it was all Gordon Brown’s fault. Of course it was. If we have a Tory government in 2026 and there’s a stock market crash, we will be told it’s Gordon Brown’s fault. Again, where’s the dignity? Where’s the argument? Nothing to do with the past two decades of neo-liberalism and financial/corporate deregulation finally bearing its rotten fruit, Francis? Nothing to do with the bankers bringing us into recession thereby necessitating extra spending in the public sector as jobs were lost and businesses went bust? What about Nobel prize winning economists who have decried the need for austerity measures? These were questions that the BBC journo could have put to him, but instead she sat there nodding and accepted his words as golden.

And then we had someone from the anti-cuts side who put their arguments forward… Oh, no. We didn’t. Perhaps they were all busy on the march, but the BBC could have taped an interview, no?

The unchallenged statements from the Taxpayers Alliance spod and Francis Maude were repeated at regular intervals during the afternoon. Yet whenever those on the march were spoken to they were challenged with questions concerning debt, deficit, and “do you really think this will achieve anything?”. Balance, BBC – it’s not just a matter of physics.

Of course, the highlight of the media afternoon was when a few ‘anarchists’ broke off from the march and threw some paint at Top Shop. This was conveniently timed to coincide with Ed Miliband’s speech in Hyde Park so the news channels could split screen him with pics of a ‘riot’! I’m not one for conspiracy theories but rumours of agents provocateur abounded, and one of the protesters was seen to flash a badge at police lines and be let past. The Tunbridge Wells branch of UK Uncut were witness to a Sky journo offering 25 quid to someone to lob a brick at a window. There were also police reports of light bulbs filled with ammonia being thrown. Quite apart from the logistics involved in preparing such missiles, people on the ground could not smell any ammonia, and if you’ve ever had the misfortune to do so, you’ll know its potency. So…

Things got even better for the news crews when UK Uncut made their move to their secret target, Fortnum and Mason. F & M is in the main owned by Associated British Foods with a 54% stake. ABF are known tax avoiders to the tune of tens of millions of pounds (UK Uncut press release here). ‘The Queen’s favourite corner shop’ is also a symbol of wealth and privilege and doubtless used by many of the people either behind our current financial troubles, or those proposing to resolve matters by unfairly blaming and decimating the public sector. A suitable target in this writer’s view.

Contrary to what you may be told by your television, radios or newspapers, UK Uncut are a peaceful organisation and not aligned with the ‘Black Bloc’ so called anarchists letting off fireworks and “tipping over bins” (seriously, this was a BBC headline). They aim to occupy the premises of organisations who have played a part in depriving our economy of many billions in order to hold them to account. Once inside F & M, the poetry readings began. Journalist Laurie Penny reported on Twitter that “Someone knocked over a stack of chocolate bunnies. Other protesters sternly ask them to pick it all up. ‘That’s just unnecessary'” – here’s a pic of the anarchy within (taken by Ellie May O’Bevan):

It was at about this time, after five hours of keyboard pounding and with my PC threatening to headbutt me, I lay down my sore fingers and went to buy some eggs and stuff. Then I came home and dropped off on the sofa.

I logged back on at around 11pm, switched BBC24 back on, and saw that during my time off things hadn’t changed. I was getting updated reports from those in Trafalgar Square via Twitter but they didn’t seem to gel with what the BBC was telling me. I was told by a policeman that those inside the Trafalgar kettle were “criminal yobs” – this again was taken as golden by the news desk. They then spoke to Laurie Penny who was inside the kettle – she explained the situation as it was happening, that the people being contained were not all criminal yobs etc., but her words were not taken so easily by the BBC and she was constantly challenged and badgered over her take on events. I don’t know Laurie, but I follow her on Twitter and read her journalism and she strikes me as someone who seeks to report the truth, and most certainly not a criminal yob. I was also getting tweets from UK Uncut stalwart Chris Coltrane detailing events that showed events in a different light from the police perspective. Again, Chris doesn’t really doesn’t really come across as a yob.

The tweets from Laurie and Chris showed that there was a clear problem with the way Trafalgar Square was being policed. Up until a certain point all was peaceful and people were having a good time winding down after a busy and successful day. Then the police crashed in, panic ensued and some among the protesters were provoked into stupid reaction. Most were just scared. I have experience of this from demos I’ve been on – in fact, after a Liverpool dockers march in the mid-90s I was in the square as the partying began. As we were hungry my girlfriend and I decided to pop off to a cheap restaurant we knew just off Leicester Square for something to eat. By the time we returned there was a cordon of police around Trafalgar Square with no-one being let in or out (sound familiar?), and things were getting fraught. The same thing happened at a march against the Criminal Justice Bill in Hyde Park the year before, and at the J18 march in 1999… I think you see what I’m getting at. My experience is that there is only major trouble at demos/protests/marches when the police turn heavy, but the media narrative will parrot the establishment line that the police were only doing what was necessary. The tweets I’ve seen show that it’s considered necessary to bully, intimidate and outright beat people into submission. The police were not upholding the law today, they were defending the establishment. But what’s new?

That about brings us up to speed. And my thoughts on the march? Anger at reporting that at best can be described as unbalanced, and at worst biased. Anger at the use of our police as government stormtroopers. But, overwhelmingly, pride at what I saw today. Hundreds of thousands of people from across the spectrum of society gathered to show that we will not be lied to and shat on by a government only interested in protecting vested interests and wrecking all that is good about this country, our country. And for each of those on the streets there is an uncountable number of us who did not attend but agree with and cheer what they achieved. Cameron and Clegg mindlessly, meaninglessly chant their mantra, “We’re all in this together” – today they were shown what that really means.

The march was and must be seen as an inspiration and a sign of what’s to come. The people behind it have declared that we will not stop opposing this government’s attack on us and to this end we must stay strong and ignore the naysayers. To those who ask what was achieved, tell them a show of unity that brought together and inspired a huge number of people, that showed them they are not alone and that the anti-cuts movement is so much more than a fringe concern, but is in fact moving into the mainstream of the political milieu.

We must also not be drawn into the media narrative whereby we feel we have to apologise for those few who threw stones, that they ruined the day. All this achieves is to service the needs of the establishment and give them the validation to continue with their stormtrooper tactics. Hundreds of thousands of people came together and made a stand against the injustice being perpetrated on our society, a few of them threw some stones and damaged some buildings – what should we be concentrating on?

You can read a first hand account of the day at Lenin’s Tomb. I owe thanks to him and also to the many others who tweeted and retweeted information throughout the day.

And finally, a picture of a man who symbolises the fight for all that is fair in our society, 85 years young and still going strong, the wonderful Tony Benn. He hasn’t stopped fighting, and neither must we.

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