Alistair Burt is MP for North East Bedfordshire and is a former Foreign Office Minister
I hear Russell Brand was at a demo yesterday evening. So was I.
Keen to get my finger on the pulse of seething Britain, and as a fully paid up Tory leftie in the TRG, I was at the demo in Parliament Square for an hour between 7.30 and 8.30pm.
It was a strange affair. I wanted to listen to what protesters were saying to each other as well as shouting to the world. What was on their minds, and why were they there? Was this Brand’s new politics?
I came away with a sense that this was rather a dismal affair, with little real anger or focus. There were a variety of causes represented – anti-fracking, Stop the Cuts, Save the NHS, Stop the Arms Trade. Owen Paterson had a rough time from the pro-badgers. Socialist Worker was well represented on banners (presumably they market these as a profitable concern? They should!)
But conversations were banal. The police were taunted with fairly puerile comments from a distance, but were engaged in serious and provocative conversations at very close quarters with cameras in their faces. They did not crack once, and were exceptional in their response and restraint. There was too much cannabis and alcohol, which affected some interchanges. One poor copper had to endure a lecture on capitalism, including how the Wright Brothers had invented flying to give it to the masses, not for profit, which ended when the bloke delivering it contrasted his own experiences with the life chances of his parents and grandparents, and said, I kid you not, “it’s so unfair’”.
Leaving him, I noticed the real contrast of the evening. That was between the largely, though not exclusively white, middle class protestors aimlessly milling around shouting half-hearted slogans (‘When I say ‘General’ you say ‘Strike’ OK?” They couldn’t be bothered), and their purposeful contemporaries, reflecting a diverse Britain, pushing gently through them, on their bikes or walking from the Tube, having done a day’s work.
This isn’t to say there are not issues which from time to time should be protested about, nor undercurrents of worry which the Government will need to address. We have not yet seen the hard cases which will flow from the spare room subsidy/bedroom tax, for example.
But I could not see how last night added to the solution of issues perhaps as much on the minds of those walking through them to get home, as those of the protesters. It was an empty experience – the only fall out being the clearing up of a mess of wine bottles, beer cans and litter which somehow the enemies of capitalism see as a victory in making some poor sod from Westminster Council tidy up.
‘The Revolution is coming, Mr Cameron’ some shouted. Not from you lot, it isn’t.