March of time
There were peaceful multitudes from front to end. Ian Spencer reports on London’s giant demonstration
So Cruella Braverman has gone. For those of us on the Palestine solidarity demonstration in London on November 11, her departure is highly satisfying - not before time. Now the government looks afraid and on the road to internecine warfare. No-one has ever wanted to be sacked more than Braverman - she must have relished it. And, if she does not get to lead the Tory Party, a bright future at GB News awaits.
As if the government was not farcical enough, to plug the gap in the cabinet we now see the return to office of the worst ever prime minister but three - a foreign secretary who has not even been elected as an MP, appointed by a prime minister who was not elected to his office either ... so goes the refrain on Labour’s benches. ‘Dodgy Dave’ Cameron is still under investigation for lobbying for Greensill to join the Corporate Covid Financing Facility and letting him take £3.3 million for his shares, before the company collapsed with £1 billion and 440 jobs lost.
However, in Whitehall, Tommy Robinson and his gammon mates had a few hundred out to defend the Cenotaph on November 11 - presumably from the police, who got there first, mainly because they had not spent the morning in the pub. Even the ‘breakaway’ from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign march went nowhere near the Cenotaph and got into trouble for ‘wearing face masks’ and ‘letting off fireworks’ - most of which were those red and green smoke flares that do so much to bring a bit of colour to a sea of red, green, white and black flags.
Now to the proper demo. It was supposed to be Braverman’s finest hour. She did everything she could to ensure that it was a blood-soaked riot, violating the Armistice Day holy of holies. A violent clash would have put those woke lefties in the Metropolitan Police in their place and provided the basis for banning future Palestine solidarity marches, with their irksome hostility to genocide and the murder of children on a biblical scale. Instead, there were peaceful multitudes from end to end, who felt that a day that commemorates the killing of millions is a good day to demand that we stop doing it.
Size may not be everything, but last Saturday it really was. I do not pretend to know how many turned up on the day. I got to Marble Arch at about 12 noon and by 3pm I was making my way around Hyde Park Corner. There were six lanes of marchers, as well as those who passed through the park. The only time I have ever seen such a crowd was during the great demonstration against the Iraq war, which was widely believed to be a million-strong. The police and their media outlet, the BBC, said there were 300,000 (other wild guesses are available). The whole thing took well over six hours go from Hyde Park to get anywhere near the US embassy in Nine Elms.
As far as doublethink is concerned, the description of a call for peace as a ‘hate march’ would have been dismissed by George Orwell as a bit far-fetched. However, Braverman’s use of the term, as well as her accusation that the police were favouring the left over the right, was not well received by the Metropolitan police. Commissioner Mark Rowley clearly felt there must be a legal basis for banning a demonstration (and losing a day’s overtime). Mind you, I did not see a cop until I got to Hyde Park Corner, where some were ensconced in their vans, unheeded by the crowds.
Talking of crowds, I saw people of all ages. Particularly heart-warming were young people leading the chants. Some of these were children of primary school age. They were not dragged along and told what to shout by ‘competitive dad’ types. They were kids who already have a more highly developed moral sense than the leader of the Labour Party, who does not seem to know, as they do, that murdering thousands is a war crime. There were lots of home-made placards, including from Muslims, Jews and pacifists, as well as the left. My particular favourite was from a woman of West Indian heritage, which read, “All Tories are Bloodclarts”. Quite so.
The government, police and press have been busy scanning through the placards to assess their anti-Semitic quotient. Funny how the constant government assertion of a deep undercurrent of anti-Semitism did not put off the many hundreds, if not thousands, of Jewish demonstrators, who like the rest of the march, can tell the difference between Judaism and Zionism. In fact, the organised Jewish groups were particularly warmly received, including the orthodox, who regard the Zionist state as blasphemous as well as murderous.
I imagine that a good statistician could work out the likelihood, in any given gathering of near a million people, what proportion of them are likely to have haemorrhoids. By the same token, I should think that at least some will have expressed support for Hamas or failed to understand the distinction between Judaism and Zionism. But they would have been, in comparison with the totality, an extremely small minority - certainly fewer than those with haemorrhoids.
One placard I did see, which has been singled out for attention, features a Star of David with a swastika in the middle and the words, “No British politician should be a ‘friend of Israel’”. Personally, I do not like the use of ‘Nazi’ or ‘fascist’ as an off-the-peg epithet for authoritarian nationalists. These are terms best reserved for … Nazis and fascists - a feature of that concatenation of events in the 1930s in countries with a large and threatened petty bourgeoisie. However, I understand that a placard is designed for its visual impact, and very few make it as a basis for a detailed analysis of Middle Eastern political economy. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then it skilfully encapsulates the well-documented historical relationship between the Nazis and Zionists. It points to their common modus operandi of ethnic cleansing and annihilation, as well as a reminder of the singular failure of bourgeois politicians to stop the Nazis or help the Jews of Europe when they had the chance.
It is also worth reminding people of the number of politicians who are members of Labour and Conservative Friends of Israel and in receipt of funding from them. I daresay the tourist industry in Eilat would have collapsed years ago without the busloads of politicians on all-expenses-paid ‘fact-finding tours’.
The response to the Israeli war on Gaza evokes the memory of how, for many years, the plight of the people of Vietnam was only the concern of the politicised. I would like to think that the sight of children on fire with napalm will always be greeted with horror and revulsion - as it was by me as a child. Not long after that I regarded myself as a communist.
I found the demonstration life-affirming, if only because the obscenity of the destruction of al‑Shifa Hospital is just as disgusting to all ages today. While it takes more than demonstrations to change the world, those that span the globe at least constitute a beginning of something.