Written by Politics

A Busy Day

So it was quite a dilemma for me! Arsenal meeting Man Utd at Old Trafford in the FA Cup while in London the big march was taking place today.
I decided to watch the match at work. I didn’t reach Oxford Circus until about 11.30, and it was becoming obvious that there were quite a lot of people milling around central London. But you just couldn’t tell how many.
The match kicked off at 12.15 and I watched it in the company boardroom. We dominated them – particularly so in the first half, and won 2-0.
Then I ventured out. The march was supposed to start at 12.30 from two different places – Embankment and Gower Street. The merge point was Piccadilly Circus, close to work, so it was there that I went. There were thousands, and I’ll have some photos to follow when I’ve uploaded them.
I walked along Piccadilly, amongst the thousands. There banners everywhere and I wide range of people, including many Asians and Muslims.
The crowd was very happy, and it was remarkable seeing so many in one place. After I while I took a couple of back roads, to leave the march and reach Hyde Park more quickly. There speakers were addressing the masses including Harold Pinter, Bianca Jagger, Ken Livingstone and Jesse Jackson. Finally Ms Dynamite sang a song, and the crowds began to disperse.
I inadvertantly wandered back via the US Embassy, which police had surrounded – and many more in vans which seemed to have riot gear loaded in the back (I guess this is pretty much to be expected). There was the inevitable burning of the Stars and Stripes but most of the crowd were good natured, and frankly cold. The burning of a flag was not going to warm up anyone.
What about numbers? I have absolutely no idea. Half a million were expected, but I couldn’t tell you if more or less actually came out. On stage in Hyde Park, and electronic scoreboard of sorts had 1.5 million when I arrived, and this was later revised to 2 million. The BBC are reporting the police as saying that the crowd was “well beyond” the 500,000 expected. I have no doubt about that, but 2 million is an awful lot of people. I always think that it’s best to be a bit conservative about numbers.
But then I get this Snowmail from Jon Snow of Channel 4 News:
London sees largest demo in British political history:
Just back from London’s Hyde Park and what I can only describe as the largest demonstration in British political history and I speak as one who attended the Vietnam war protest in 1968 in Grosvenor Square.
This was a protest like no other, unaffiliated ordinary people with their children their friends their neighbours and in some cases their entire streets.
Tony Blair embattled at his spring conference in Glasgow delivered a speech just before most of his Party faithful dashed out on to the streets beyond.
The Prime Minister looked both shaken and stirred. Sometimes a leader must lead, sometimes that means being unpopular — adding there IS a moral case for removing Saddam.
Tonight the demonstration here…well over a million people…in Rome, well over a million, Berlin, half a million…New York, still counting…Auckland, Canberra and the rest –and Blair’s response.
The sense too that Blair may have to accept that to go to war without wholehearted UN endorsement could now cost him his leadership and damage the party’s hold on power.

The largest demonstration in British political history? Remarkable. Blair made a speech earlier this morning, and it seems he really does believe he’s doing the right thing. He’s wrong, but it’s difficult to tell how much he’s really risking. I still don’t see IDS getting elected even if Blair takes us into war.
So was it worth going? Well, yes, it most certainly was. Will Blair listen? Probably not – he can’t now. But will cabinet colleagues resign as a result?
Fortunately it’s not just going to be one other member of the Security Council that blocks another resolution against Iraq. Aside from Spain (and Kuwait), most of the world, and certainly the people, are against another war.
Pictures and videos to follow…