By Neil Harrison
Photography by Natalie Carragher.
If you’ve been keeping up with the media coverage of Saturday’s ‘No More Austerity’ demonstration in London over the past couple of days, congratulations! You are officially better than the BBC. However, you may still be labouring under a few misapprehensions. That mental picture you have of Russell Brand leading a 50,000-strong crowd through the streets of the capital like some hirsute Pied Piper, for instance. It’s just wrong.
True, the comedian’s brief (and late) cameo had its desired effect. Where Brand strides, headlines will surely follow and his appearance guaranteed the kind of mainstream press attention the People’s Assembly has been sorely lacking for its excellent work over the past year. As easy, and enjoyable, as the Sunday papers find it to sneer at Brand’s ‘revolutionary’ schtick, therefore, it must be said that by doing so, they are kind of swallowing the bait.
What most of us 50,000 non-celebs saw at Saturday’s demo was this: An impassioned defense of the welfare state. A call for an end to social division and injustice. Mass support for proposed strike action (one possible strike will potentially involve 1.5 million workers on 10th July. The media has widely failed to report this. But, then again, Russell did take his top off).
There were many speeches, of course, from union leaders, MPs, campaigners and a few other notable faces. Some were genuinely rousing – particular highlights were provided by People’s Assembly veterans Owen Jones and John Rees, as well as by Jeremy Corbyn MP and members of the Fire Brigades Union (“We rescue people, not banks!”). Other speeches proved tedious at times under the hot sun, as organisers awaited the arrival of their big name. But the mood of the crowd remained in high spirits until well after Russell Brand had said goodbye and the press had got their photographs.
The heat added to the carnival atmosphere. People of all ages, from all backgrounds, diverse in every sense but united in their purpose, filled the streets of Westminster and beyond to demand ‘No More Austerity.’ 50,000 of them. That was the story.