Saturday 5 October 2013

NHS299 Demonstration March & Rally, Sunday 29th September 2013

If there is a G_d, then surely s/he was looking down on Manchester last Sunday. Instead of its world-notorious cloud and rain, the city was domed in pure azure, not a cloud to be seen - not even a wisp - and a blazing sun beating down on its historic bricks, stone, glass and concrete. Mancunians are usually an affable folk, but, more than usual, this late September heat and sunshine brought smiles to visages and friendly banter from kind mouths. As the day spread out the crowds of milling shoppers, residents and tourists were increasingly swelled by folk from all areas and countries of the United Kingdom, uniting to demonstrate against the maleficent ConDem coalition government’s policies.

[Image description: Deansgate, Manchester, aflood with tens of thousands of demonstrators,
placards, banners & flags; © Ray Smith/SW]

Despite having no mandate from the electorate, the Conservative and Liberal Democrats (ConDems) have forced through an increasing privatisation of our belovèd National Health Service (NHS) as well as unprecedented cuts to social security benefits, now labelled ‘welfare’ by most neo-liberal politicos and the vast majority of the main-stream media (MSM). This has all been done in the name of austerity, an economic policy with very dodgy antecedents and a bad history. The ordinary folk of the UK, whether working, non-working or even middle class, are all losing out. Salaries and wages are stagnant or dropping; inflation on quotidian goods and services is astronomical; food, energy and water prices rise inexorably; mortgages are unaffordable and rents go up and up. For the vast majority of Brits their standard of living is not gradually falling but is sliding rapidly off-piste. Jobs are taken off the low-paid or they have their hours reduced so that greedy companies and charities can give them to workfare ‘slaves’.

Against this background, the Tories arrogantly and contemptuously decided upon holding their annual party conference in a city where they have not a single seat or even local councillor. Manchester has a long and proud history of standing up against the Establishment (Peterloo, Women’s suffrage, Trade Unionism, Vegetarianism, etc.). Politically as well as musically, artistically, technologically, scientifically, we Mancunians live up to our creative and radical heritage. We issued invitations to all who wished to come and rally with us to protest our increasing indentureship and the theft of our historic rights and freedoms. The call did not go unheeded. More than fifty-thousand individuals flooded into the city. At one point the march through the city centre stretched for more than a mile and, for obvious reasons, took much longer than originally anticipated to wind its way to the rallying point in Whitworth Park. This meant that Conservative Party members and conference attendees had to strive to reach the conference centre. Many were polite enough to take leaflets off protesters; many others looked down their noses at us with looks of sheer disgust. Oh dear, the sullied masses intruding on their festivities!

The night before, Jane Wowchat and Rick Tenpercent arrived at my home so they would be rested for the following day’s events. On the morrow Jenny was delivered by hubby Andrew, both stalwarts of the Save our NHS movement. With my assistant, Richard, we all piled into the car and headed off in search of a disabled parking spot anywhere near the static protest site opposite the conference venue. Rick hung out our WoWpetition banner on the railings and Jenny and Jane broke into the box of leaflets. And off we went. Well actually, to find a loo (wc).

En route we bumped into the Royal Fusiliers who would later heckle the hapless defence secretary (as widely reported by the MSM) and who were also collecting signatures for their petition. We could not stop there and then, but did later add our monickers to their appeal as well as passing on some of our leaflets.

We met many police-officers who invariably smiled, passed the time of day or even joked with us. Greater Manchester Police (GMP) have a thing or two they could show London’s Met about policing by consent rather than threat. Over the whole day there were apparently only two arrests for minor offences (misdemeanours). In fact GMP issued a press release to praise the good nature and peacefulness of the whole event. Bless ‘em!

[Image description: RevPaul in white WoW T-shirt, myself in French navy WOW T-shirt and Rico holding the WoWpetition banner featuring the comedienne, Francesca Martinez; © Jenny]

After nearly four hours in my wheelchair, I had to go home to rest. It transpired that it took several days for my muscles to recover. But heigh-ho it was well worth it: to see so many travel so far to exercise their ancient right to protest and dissent.

I would have said that I am sure that the ConDems - and the Tories specifically - got the message. Alas, the MSM could not be bothered to cover the event. It was Manchester’s largest protest in modern history and even the so-called national broadcaster, the BBC, failed to report on it in anything other than a throw-away comment during a political commentary. The MSM are failing the British public, much as in the film V for Vendetta. Still, we have ways and means of sourcing the news. This is one of the main reasons for the authoritarians in all parties fearing and wanting to control social media (SM). SM has democratised the news in a similar way that the ‘net allowed access to information and knowledge.

Interestingly much of the print media insisted, as did David Cameron our Prime Minister, that the march was an act of bullying by the unions. But many of the disabled there certainly were not from trades unions. The church members, such as the Quakers, and other charitable workers similarly were not affiliated to unionism. Many of the folk walking in support of the NHS were patients or ex-patients of free medical care who simply wished to retain what has been our right as citizens for over sixty-five years. As ever rhetorical clap-trap from those in charge!

At the end of the day a couple of thousand WoWpetition leaflets were handed out. Hopefully that will transmute into more signatories to our Stop the War on Welfare entreaty. Perhaps you the reader will also consider signing the WoWpetition. %)

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