Saturday, September 23, 2006
This was fantastic. I've never seen such a mix of joy and anticipation: the former deriving from the knowledge that Blair is finished, and the latter from a sense that a new field of possibilities is about to be opened up. The turnout for a non-London demo was far better than we had any right to expect. I really don't know if the dissent that was given ample fora today will even be heard of on the conference floor. God knows, the antiwar movement was completely absent from Labour's 2003 conference, and New Labour have moved effectively to block dissenting resolutions. I would anticipate a fixed-up Blair love-in in which admits to mistakes, gets some sustained 'warm' applause and then oversees yet another haemhorrage in the membership while he tours the country trying to build up that wave of euphoria that he intends to depart on. If he really wanted to cheer the country up, he'd set to work aggravating that heart problem he has. Anyway.
I had decided to treat myself and take the 'Peace Train' to Manchester and back, so named because there wasn't a moment of peace to be had on it. It had been advertised that Tony Benn, Craig Murray and George Galloway would be aboard, so I had some vague notion that I would put my feet up on Galloway's spare cigar box and rap with the guys about world politics and that. For some reason, this vision completely failed to materialise, and instead I found myself sitting in a cramped carriage listening to the harmonious sound of the Strawberry Seeds choir, which might have been tolerable had it not been for the crushing hangover that I had hoped to luxuriate in while reading some ephemeral revolutionary leaflets. The atmosphere was only raised when the dissolute Mark Elf turned up in the seat opposite.
After four hours of camera crews rushing past, socialist newspaper sellers selling socialist newspapers, pamphleteers and leafleters pamphleting and leafleting, singers singing and children making noises that sadistically cut into one's torpor like a dentists' drill - well, after all that, we arrived in a city that looked like London with a slightly higher quotient of red brick. I met the man behind the Strategic Voter website, who apprised me of the strange ways of the natives and slipped me a leaflet or two. I also ran into Louise from Stroppy Blog later on. And, you'll never guess what - we all had ourselves a bit of a protest. Here's some pics to look at:
One of the curiosities was the fact that the police seemed to be persuaded that we were about to have ourselves a "terrorist opportunity" as the Chief of Manchester Police said yesterday. Despite the fact that the protest showed no signs of making an attempt on the wire cages that surrounded the Labour conference, and despite the fact that there was not a whisper of violence or criminality, they seemed to find it necessary to have lots of their men running around in military boots, filming people, forming lines to protect certain buildings, sending mounted policemen out to initiate what is certain to be a mountain of horseshit that will build up throughout the week. Take a look at these laughing policemen:
I can't tell you what they thought they were doing behind that wire fence with their little delegates' badges. Perhaps, or rather certainly, Blair looked at the fate of the Hungarian Prime Minister in recent weeks. That guy was also caught lying to the public, you know. I fancy that in all the prancing around in boots and bullet-proof vests (yes, they had those again), there is something of the fascistic desire for impermeability against the oceanic - like the fearsome tide-like movement of these crowds:
Mostly, however, I expect New Labour's local chumps led the police to believe that someone may attempt a breach of their seven-day Winter Palace. Anyway, here's Craig Murray:
And here are some other stars:
Those last kids assumed I was some media person and demanded that I take a picture. It is surprisingly easy to find people on a demo who want to have their photograph taken or are at least willing to be snapped. This is for the perfectly excellent pragmatic reason that if you go on a demo, paint your face, wave signs and shout slogans, you're already courting publicity.
Here is the tide rushing back toward the great square where the speeches were given:
Meanwhile, some more video. You can watch some Hezbollah supporters dancing here. You can catch a bit of Galloway's speech here. This is where the balloons were released after the die-in. This is where I charged into the tunnel and took child-like delight in the reverberating noise of thousands of people chanting. More protesting here. There are more pictures and videos to come. I can't possibly add them all this evening, but there is one in which a young girl sits on her father's shoulders and leads a huge crowd in some chanting. Stuff like "If you know that Blair's a poodle, say woof woof!" And people actually said "woof woof!" Because you don't say no to a sweet little girl who's got control of the microphone, otherwise she might do something crazy.
I have to admit that I didn't catch too many of the speeches. Salma Yaqoob was brilliant as she always is, Michael Meacher gave a surprisingly powerful speech (I didn't even expect him to be there), George Galloway did his usual best, Alan Simpson was efficient, Jeremy Corbyn was great, as was Craig Murray - the big surprise for me was the contribution of Richard Horton, editor of the Lancet, who slammed the government over the mass deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan. Also notable was a contributor from the British Muslim Initiative whose name someone will tell me, who made a brief but sharp contribution at the end to the effect that there was not so much a war between civilisations as a war on civilisation - that is, by the rich and gated classes of the world on the poor and oppressed. What was interesting was that while the force of the demo was directed at Blair, the speeches and the reaction to them really confirm what we have known for a while, certainly since the wave of Brownite resignations and the protests at Quintin Kynaston school, which is that Blair is a dead man walking. He isn't simply going to resign next year. His resignation is effective. Every new step he takes is a zombie lurch. The debate has moved on, and the argument is about policy. It is unlikely that McDonnell will be successful in his leadership bid, although one naturally wishes him the best. But the people I spoke to were already looking beyond the inevitable post-Blair Blairite to the matter of getting the troops out of both Afghanistan and Iraq and stopping Blair's right-wing policies. Maybe a few months ago, some people would have focused less on Afghanistan, but it has become very clear that this is becoming every bit the horrendous mess that Iraq is.
Anyway, if Blair had hoped that we would have a little demo, stage our die-in and then get chased off the streets by the old filth, he would have been dissapointed. Headline news everywhere, I'm afraid. That peace camp that they tried to ban, by the way, is there alright. The shitty New Labour council didn't win that fight. And what is more, there is actually large rectangular metal sign (looks like a road sign and everything) up right next to the camp which instructs drivers that Manchester is a "City of Peace". And the council didn't succeed in confusing me with their irritating urban planning so that I missed the train back either. Oh no. In fact, although it may have looked like I was wandering around all lost and terrified, I was in fact cunningly squeezing a tour of the city centre into my day. (The tour confirmed my initial suspicions: a slightly higher quotient of red bricks).
Like I say, more pictures and videos tomorrow. As usual, Socialist Worker has been quick off the mark with reports and pictures, and they will I am certain have close-up video-recordings of all the speeches.
Update: I have some more pictures and video for you, as promised. First of all, here's Tony Benn:
Here are the mounted police, for some reason guarding a second line of police on foot who appear to be pathetically trying to shield the die-in from general view:
Here is the master of ceremonies:
And here are some unbearably trendy demonstrators:
You can see all the pictures in a larger or smaller size and use them as you will at my Flickr account. Also, this guy has some good photos from yesterday as well. More video shorts now. You can watch the drummers in pink here. The conductor seemed to communicate instructions to the various percussionists through dance steps. The Prime Minister address the protesters here. Some noisy protesters making their way toward the peace camp here. A little girl siezes the mic and rocks the house here. The crowd marches up Deansgate for the die-in here. More here, here and here.