A journalist’s lot is not a happy one. I like protests and I go to quite a few but I just wasn’t sure about this one.
It was a familiar scene – Hyde Park corner, coaches pulling up one after another. Little huddles of people waiting for something to happen, the odd confused tourist. But it just didn’t feel quite right, no stalls, no flags or banners, virtually everyone was white, and not that many police getting in the way.
Well not that many in uniform, in fact there were a lot of police. More than is frankly comfortable, and just a few short of a coup.
Jan Berry, chair of the police federation said 25,000 joined the march. Scotland Yard said 22,500. But the Met always underestimate demos.
Contrary to the accepted wisdom, in my view, even on an ordinary day there are just too many police on the streets. But this was ridiculous – and vaguely ominous.
The protest was against Gordon Brown and home secretary Jacqui Smith's decision not to backdate the police pay award leaving them with a rise of 1.9 percent.
I had followed the advise of the police federation demonstration briefing which said to go the toilet before the start and to dress up warm. But as an outside agitator I wasn’t entitled to one of the white baseball caps saying “Fair P(l)ay for the Police”.
We were encouraged to move across Park Lane, but so as not to block the traffic, we were requested (and all the police requests were very polite) to go through an underpass. Now getting thousands of people to go through a narrow underpass is the sort of silly thing I thought they only did to us – but old habits die hard.
This put me in the odd position of being trapped in a tunnel with thousands of cops and nowhere to go. Since I was the only one not wearing the now scary looking white hat it was time to come out. “Hi, I’m a journalist from Socialist Worker.” “What the fuck are you doing here?” came the not entirely hostile reply.
A little later I tried again, and again. Some people did talk – they are really fed up about pay. They have mortgages to pay, kids to look after, and donuts to buy. Most weren’t bothered either way about the teachers or health workers – “we do a more dangerous job.”
Some of the great and the good and the publicity seeking were there, as was Nazi BNP candidate for London mayor Richard Barnbrook who told the press he had been made “very welcome”.
One woman stood in front of the march as it prepared to move off. A large on-duty officer told her that she was illegally preventing a legal demonstration from taking place and had to move on or be arrested.
This was a little odd as there were also around 100 journalists in the same bit of the road, not to mention the 20 or so grumpy looking cops who were there to “stop any trouble.” Those on the march helpfully shouted “get a bath”. One near me asked, “Should we throw our placards at her?” to much hilarity.
She was bundled to the ground and then dragged off. This was received with a huge cheer – the largest of the day. In fact the rest of the march was a bit dull. They were no chants, no whistles -- they didn’t even have a samba band (which is one thing in its favour). At the home office one man shouted “Jacqui, Jacqui, Jacqui…” but no one joined in.
This was clearly a novel experience as they started to complain about how far they were walking. As they passed a building site “get a job” came the heckle, the officer next to me actually looked bit hurt.
According to the Sun newspaper head of the TUC Brendan Barber and Unison union general secretary Dave Prentis joined the march in solidarity. At least its nice to know they are in favour of protesting over Brown’s pay policy. Perhaps they could call one. That’s a protest I would like to go on.