John Harris

Journalist & Author

Rally Against Debt – unless you’ve something better to do | John Harris

Hardly anyone turned up at a demo organised by the TaxPayers’ Alliance seeking more cuts in public spending. What a surprise

As I was fixing my daily wake-me-up this morning, my thoughts wandered, and a nagging mystery arrived in my mind, like an itch. What had happened to Saturday’s Rally Against Debt, organised by the TaxPayers’ Alliance and the good old Freedom Association, which was due to hear from such stars of the rightwing universe as Nigel Farage, and Tory MP Priti Patel? Had Britain witnessed the birth of its very own Tea Party? The last thing I heard was an anti-climactic debate on the Today programme between (for some reason) Alexei Sayle and Simon Heffer, with the latter telling his hosts he considered himself too old to go. And then… nothing, certainly as far as the broadcast media went. Had such domestic stories as the Mancunian league/cup double and Chris Huhne’s ongoing speed points travails somehow pushed such an important story off the bulletins? And if so, why?

It turns out that hardly anyone turned up. According to a report on the BBC news website, the Metropolitan Police put the numbers at 350, though an accompanying video suggests it may have been even less than that. Google News throws forth slim pickings: a blog on the New Statesman puts the turnout at 200 (”I’m being generous,” says the writer), and advises readers thus – “Don’t think protest. Think long queue.” But fair play to the principled zealots responsible: “I think it was a huge success,” says a post on their website, with one caveat, among others: that what with all the fuss over the royal wedding and the AV referendum, for many supporters of the cause “it was too late to book trains buses, get time off of work etc”.

Really? On a Saturday? I don’t suppose rightwing tax-phobes use public transport much, but here’s a Gnostic leftie secret which rather busts that excuse: you can just turn up on the day and travel on a whim, see? Fair play to Toby Young, though: having given the event an endorsement on the Telegraph website (”I’m not in favour of deeper, faster cuts … but I’m still hoping to attend the rally because I don’t believe the British government should participate in any more bailouts”), he at least had a copper-bottomed reason for not quite giving his all: that he was already “committed to attending a family preview of a Pirates exhibition at the Museum of Docklands tomorrow morning with my four children and won’t be able to get to the rally until 1.30pm”. By then, it seems, it was all over: whatever the rightist, law-abiding equivalent of some Fortnums/Ritz argy-bargy is, none materialised.

Anyway, as children’s centres close and the disadvantaged consider a new life of vagrancy and eating grass, I write this piece chiefly to gloat. So, here goes. My teenage mod band used to play to more people than that. When the Orkestra Del Sol played at Frome Cheese And Grain last Thursday they pulled a few more people. On these figures, the Socialist Workers party can now style themselves as a mainstream movement with vast mass appeal. And one very serious point: among other media outlets, the BBC has a habit of giving a remarkable amount of airtime to the TaxPayers’ Alliance. Take note: they are what some people used to call a paper tiger.

Yes, I know: the wheels of power grind on, doing a lot of these people’s bidding and thereby making marching largely unnecessary for all but the most freakish small-staters. But still, the whole pantomimic episode does rather prove what an old communist friend of mine used to say: surely, if we all spit at once, we’ll drown them.

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