this is what democracy looks like…

At the weekend, the Lib Dem circus arrived in Sheffield for a Spring conference, and in response, an estimated five thousand protesters were gathered to express anger at the coalition government’s plans for savage cuts to education, the NHS, and all other areas of the public sector. We joined them at the rally.

One of the speakers highlighted the ideological humbug of the supposed necessity for “austerity measures”, comparing the current situation with the far worse problems faced by the nation at the end of World War II. With the country in ruins, and as heavily indebted as today, instead of cuts, the Attlee government chose instead to invest, and as part of their regeneration, founded the new and entirely free national health service within the first term of office. Turning to a recent Guardian report, he then made a different comparison, providing details of excessive salaries still being paid to bankers whose malpractice had caused the crisis in the first place, and reminding us simply: “we’re all in this together!”1

Around a thousand of police officers thronged the city centre, with many streets cordoned by lines of police. At City Hall itself, where the conference was actually taking place, an 8ft high perimeter fence had been erected in advance. The whole square in front the venue was thereby secured as a kind of Green Zone, the fence mounted on extremely heavy concrete plinths that had required fork-lift trucks to move them into place. The total security operation reportedly costing £2 million pounds.2

The protest remained peaceful and was, according to police, “good natured”, and so peering through the mesh, then across police lines, and still a further thirty yards or more just to see a few of the delegates, our chants of “this is what democracy looks like…” seemed to ring especially hollow. Meanwhile, only one of the delegates had the courage to actually cross the defensive divide and speak to us face to face, and whilst most of the others did their best to appear nonchalant, their detachment merely adding to the impression that as members of the inner party, they were quite entitled to sneer down on the plebs.

Certainly, police tactics have changed a little, since I last carried a placard. Roles have been divided. A small number wearing “liaison officer” jackets mingled amongst the crowd, whilst riot equipment was mostly kept out of sight, readily at hand, but also discreetly obscured behind the fence. Perhaps the sight of fully equipped riot police would have appeared just a little too illiberal, though in spite of this, the increasing gulf between the public and the politicians was perfectly evident to anyone with eyes to see it. Indeed, a more appropriate, albeit clumsier chant, would surely have been: “this is what corporatocracy looks like…”

To read the local BBC report with video footage:

1 “The two top earners received more than the Barclays chief executive, Bob Diamond, who took the helm in January after more than a decade building the investment banking arm, Barclays Capital. The American-born banker, who has called for the period of remorse for banks to end, received a potential £27m, including a £6.5m bonus for 2010, as well as a £2.25m award of shares which could pay out in the future, and share deals from the past five years that paid out £14m and one from 2007 that paid out £5m”

Other happy bankers include:

Rich Ricci: 44m

Includes £10.6m in salary and bonuses plus a long-term award of £3.35m, which could be worth three times more in three years’ time. Also includes £30m from share awards over the last five years

Tom Kalaris: £13.8m

Includes £7.8m in salary and bonuses, plus a long-term award of £1m. He also received £5m in share awards over the past five years, which were released in March

Jerry del Missier: £47m

Includes £10.9m in salary and bonuses plus a long-term award of £3.35m, which could be worth three times more in three years’ time. Also includes £33m from share awards over the last five years

Robert Le Blanc: £6.8m

Includes £3.7m in salary and bonuses, plus a long-term award of £1.5m. He received £1.6m in shares over the last five years in March

Antony Jenkins: £8.2m

Includes £5.2m in salary and bonuses and a long-term award of £1.7m that pays out in three years. He received £6.9m in shares over the previous five years

taken from:

2 “Police are spending an estimated £2m to protect this weekend’s Liberal Democrat conference, with measures including a 2.5m high steel and concrete fence to deter up to 10,000 protesters.

A thousand officers will be on duty or standby from Friday until Sunday to shield the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, in his own city from anger over public spending cuts and his party’s U-turn on student fees.”

1 Comment

Filed under austerity measures, Britain, campaigns & events, Uncategorized

One response to “this is what democracy looks like…

  1. Marta

    Have you come across this recent survey by the Guardian (done in Britain, France, Germany, Poland and Spain)? “Only 6% of people across Europe say they have a great deal of trust in their government, 46% say they have not very much and 32% none at all. Only 9% of Europeans think their politicians – in opposition or in power – act with honesty and integrity.” No wonder, when politicians behave in the way you’ve just described. The survey also seems to indicate that in these countries public opinion is more divided as regards austerity measures, although a majority of those who answered the survey think government cuts to reduce national debt are not necessary.


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