Put it to the People March – a moment of significance

Estimates of the Put it to the People march on Saturday vary, with between one and two million people taking to London’s streets to protest ever so politely that Brexit has failed, Parliament is gridlocked and thus the question should return to the people from whence it came.

Over the year the organisers of marches in the capital have provided the highest estimate of numbers. This time, as with the last two People’s Vote demonstrations, the police provided a higher estimate, stating officially that around two million people attended, making it officially the biggest protest march the UK has ever seen. Behind that figure there are countless stories of people who felt they simply had to be there despite having been in hospital only a few days before. Good on all of them. Some spent four or five hours going nowhere as the throng struggled to leave Hyde Park, others, overwhelmed by the volume of people, drifted into spill over marches down The Mall and through the surrounding side streets and stopping in the unforecast sunshine to picnic in one park or other. Many heard no speeches but nonetheless felt their point was well made, especially by the now five million and rising ‘Revoke’ petition.

Much of the media comment was entirely predicable, though even some hostile journalists had to recognise the scale of the event and, more remarkably how each of the three ‘historically large’ marches for a final say have grown larger amid the usual stuff seeking to undermine the numbers. One particular comment did catch my eye, that of Sarah Vine who, I’m told, is a columnist of some kind (not one I bother with). Her contention on this occasion, that the march was a ‘mob’ who would have “lynched” any leave voters who dared to show their faces, is so hopelessly wrong. For what it’s worth at Hyde Park I saw a man walking through the demonstration on his own with a placard bearing a ‘better off out’ message. As my knee was hurting (it does that these days) I sat on a bench and watched him for around twenty minutes while he was just being ignored. Talking to some police officers it was clear that their extra preparation for the day ahead amounted to nothing more than buying extra rounds of sandwiches. The whole thing was entirely genteel and an exhibition of the real British values of reasonableness. Elsewhere things are not so relaxed. The implied and not so implied threats from assorted Brexiteers of ‘other means’ should the failure that is Brexit be again put to the test are intended to alarm. Unfortunately with some who should know better this stuff has an effect - but it can and must be resisted.

Sceptical as I and many others are about what protests such as this achieve, let’s be in no doubt that this was a moment of significance. The immediate effect on the national catastrophe facing the UK remains to be seen. It may be that the Government ploughs on despite all the evidence that calls into doubt the whole process and In particular the claim that Brexit is still somehow ‘the will of the people’ It may be that the UK leaves the EU, but political movements of this size don’t simply melt away; if ignored the resentment merely grows.

The demonstration prior to the second Gulf War that was surpassed in numbers at the weekend was an indication, at a time when option polls showed the public in support of removing Saddam by force, that the action would prove fatally divisive. Brexit, already socially toxic, is not just going away any time soon.


Above: John joins Oxford for Europe at the London demonstration on Saturday 23 March 2019