The Day of Rage: small, sweaty and sad
It all began with John McDonnell calling millions out on to the streets, and it ended with a few hundred protesters chanting in Parliament Square alongside almost as many policemen.
The Day of Rage – organised by the Movement for Justice By Any Means Necessary – wasn’t the riot-cum-revolution commentators were talking up this morning. In the end, it was a bit sad, subdued and quite sweaty.
Its Facebook page talked up ‘class war’. After the Grenfell Tower tragedy, it called people to march on parliament to protest the ‘racist’ Theresa May’s Queen’s Speech. And it had the left and the right pretty exercised.
Piers Morgan warned of clashes between police and extremists. Tories bemoaned the effect it would have on already stretched emergency services. Left-wingers told marchers to keep it peaceful.
What we got was a two-minute anti-Tory hate and a few low-level scuffles. The hysteria/expectation was absurd, for what ended up being a grim little group trying to exploit the dead of Grenfell to trend on Twitter.
For years, both right and left have indulged the fantasy that the odd big protest – be it against student fees or Iraq – marked a society on the verge of revolt. It allows Tories to play grown-up and left-wingers to pose as radicals.
In reality, protests have become either days out for middle-class families or excuses for cretins in Guy Fawkes masks to blow off some steam – means of burnishing one’s radical cred rather than pursuing concrete aims and winning people to a cause.
They go nowhere, peter out. And yet they still make headline news. The rolling coverage this tiny protest received shows how desperate both sides of the political divide are to pretend the old politics lives on, that they stand on two sides of some great divide.
But there’s a particular irony in the left’s post-election protest fever. Jeremy Corbyn’s victorious loss at the snap election has had left-wingers heralding a people’s revolution – despite the fact his support soared off the back of the Remain-backing middle classes.
Meanwhile, the Brexit vote – a moment in which working people truly ‘made their voice heard’ – is libelled and smeared. The left talked for decades about people power, and then promptly vomited the moment the demos spoke up.
Today’s playsize protest won’t be the last of the summer. The anti-austerity People’s Assembly is organising a bigger march Saturday week – this is the one McDonnell was actually backing – and it will no doubt pull some crowds.
But after the placards are packed up, little will have changed. In post-Brexit Britain, the real dynamism, the real untapped public passion, lies elsewhere. And those waving the placards are disgusted by it.
Tom Slater is deputy editor at spiked. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Slater_