Saturday, 26 March 2011

March for the alternative – live updates | Society |

March for the alternative – live updates

• More than 250,000 expected on march against coalition cuts
• Protesters gather in London in biggest demo for eight years
• Police warn against infiltration by extremists
• Read our latest news story on the protest

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The anti-cuts march sets off from Embankment in London The anti-cuts march sets off from Embankment in London. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

12.45pm: Journalist Mary Hamilton - aka newsmary - has been posting photos of the march on Twitpic.

The Public and Commercial Services Union has set up its own live blog of the march.

12.30pm: Here's a map of the march route

View March for the Alternative Route in a larger map

12.20pm: PA news agency has been speaking to some of the protesters:

Peter Keats, 54, from Lowestoft, Suffolk, who works for Jobcentre Plus, said:

"We're toasting the success as so many people have turned out. The press were saying 100,000 people but I think we have far exceeded that. I'm hoping for half a million. I'm hoping the government will start to listen with this many out.

"Personally, I think it's wrong the way we are hitting the poor. I'm not so much worried about myself but the customers I deal with are vulnerable and I'm worried about them and I'm worried about the kids of this country."

Alan Dowling, 40, who works for the UK Border Agency in Sheffield, said:

"The other day the immigration minister was on TV saying we need to do more. How are we going to do more enforcement when we are cutting enforcement officers?"

12.17pm: Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, estimates there are half a million people taking part in the protest.

He told PA:

"This is an absolutely incredible turnout and display of anger which the government will have to take notice of."

Hundreds of police officers lined up outside parliament behind metal barriers as the marchers passed by and moved down Whitehall.

12.09pm: Matthew Taylor, who has been following the education feeder march, has now joined the main protest.


In this audio report, he says the main march dwarfs the scale of the education protest:

"The student block has suddenly become much quieter than it was now they see the scale of the TUC march."

11.58am: Paul Lewis is on the Golden Jubilee Bridge near the Embankment, overlooking the march.


He says the turnout is huge, stretching from the Houses of Parliament to St Paul's Cathedral. He says the atmosphere is good natured. The only scuffle he's seen was a protester heckling the shadow chancellor, Ed Balls.

10.49am: My colleague Matthew Taylor is with the education feeder march, which set off from the University of London in Mallet Street, Bloomsbury, around 20 minutes ago.

Matthew Taylor

Groups of Scottish students who set off at 11pm last night are leading the chanting. Student organisers had said 'more than 10000' people would meet here but so far there are probably month more than 2000 - although more are arriving all the time. Students and lecturers are being joined by various activist groups and so far the mood is vocal but pretty good natured. We're at Russell Square now. There's a small police presence. The police and the organisers don't seem clear on the route but we're on our way down to join the main march.

10.34am: My colleague Paul Lewis has just sent in his thoughts about the potential for trouble between protesters and the police.

Paul Lewis

"I don't think anyone doubts that the main march will be in large part good natured and peaceful. Most protesters will spend several hours marching through London, seeing little more than the placards in front of them, and finish with sandwiches in Hyde Park. But that isn't to say there won't be pockets of trouble, and if past experiences are anything to go by they could flare into some quite nasty confrontations with police.

"Flashpoints could come when a handful of unofficial feeder marches, coming from across the capital, plan to join the main march. Will police let them? Many of the seasoned activists - those police like to call 'trouble-makers' - are likely to be on these fringe processions (watch out for delegations gathering right now in Kennington Park, Camden and Mallet Street) and the instinct of police, who at times exhibit an almost medieval vision of crowd psychology, is often to prevent groups mixing. That would spell trouble.

"The other likely hotspots will be Oxford Street at 2pm, where UK Uncuts plan to close down shops, and Trafalgar Square late in the afternoon, which there are plans to occupy. Both of these locations, and others we don't yet know about, are likely to be magnets for those intending to peel off from the slow procession through London in search of "direct action". Coping sensibly with all these splinters from the main march will be a policing nightmare for Scotland Yard. It all comes down to how much coercion police use. Stop people from walking where they want and sparks fly."

10.29am: Here's some more comments from union leaders ahead of the march.

Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, will tell the demonstrators that every time the government votes through more cuts, they should hear the "angry voices" of public sector workers losing their jobs. He also warned it faced being wiped out in May's elections.

"Every day when they discuss squeezing NHS budgets I want them to remember the nurses here on the march, the paramedics - workers who keep our NHS going. Workers who see every day the effect of the cuts on patients who are having vital pain-relieving operations cut or delayed.

"Workers who worry about patient care suffering, because job cuts mean there are not enough staff on the ward. NHS workers and the public fearful that the Health and Social Care Bill will mean the break-up of the NHS - the end of our much loved health service as we know it. A new dawn of privatisation for the Tories' friends in big business.

"Every month when a library closes, a care home shuts its doors, or services for struggling young people are withdrawn, I want them to feel the fear, and anger of the people who have come here today from every part of the UK to vent their frustration and to stand up for a fairer future."

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said:

"Cameron and Clegg have launched a war on working people and today's demonstration is the start of the fightback. They expect us to suffer tax increases, pay cuts, unemployment and devastation of our pensions to pay for the crisis their friends in the City caused. They should expect the fight of their lives."

Len McCluskey, leader of Unite, said those taking part in the march were the "tip of the iceberg" because millions were opposed to the cuts.

"There is growing anger, which will build and build as the impact of the cuts take effect."

10.13am: Labour politicians will join the march and party leader Ed Miliband will address the rally in Hyde Park. He will use the speech to set out Labour's alternative to the cuts and to accuse the coalition of fomenting the "politics of division" not seen since the "rotten" Thatcher era. Labour is calling the demonstration the "march of the mainstream".

But Gove told the Today programme there were "really big dangers" for Miliband in addressing the rally at the end of the march.

"One is that people will say 'You are calling for a plan B from the government, you don't even have a plan A. More than that, you are associating yourself with a march which could, I'm afraid, move from being family event into being something darker."

10.10am: Education secretary Michael Gove said today that he recognised the public concerns about the planned cuts. But he insisted that the government would not be deflected from its strategy.

He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme:

"Of course people will feel a sense of disquiet, in some cases anger, at what they see happening, but the difficulty we have as the government inheriting a terrible economic mess, is that we have to take steps to bring the public finances back into balance."

10.02am: Barber will tell today's rally that there is an alternative to the "brutal" spending cuts. Ahead of the march, he accused the coalition government of threatening the NHS and destroying communities with the scale of the job cuts.

"No part of our public realm is to be protected. And don't believe it when ministers say that the NHS is safe in their hands. With over 50,000 job cuts already in the pipeline - nurses, doctors, physios, midwives - in the name of so-called efficiency savings of £20 billion, the NHS as we know it, is already in intensive care.

"With David Cameron talking about selling it off to any willing provider out to make a profit, the NHS is facing the gravest threat in its history.

"Today let us say to him: we will not let you destroy what has taken generations to build. Let's be brutally clear about these brutal cuts. They're going to cost jobs on a huge scale - adding to the misery of the 2.5 million people already on the dole.

"They're going to hammer crucial services that bind our communities together, and they're going to hit the poorest and the most vulnerable hardest. Anyone who tells you different is a bare-faced liar.

"The government claims there is no alternative, but there is. Let's keep people in work and get our economy growing. Let's get tax revenues flowing and tackle the tax cheats, and let's have a Robin Hood Tax on the banks, so they pay us back for the mess they caused."

9.45am: A Guardian/ICM poll published today shows that the public are divided over the cuts, while two other polls last night put the balance more strongly against cuts.

The Guardian/ICM poll of 1,014 found that 35% believe the cuts go too far, 28% think they strike the right balance and 29% think they don't go far enough; 8% don't know.

A YouGov survey for Unison found that 56% believe the cuts are too harsh and a ComRes poll for ITV showed that two-thirds think the government should reconsider its planned spending cuts programme. Just one in five disagreed with that view.

Speaking ahead of the march, TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said of the Unison survey: "I'm sure that many of our critics will try to write us off today as a minority, vested interest. This poll nails that lie.

"The thousands coming to London from across the country will be speaking for their communities when they call for a plan B that saves vital services, gets the jobless back to work and tackles the deficit through growth and fair tax."

9.15am: Good morning and welcome to the Guardian's live coverage of the mass protest in London against the coalition government's public sector cuts.

Around 300,000 people are expected to join the March for the Alternative organised by the TUC, the biggest union-organised event for over 20 years and the largest in the country since the protest against the Iraq war in 2003. More than 800 coaches and 10 trains have been chartered to bring people to the capital from as far afield as Cornwall and Inverness.

Union members are expected to be joined by a broad coalition, from pensioners to doctors, families and first-time protesters, to football supporters and anarchists. My colleague Matthew Taylor has written a guide to all the organisations - both official and unofficial - who will be taking part.

The Metropolitan Police believe a small minority will try to hijack the anti-cuts march to stage violent attacks on property and the police. The TUC organisers of the event say they have organised a family-friendly demonstration with brass, jazz and Bollywood bands. But there are concerns that unofficial feeder marches, sit-down protests and a takeover of Trafalgar Square could turn from peaceful civil disobedience into stand-offs with the police.

The march assembles on the Embankment from 11am but it will still be leaving at 2pm and possibly even later. The TUC has drawn up a set of tips for those planning to join the march. The protest will culminate in a rally in Hyde Park. Guardian reporters Matthew Taylor and Paul Lewis will be out on the streets covering the protest as it happens.

If you're at the demo and want to send me any comments - or share any pictures, audio clips and videos - you can contact me either on or on Twitter - @David_Batty