Monday, November 29, 2010

Lewisham Demo tonight: Cuts, Catford and Cameron

Oh dear, had to work late and missed the anti-cuts protest in Lewisham. Tonight Lewisham Council was meeting to vote on a package of spending cuts, the demonstration outside seems to have been lively to say the least. Reports on Twitter from Sue Luxton and Hangbitch describe the scene with the police deploying horses, dogs, batons and riot shields.

Just picked up this report from S.:

'There was a demo starting at 18.30 outside Lewisham Town Hall. Probably about 3-400 people present, half students, half members of local anti-cuts protest groups and the usual contingent from SWP and other left groups. The meeting was due to start at 19.30. The council and cops had said that only 28 people would be allowed to get in the public gallery.

About 19.15 the crowd moved to the front door, which was poorly defended by about half a dozen police and the same number of security guards. About thirty or so people got inside. Outside, things began to get heavy. Police reinforcements with riot shields (the small round ones) turned up and started to push the crowd off the steps outside the front door of the town hall. There was a fair bit of pushing and shoving, a glass door pane was broken. Then some completely excessive violence against some students on the steps: grabbing people by scarves, pushing them down a flight of five steps into each other, etc. There were one or two nasty and vindictive cops who made the running, hitting people with the shields. The crowd seemed to be made up of people who were not especially used to this type of stuff, but equally seemed absolutely unintimidated, which I found heartening. Music was being played and a chant of "this is what democracy looks like" went up, which I thought was pretty apt.

Even more police arrived, some with long riot shields, and a bunch of thuggish looking plain-clothes officers. They seemed to go completely over the top, closing down the South Circular Road (which runs past the town hall) with their cars. By then they had got the crowd off the steps. Things quietened down a bit and people started to leave. So did the full-length riot shields...

Note that this was a meeting of a Labour-majority council, voting on a budget that it had put together before the general election. I am struck by the contrast with the Thatcher government, under which Labour councils put up all sorts of token resistance to the cuts right up until the capitulation of the GLC in 1983-84. This time they didn't even wait for the coalition to get elected to start pushing the cuts through'.

(not sure last point is completely accurate - I don't think the detailed budget had been put together before the general election, but it's certainly true that Bullock and co. haven't hung about in making cuts)

Here's some footage of the crowd before some of the demonstrators made their way inside:

There's also some photos up at Lewisham Right to Work.

The Lewisham cuts package was approved, 36 for (Labour), 3 against (Green and Tories), 11 abstained (Lib Dems). The result was probably never in doubt, what may turn out to be significant was the scale and intensity of the demonstration outside - in 1990 the movement against the poll tax saw similar demos outside Town Halls, notably in Brixton and Hackney, injecting a momentum that was followed by the huge anti-poll tax demonstration in Trafalgar Square and six months later by the resignation of Margaret Thatcher. Has Cameron's downfall started in Catford?!


Brockley Nick said...

"Has Cameron's downfall started in Catford?!"

No. ;)

Transpontine said...

Excuse the burst of late night rhetoric! Obviously I don't think a few hundred people outside a Council meeting portends the downfall of the Government. But a few articles today (e.g. The Guardian and New Statesman) have wondered whether the Lewisham protest signals the start of a spiral of discontent outside Town Halls and elsewhere - and it's not inconceivable that the Lib Dems could be split by this, with the Coalition being undermined.