The bedraggled Jarrow Crusade limped on with only a handful of marchers yesterday – after most of them pulled out complaining about sore feet, or that they had to go home to sign on or start university.
Less than a week after hundreds of young people left the South Tyneside town in a blaze of publicity, little over a dozen were still plodding towards London – and depending on lifts in a hired coach to keep the protest moving.
Six of them were "injured" by the strain of walking across grass on Thursday afternoon. MPs yesterday condemned the march as a cheap publicity stunt and an insult to the memory of the original Jarrow March 75 years ago. In 1936, more than 200 men weakened by poverty and unemployment took part in the original march, tramping the 300 miles from Jarrow to London in four weeks.
More than 300 people – and some estimates say 500 – left Jarrow on Saturday, intending to retrace a shortened version of the route in five weeks. However, most of the crowd melted away when the march reached the outskirts of Jarrow half an hour later. Organisers, the trade unions and the Socialist Party (Labour's former Militant Tendency), had intended to keep at least 50 marchers on the road in between the high-profile rallies arranged in the bigger towns and cities. Many of those at the outset already have jobs and were only there as trade union members to make up the numbers.
But as the procession left Ripon for Harrogate to complete the sixth day of marching on Thursday. the "Crusade" had dwindled to just 16 people in 60 miles with 220 miles still to go.
Six fell out after lunch complaining of bad backs or sore feet. Six miles from Harrogate the bus came back to pick up a couple more, leaving only eight on the road. They were picked up a couple of miles from Harrogate and bussed into the town.
The march, currently crossing North Yorkshire towards Leeds, has infuriated Yorkshire's Tory MPs. The member for Scarborough, Robert Goodwill, said: "They are not fit to walk in the footsteps of the Jarrow marchers. If this is their level of commitment no wonder they can't find a job."