Donald Macintyre's sketch: Eggs, curses, arrests – and Charlotte Church

Scenes at the TUC demonstration in Manchester were straight out of the 1980s

Click to follow
Indy Politics

The Tory delegate who had an egg thrown at him as he stood watching the big TUC demonstration clearly hadn’t read his Tory conference literature. Not only did he not heed the stern official advice “not to wear your conference security pass outside the secure zone” but was brandishing a Sunday Telegraph complete with a front page picture of Margaret Thatcher 

But the provocation was appropriate. For the scene was straight from the 1980s. Inside the hall and protected by ring of steel and a phalanx of police, Conservatives celebrating their election victory; outside it tens of thousands of anti-austerity demonstrators.

Of course the demo had its rougher moments. Greater Manchester Police reported at least two arrests—one, apparently of a man who spat at a reporter thinking him a conference representative.The Tory chief whip Mark Harper was pursued by two demonstrators shouting “Tory scum.” A group of Leicester anti-racism protesters chanting “David Cameron you are a scum”—very much the curse du jour—“We want refugees to come” There were the usual Socialist Workers Party banners. And there was a stand-off after the march was over between a residue of protesters and a group of mounted police and dog handlers. 

But most marching past the Manchester Conference Centre were as peaceful as they were  noisy, at least as typically British as the participants inside the hall. There were the banners of everyone from the Royal College of Midwives to the Fire Brigades Union and the Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists. The left-led Public and Commercial Services Union even had its own percussion band - “drumming up support for the PCS” was their banner’s dubious claim - which drowned out one comrade’s anti-austerity speech blaring through a megaphone. 

And many of those on the march had personal stories of austerity they were protesting against. Some, like Helen Gettings, 53, teaching at a Manchester sixth form college increasingly feeling the squeeze, said that after leaving the Labour Party 20 years ago she was thinking of rejoining now that Jeremy Corbyn was leader. Both she and her sister Marie wanted to see the media giving “Corbyn a fairer hearing.” Both said that the cash strapped colleges were increasingly hampered in giving opportunities to their socially disadvantaged pupils.  

Their friend Jo, an opthalomology nurse said : “I feel like I’m working in a factory. There’s no time to attend to patients properly because our funding depends on how fast we can see them.” Brandishing a red flag, Manchester care worker and Labour Party member Miriam Shaw, 50, who has two children, said: “I pay £110 a month in council tax. I’m on a zero hours contract, and I have had one day’s work this week. This doesn’t help people who want to work and not be on benefits and look after their families. It isn’t fair and it makes me angry.”