Footage of a grinning Young Conservative member having the smile wiped off his face by a stray poultry projectile outside the Conservative party conference in Manchester has gone viral. If you were one of the 85,000 at the demonstration or one of the video’s many more YouTube viewers, the chances are has already implored you to draw a line between the peaceful majority and the rabid militancy of rogue shell-slingers.
The thing is, sometimes there’s nothing like seeing the people who routinely make your life worse taking a bit of stick for a change. A torn shirt (in the case of Air France bosses), a dead pig (naming no names), or indeed a well-aimed egg. A collective laugh can do wonders for bringing people together, and the ability to occasionally make fun of those who seem to make a living out of making fun of you can be an empowering thing.
So does footage of a Young Conservative getting an egg wash really undermine our message?
It depends who you think the intended audience is. Fighting austerity is not like campaigning for the end of dolphin poaching, as worthy as the causes might be. It’s not about raising awareness and appealing to the sympathies of people who are otherwise ignorant or not invested in the cause.
It’s also not just about having ever greater numbers on the streets – the failure of the million-strong 2003 anti-war demonstration should put an end to the idea that if only enough people walk from a place to another place, the government will change its policies.
When the prevailing mantra is ‘There Is No Alternative’, anti-austerity protests are anti-government protests. They’re not about making the government see the real impact of cuts or convincing the Cabinet of the arguments. Instead, such demonstrations are a show of collective strength and will, as much as to people at home as to people in power.
In that sense, the intended audience is the mass of people across the country whose lives are also being affected by cuts, precarity and privatisation. People aren’t getting coaches to Manchester to convince Mr and Mrs Jones in Sunningdale, via the Telegraph, that they should be kinder with their vote next time; they’re doing it to be with other people like them, and send a message that people are standing up for each other.
Exercising and communicating indignant, righteous anger is part of that process. If you’ve had your benefits cut, been belittled by an Atos disability claim assessor, or been threatened with eviction, who’s to tell you your anger isn’t legitimate? If every day you read that you’re asking for too much welfare, being too lazy, or being greedy for striking over pay and jobs, maybe you’d quite like to open up the paper one day and see an egg-drenched Tory.
It’s not about being childish – though it takes a special sort of stoicism not to giggle even slightly. Such spectacles by ‘rogue minorities’ are far more likely to invite coverage of the event as a whole in the first place. In 2010 it took the storming of Milbank tower to get a 52,000-strong student demo a place in the national news.
An anti-austerity movement that can bring real change will necessitate people empowering each other in all manner of ways, in spite of the misery being wrought in their lives. If it involves breaking a few eggs, I’m not going to condemn people as ‘bad protestors’ for pushing the envelope if they’re grabbing a few headlines and attracting the chuckles of similarly affected people along the way.
Craig McVegas is Commissioning Editor of @novaramedia's #NovaraWire.