MITCH BENN: Resist, it's working!
PUBLISHED: 14:00 26 October 2018
2018 Nicola Tree
The People's Vote March for the Future proves resistance is working, argues Mitch Benn.
Well, that was a thing.
I took part in the People’s Vote March for the Future in London on Saturday and, a quick mental number-crunch confirms, there’s a reasonable statistical probability that you did too.
I’ve seen the jaw-dropping aerial shots (we spent much of the day waving at news helicopters) and my own video diary of the event is already up on YouTube and elsewhere, but something that none of the coverage conveys is the mounting sense of excitement and disbelief which passed through the crowd as each updated estimate of the attendance figures became known.
Even before we moved off, assembled but immobile in Park Lane, reports broke that at least half a million people were taking part; soon after we set off some were quoting 570,000; this was soon revised to 600,000, then 670,000, and by the end of the day most reputable sources seemed to have settled on a final tally of something like 700,000 marchers. The next day, some people were citing over a million but I’ve no idea what they were basing that on. Suffice to say that the previous march, back in June, attracted a lot of people; this march attracted a hell of a lot of people.
It’s not really possible, of course, to get much of a sense of the size of a protest when you yourself are in the middle of it, but right from the get-go there were indicators that this march was an exponentially bigger deal than its predecessor.
For a start, there’s the fact that it began in Park Lane; June’s march had its starting line at Waterloo Place, a good mile closer to Parliament Square (the common destination of both marches). Once we finally got moving, it took us over an hour to cover the distance from this march’s starting point to the previous one’s. There was also the fact that on this occasion, I never even made it to Parliament Square. Back in June, I strolled into the square and sat down right at the front by the stage; this time around, by the time I made it to the home stretch on Whitehall, it was 3.30pm (half an hour after the rally and speeches were scheduled to end) and people were being turned away from the already overcrowded square. The protest was far too big for its allotted space.
My hope for this march was that we’d maybe double the size of June’s turnout. We seem to have at least quadrupled it.
While the massive attendance was a huge vindication of the march’s goals and aims, the fact that I didn’t make it into the square in time for the rally meant that I missed what was supposed to be my ‘big moment’; the video for my Final Deal Vote song was shown on the big screen before the speeches began.
I’m told it went down well; at the time, I was otherwise engaged, having been left in more or less sole charge of the huge, street’s width-wide People’s Vote banner which was supposed to be carried at the front of the march, but which was quickly overtaken by more or less everyone, given the difficulty in keeping it both taut and mobile.
When I’d arrived in Park Lane at around noon, I’d been invited to stand behind the banner along with various people of far higher box office and political clout than me while the assembled press took photos. You may have seen some of these shots; in amongst the likes of Eddie Izzard, Anna Soubry, Chuka Umunna, Alastair Campbell, Mariella Frostrup, Richard Bacon, Sarah Wollaston and Deborah Meaden there’s a bloke with a beard and glasses and a ‘What The Hell Am I Doing Here?’ look on his face. That’s me.
Unfortunately, once the banner and its starry retinue set off, its progress was so glacial that the decision was swiftly taken to spirit the A-listers away to Parliament Square as they all had speeches to deliver and would never get there on time otherwise. So it was that the job of steering the banner fell to me and a redoubtable steward named Bash.
I finally lost sight of the banner in Whitehall, because I’d discovered that not only had my 78-year-old mum turned up unannounced from Liverpool, but she was just ahead of us by the Trafalgar Studios theatre. I left the banner in Bash’s capable hands and went off in search of her. “I just couldn’t stay away,” explained my mum. “I couldn’t not be here.”
And I’ve been thinking about those words as the enormity of the protest has sunk in. That’s what it was for all of us. We couldn’t stay away. We couldn’t not be there.
So now what?
Well, as I’ve been pointing out, the size of June’s demonstration planted the idea of a final deal vote firmly in the public discourse, and it’s been growing in credibility ever since. And the morning after this march, there was a report in the Sunday Times that civil servants are, privately, gaming out just what organising such a vote would involve.
Something which I haven’t seen since the march is the chorus of sneering tweets and op-eds from the usual Brexiteer suspects who dismissed June’s protest as some sort of dilettante, middle-class jolly. They’re not even trying to dismiss this one. They’ve all gone a bit quiet.
Things are changing. Because we are making them change.
Everyone who made it on Saturday, thank you. Everyone who couldn’t; don’t worry, there will be ways to contribute, ways to help out, ways to keep making things change.
Resist. It’s working.