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Solidarity with Refugees march, London

I went on the Solidarity with Refugees march in London today.  The march was huuuuge.  90,000 people signed up on Facebook.  I’d love to know how many actually attended, but I can’t imagine how anyone could have counted.

I went with my friends Rachel and Celia.  My mum was a refugee as a baby in Macau in 1950 with her family, and Rachel and Celia’s father came to Britain on the last Kindertransport; he lost both his parents and his younger brother in the Holocaust.  It was interesting discussing our experiences of growing up as the children of refugees.  It seems that both our ex-refugee parents were particularly overprotective, but whereas Rachel and Celia’s father was keen to educate his children very broadly about the political realities of other countries and the effects of migration, my mum was keen to turn away from all of that and become much more inward looking.

The idea for the march started off with one woman, Ros Ereira, posting on Facebook.  A few more organisations, such as Amnesty International, then got involved, but still, I was pretty impressed with the number of volunteer stewards and speakers they’d got together in that short amount of time, not to mention the mobile stage and PA system.  Some of the speakers were a bit random, such as the guy from the Socialist Alliance, who provoked dissenting murmurs from the crowd around me objecting to the way he was pushing his own political message rather than paying any attention to the issue of refugees.  A better speaker was the woman from Sarajevo spoke about her gratitude to the UK for providing her with refuge 22 years ago, and how life is not just about not being in immediate danger, but about living the rest of your life with dignity.  Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat leader, talked about the Kindertransport children who came to Windermere (near his constituency) in the 1930s and his sadness that more children were not able to come – a mistake that we should not make again, he said.  That’s actually the first time I realised that the Lib Dems had actually voted themselves a new leader!  He was really a very good speaker, and it’s a pity the Lib Dems have only got 8 MPs.

At the other end of the march, in Parliament Square, we got a speech from Jeremy Corbyn, who had earlier that day been announced as the new leader of the Labour party.  In a discussion with my dad earlier this month, it turns out we had quite similar views on the possibility of a Corbyn election.  My dad thinks that it will open up discussion and debate and pave the way for someone else to come through and lead the party to a stronger future.  For me, I feel that more of the same old ex-Blairite faces, trying the same formula of centrist inoffensiveness with ever diminishing returns would never have result in victory, and even if Corbyn becomes the “mincemeat” my friends were worried that the press would make of him, it would shock the party into facing up to the current  emptiness of their central political premise.  I think it is easier for the right wing to hold together, as there are fewer ways to be laissez-faire, whereas the left wing premise of constructing a more equal country is a complex proposition, which needs to be thought about and discussed.  I do wonder what happened to all the political philosophers, such as Bernard Williams, when you need them.  I fear that until someone confronts the differences between ideological, usually more privileged, socialists and the communities of poverty and low employment that socialism is intended to benefit, the left will not be elected again.  I feel it is a similar barrier to electability for Labour that massive negative press influence was during the 1980s; it took Neil Kinnock’s vision and effort to defeat it.

It was really interesting hearing Corbyn as the leader of a major political party come out with some straightforward views.  Corbyn was very careful to remain positive, and non party political on the cross-party stage he had been given, although Billy Bragg then went and undermined it all by bellowing out the Red Flag straight afterwards (an effect magnified by the fact Bragg was also one of the few on the stage who could work out how to use the microphone properly).

Rachel and Celia are still convinced Corbyn is going to be obliterated by the press, but then again, we are in a strange new world.  The gap between rich and poor in this country is becoming more and more unbridgeable, due to the way of the property market, and so is the gap between the standard of living between countries.  Climate change is going to play a factor in people’s need to migrate away from other countries (Celia was telling us about the role that drought had played in the Syrian migration).  War seems to be getting more widespread and brutal, and in many western countries, the relationship between the public and the elected politician has reached never before seen lows of cynicism and mistrust.  It will be interesting to see whether all the established rules that have recently seen in the victories of successive polished politicians will also be part of the new world.

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12 Comments

  1. Wow, Denise. It sounds like a very interesting rally. We have similar problems here at home, in that the media controls most political points of view. (Although everyone you talk to would say they are not influenced.) I liked your expression “Blairites.” I got in trouble with Jenny, by telling her I always thought of Tony as sexy. I don’t think she will ever let me forget it. I supposed some women used to fantasize about Ronald Reagan, from this country (80s President).Go figure.

  2. Good for you Denise, answering the rallying cry – there’s too much political apathy these days amongst our younger generation – I imagine Corbyn’s election may stir up a bit of controversy. It’ll certainly make Commons debates interesting!

    • If I were more amazing I would get involved and try to make a difference but I don’t have the time. So can only hope for the best…

  3. We’re already in the thick of a presidential election – one that won’t take place for over a year. But there are refreshing candidates in the Republican Party that have ideas – not just ideology. And there is one man, Dr. Ben Carson, who speaks thoughtfully and intelligently and with what can only be called class. And then there’s that other guy, the one with the big mouth who loves to preen in front of anyone who will admire him because he inherited and made money. So ….. we’ve had 6.5 years of leadership from the far left and it’s not been fantastic for us all ……. the poor are poorer, the rich are richer, our world is more dangerous and getting more dangerous every day and all those “big government need to take care of you” programs are a flop. We got out of the horrible financial crisis but only those who already had money got out. Those with homes who were middle-class lost all the equity in their homes and have no fall back or huge golden parachutes to survive on. We’ll see what happens – but I would vote for Dr. Carson …….. in a flash. Surely now we need intelligence more than hubris!!!!!!!

    • We have had much further on the left over here in the past. Not in government but in mainstream parties.
      The other guy is a depressing sight. I hope Dr Ben manages to get his voice heard.

      • He sure is depressing! He’s like the epitome of the Ugly American. I swear I don’t get the people in this country sometimes ……… Dr. Ben is coming right up behind him in the polls so far – fingers crossed!

  4. What a fantastic turnout. I’m so pleased to hear it.

    I also didn’t know the Lib Dems had a new leader. When did they do that? Quite a contrast to the labour leadership election.

  5. Well done you for attending. And the rest of the 90,000 too. It’s good to see compassion getting a strong voice. I don’t know what will happen to Jeremy Corbyn, but I think it’s time we moved away from that old Thatcherite Greed Is Good message, which has dominated our ideology for decades now. Time for some more philanthropic views, and greater sympathy for the poor. It’s getting rid of this notion that the poor, and refugees and immigrants all deserve to be badly treated that will finally make a difference. If such a thing is indeed possible.

    • Yes, I think it would be nice if our country balanced out a bit more to the left, we have gone too far to the right and everything is dominated by profit and success, as measured by “outcomes” (which don’t often include fairness or happiness). I think it might be a while before we get there, just as Neil Kinnock had his work cut out making his part electable, but I hope we get there eventually.

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