100,000 expected for UK budget protest march

 

MORE THAN a 100,000 people are expected to march to Hyde Park in London today in the biggest protest yet against the British government’s £80 billion (€91 billion) spending cuts, organised by the British Trades Union Congress.

Deliberately downplaying predictions that up to a million people could join the “March for the Alternative”, TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: “We’re certainly going to see well in excess of 100,000 people, possibly many, many more.”

The march will start on Victoria Embankment in central London from 11am, before passing the Houses of Parliament, Whitehall and Downing Street and ending with a rally in Hyde Park in mid-afternoon.

Heavy, but discreet policing is expected to be in place, with both organisers and police concerned about the danger that the rally could be exploited by extremist groups, some of whom were involved in the student riots in Westminster late last year.

Today’s march comes in the wake of opinion poll figures indicating that almost 60 per cent of people now believe George Osborne, the chancellor, should rethink his plans to eliminate the UK’s budget deficit by 2015.

The number believing that Mr Osborne is going too far, too fast has grown from 45 per cent last October to 58 per cent per cent, according to the poll carried out for ITN’s News at Tenby Comres.

Indicating the state of public opinion, more than half of those surveyed, 51 per cent, believe that their personal financial situation will worsen over the next six months, while 22 per cent are optimistic that it will get better.

Supporting the march, Labour leader Ed Miliband told the Daily Mirror: “If anybody wants a reason to join this Saturday’s demonstration, there are many – the need to show there is an alternative, to save our services, to show the cuts are going too deep and too fast.”

The Conservatives are harking back, he said, to the “politics of division” practised by Margaret Thatcher during the 1980s: “These Tories – and their Liberal Democrat accomplices – remind me of the 1980s Tories: arrogant, uncaring and out of touch with people’s lives,” he declared.

Up to 4,500 police will be on duty for the march, though the Metropolitan Police and the TUC have spent weeks working together on arrangements to ensure that it passes off smoothly. Human rights observers, for example, will be present in police control rooms throughout.

However, a British parliamentary report cautioned yesterday that there was still “a lack of clarity” about the circumstances in which the police can resort to “kettling” – where protesters can be encircled for hours by police.

In addition, the report from the Westminster Joint Human Rights Committee said that there was a lack of guidance for officers about when the use of the baton against the head of a demonstrator might be justifiable.

Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner Lynne Owens said it would be naive to ignore some of the “chatter on internet forums” in recent days, suggesting that extremists would try to cause clashes; but she emphasised that it was important for officers to “set an appropriate mood for the day”.