Some real politics has happened in London, nothing like the scale or reach of the G20 demonstrations last year but arising from the same kind of alliance of grass-roots movements; by which I mean Power2010, Make Votes Count, Unlock Democracy, the Electoral Reform Society, Ekklesia, Compass, Hang ’em, Vote for a Change, and Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, the New Economics Foundation… According to the Head Research Otter’s on-the-spot reporting, there were somewhere around 2,000 present at the original rally in Trafalgar Square, and that about a thousand of them fitted into Smith Square to invoke Nick Clegg.
And they got him. It was remarkable in British politics to see a spontaneous demonstration of political intent call out a politician to stand on his steps and speak to them. It rather stunned the BBC, whose coverage has a slight scent of the bewildered about it. It seems to have surprised Mr. Clegg, though he was also pretty chuffed.
When I was young and drunken I used to bait people at Speakers Corner. One of them challenged me to take a turn on the soap-box, and I took him up; for a while, I became slightly addicted to the experience, which was invigorating for a fan of the Pythons and Withnail & I who had reasonable reflexes. But Speaker’s Corner is a safety valve; it is a place where the ignored can go to feel heard, without being heard by anyone who matters. The role it once played in providing a public and adverserial agora for the intrepid Foxes and thundering Burkes to sell their ideas in has been transferred to the Internet.
A bit of a theme of my writing since May last year is that Britain hasn’t seen real politics for so long that the denizens of the Westminster bubble and their clattering commentariat have forgotten what it looks like. A more recent theme has been comparison between the progress towards democracy of my adopted nation, and the slow lurch that way currently occurring in the UK. Well here’s installment 3; this is what real politics looks like. Only this is rather more polite than most real politics; though we may have recently fallen into the slough of complacency, we have a lot of practice at this and we do like good manners.