Sunday, 13 March 2011

Special Protest Report: The Liberal Democrat Spring Conference, Sheffield

Yesterday, EoP attended an anti-cuts, anti-coalition protest in Sheffield city centre along with around 4000-5000 other people. The march began on Devonshire Green – a stone’s throw from the City Hall – did a circuit around some of the main streets, and ended at the heavily-fortified City Hall where the Lib Dems were hiding away to hold their spring conference. The protest was, in general, a very peaceful affair with a real mixture of people in attendance, from families to students (college and university) to older people. Placards and banners sporting a wide variety of slogans and messages were on display, ranging from Socialist Worker Party ‘Stop all the cuts, fight for every job’ messages, others demanding 'no more lies', to my personal favourite ‘Go away naughty baddies that lie’. Once at the line of steel and police blocking our approach to the conference, chants of ‘Nick Clegg, shame on you for turning blue’ and ‘Barrrrnsleyyyy’ began in earnest (the latter of which was of course a reference to the Lib Dem’s terrible result in the recent by-election where they were forced into sixth place behind even prize fools UKIP).

One thing that did surprise (but probably shouldn’t have) was the reaction of many of the Lib Dem delegates. For around 2 hours several of them stood atop the stairs of the City Hall watching and, in some cases, taunting the protesters as they pushed and swayed against the barriers. One elderly delegate even had the arrogance and general disrespect to hold aloft a picture of Nick Clegg to the crowd while laughing and smiling in a rather pitiful attempt to incite further anger. Later, another delegate who was walking to the conference outside the protective bosom of fencing, police dogs and police officers, told a protestor who was simply standing with his sign outside Barleys Bank and who couldn’t have been more than 16 to ‘try doing a hard day’s work’. This kind of attitude - which seemed to be quite pervasive – arguably shows the true nature of the Liberal Democrat Party. Not only did their leader break almost all of his pre-election promises for a chance at some form of power, but his party’s rank and file seem to have grown to resent many the people their party was actually elected by. One honourable exception to this was a delegate who responded to calls from one group of protesters using a loud-hailer to come and explain why they were supporting a government that was cutting services and giving tax-breaks to the rich.

There were, of course, several speeches at the height of the rally. Union leaders calling for a general strike were the predominant theme but Labour MP Paul Blomfield also gave a fairly well-received speech where he highlighted the narrow margin with which he scraped victory at the General Election in May – the Lib Dem candidate lost by under 200 votes. Following this there was some general rowdiness as a determined group of demonstrators hammered the fencing with placards and fists and an anti-Gadaffi protest also formed a short distance away. Some blogs have reported around 50 anti-capitalist protesters rampaging through the retail district and successfully shutting down several tax-dodging businesses but EoP did not witness anything of this kind so we can’t confirm or refute the details of this. We witnessed only one arrest and this was near the beginning of the rally outside the City Hall when a demonstrator leapt the fence holding a flare and was quickly subdued by around 5 officers.

Overall the protest seemed very successful and a turnout of 5000 people is nothing to be sniffed at, even if the media and police were floating ill-founded claims of 10,000 during the run-up to the event. What has been disappointing is the media’s reporting of yesterday’s events. While it is understandable that the media’s gaze has been firmly fixed on the tragic events in Japan and Libya, the coverage of this important protest – during one of our governing party’s conferences - has been, quite frankly, dismal. The most in-depth report of the event seems to have been a piece in the Guardian which manages to be both patronising to the thousands of protestors who turned out to exercise their democratic rights, and almost entirely misleading. Perhaps the Guardian doesn’t want to rock the boat after its pledge of allegiance to the Liberal Democrats shortly before the General Election? Or maybe the media intelligentsia (with the exception of some coverage in the Daily Mail with vastly under-reported numbers, and some in local papers) – along with the BBC, who have been equally lax in their coverage - just feel that reporting properly on such events is beneath them or even irrelevant? This may seem like a minor inconvenience – after all, we turned out and sent a message to the Lib Dems – but information, as they say, is power. If other like-minded people around the country don’t get to hear that there are large numbers of citizens protesting about the very same things that they are angry about – cuts to jobs and public services and the favouritism this government is showing to big business over average people – then they may not feel they have any chance at resisting. Or perhaps because there was very little juicy violence for them to get their teeth into the media felt it was too boring to fill air-time or column inches? Whatever the reason, we now have a task for the protest in London on 26th March: make sure we make it so big and so loud that there’s no way anyone can ignore us.


Z said...

Your complaint seems to be that Lib Dem activists were not cowed (by what was a pitiably small crowd) or ashamed. The 'true nature' of the Lib Dems is that we do not respond well to baseless hatred from those that claim to share our principles of freedom and fairness yet criticise at every occassion. How quickly the last 13 years of Labour hell are forgotten - the coalition is infinitely preferable so far, and hysterical articles like this do not change the fact that any UK government elected in 2010 would have implemented cuts. I hope all the protestors got home safely.

Geoff said...

Good article about the excellent demonstration. Sheffielders will not forget the lies of the LibDems and the post election coup by the ConDems. Democracy is a joke to these people.

Anonymous said...

We weren’t hiding all tucked away in city hall there were fringe events in different locations around the city I myself was out and about before going back into City Hall just before one.

The demo was peaceful and I applaud you all for that

Yet you seem to want us to be scared of you and disappointed that we are not why is that?

Also I think you should compared what Sheffield City council is doing to save money due to the cuts and then compare it to a LABOUR lead council, you’ll see a marked difference.

Then perhaps you could turn your voice to Ed and ask him what his plan would be to tackle the deficit since he doesn’t seem to have one.

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