Tony Blair and My Part in His Downfall

I actually got some sleep - around 4 hours.

0630 at the meeting point, we found that if everyone who promised to turn up actually did turn up, there wouldn't be room on the coach. Fortunately (and predictably) there were a dozen oversleeps and people who decided they couldn't face getting up that early to spend the 12 hours on a coach punctuated by 6 hours walking and waiting. So with 24 from Portsmouth and 25 from Southampton, there was even 1 spare seat.

Richard L had been thoroughly "briefed" to not sing on the coach, but got the chance to do so anyway. Dunkan - who'd really wanted to live long enough to go on this demo - had suggested "a minute's noise" as a suitable tribute to his passing. So Richard sang "We Will Overcome".

If any of us had been sensible, we would have worn shorts for the hot stuffy coach, and taken sunblock for bright sunny Manchester. But amazingly, none of us were sensible. So I sat for 6 hours in the pathetic air conditioning, wishing I was somewhere else, consoling my ears with albums of Enigma and Hoodlum Priest - European religious chillout and British sci-fi hip-hop.

We stopped at a horrible plastic service station, where I amazed myself and others be being prepared to pay UKP4 for a chicken wrap, and UKP1.5 for a cardboard mug of tea. Depression inhibits judgement, and the road has it's own special kind of depression.

Central Manchester looks...exactly like central London. Old big architecture next to new big business estates, shopping centres disguised as spiffy bus and train stations, and a chinatown. There's even placenames like Picadilly and Oxford Street - though it's somewhat less polluted.

The route of the march was basically a loop around the town hall and city centre where the Labour Party are about to hold their conference. It was only 3 or 4 kilometres, but took 3 hours because (as anticipated) movement was so slow.

The town council had tried to ban us on "health and safety" grounds, but the police refused to co-operate, preferring to let it go ahead as planned, which meant the organisers and police could control it. The trouble with trying to ban a big event is, a lot of people might decide to go ahead anyway, without clear plans or demarkations. And if the police tried to stop them, there might be a riot, which no one wants - not even the hardnut riot police, because they might lose.

The vibe was cheerful and energetic, and the turnout nicely mixed. Grungy alternative students, more staid types maybe influenced by the flood of revelations about turture, various Jewish groups drawn into the antiwar movement by the events in Lebanon, muslim families in full traditional garb, and us old reliable socialist types.

There were some new chants. As well as the familliar "This is what democracy looks like!", "What do we want? Blair out! When do we want it? Now!" and "Who's street? Our street! Who's world? Our world!", there was...

Bush, Blair, shame on you!
Tony boy is turning blue!

And a similar sentiment from the slightly risque (sung to the tune of "Glory Glory Halleluja"):
"Tony Tony you're a tory!
Tony Tony you're a tory!
Tony Tony you're a tory!
And you're head's up Bush's arse!

I think some were made up on the spot. My own modest contribution was well recieved...

(To the tune of "Shout" by Tears for Fears):
Shout! Shout!
Tony Blair out!
You are the one we can do without!
Go on!
We're talking to you!
Go on!

I have a famously loud and brash chanting voice - it's especially tuneless and gutteral, a bit like a Dalek gargling, and is permanantly set to withering contempt.

As is traditional, the maps provided for us to find our way to our return coaches in their car park was unhelpfully incomplete. But these were also completely wrong. It's a miracle we all managed to find it, only an hour late.

The journey home was one of fitful snoozing and wishing we were home in bed already. I fed my ears with Enya and Jean Michel Jarre - trippy Celtic ambience and cheesy French orchestral sci-fi.

we stopped at...the same horrible plastic service station, where I paid UKP1.85 for another mug of tea, and ate the chicken wrap. They were now selling for UKP4.5.

On Sky News, there was a brief note that 10,000 protesters had been in Manchester. The BBC news simply said "thousands". The organisers had been talking about 70,000. Reliable estimates put it at 30-40,000.

Back in my dingy home town at the other end of the country, the thought of me walking through a strange city, giving myself a sore throat with rhyming abuse directed at massmurdering warmongers, joined by thousands of strangers who feel the same way, and hundreds of oddly cheerful all seems slightly unbelievable. But it all happened 12 hours ago.

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