I spent the weekend after Dublin in London. My first day there was a packed one: a concert in Hyde Park, a West End Live Event in Trafalgar Square, picnics in St. James Park, a street play in Piccadilly.
And a 250,000 person protest at Parliament. (or a 70,000 person protest. Depends on the political leaning of your source)
I stumbled upon an anti-austerity protest that went from the Bank of England to the Houses of Parliament. The road was filled with thousands of marching people holding up signs saying “no more cuts” or “end Tory rule.” Never before have I seen so many unflattering pictures of David Cameron’s face. It was very peaceful and unusually silent as not many protestors were cheering or chanting as they walked. The story changed as I followed the march to Parliament. Massive crowds stood around loud speakers listening to and cheering with the leaders of the protest. Downing Street was packed with policemen, and by graffiti covered wooden barriers guarded monuments. I was upset to see people climbing and smoking on the statue of Winston Churchill, so much so that I said out loud, to myself, how disrespectful that was. The people around me heard me, and instantly and passionately began to explain why Churchill was evil. Surprisingly they never once mentioned his politics, but instead called him a war criminal. I walked away. I had had enough of the screaming.
But, in the end, I was more interested than upset.
This protest was organized by the People’s Assembly, who, according to their website, called for a protest “to bring together campaigns against cuts and privatization with trade unionists in a movement for social justice.” Due to the financial crisis, the UK, along with many other nations in Europe, had to implement a series of cuts in government funding for different programs. These austerity measures have been increased and continued with the end goal of lowering the deficit and promoting growth in the British economy.
I tried hard to find information about the effectiveness of these cuts. Unfortunately, every news source I found seemed to be from Labour party or far left perspective. But what I do know is that there is strong reasoning behind these cuts, but popular hate because of the severe consequences.
The modern welfare state provides for its people very well. But that provision needs a source. As the British economy was hit like every other economy, budget cuts were the only option. Debt knocked the West to its knees; especially Greece, a nation that profusely dislikes austerity. Cutting costs and lowering deficits is what will save the rest of Europe, but the toll taken on the lower classes is difficult to justify. Thus, this protest.
It is tough to know where to stand in this matter. Increase national debt and head in a direction of Greece, or cut welfare programs and hurt those who rely on them. Around a third of the UK receives half their income from state benefits. The welfare state is weakening in the UK because reliance. But it’s a reliance nonetheless, and if it is taken away there will be suffering. It’s a tough choice for British politicians, but those supporting austerity were only a few months ago reelected, so some one in the UK is willing to take the cuts.