The words of a ten-year-old justifying the need for a second referendum. Months of arguing and campaigning in a simple statement. Saturday’s march was a triumph for democracy. Daniel Reast, our Deputy Political Editor, summarises the weekend.
Personal problems prevented me from attending, though I stuck like glue to Twitter and news websites. The Guardian’s live updates page was a brilliant tool, mixing official reactions with tales from the ground. It really was an incredible day.
Off the back of an e-petition which went viral calling for Article 50 to be revoked, the Friday night drummed up an atmosphere of motivation and action. The petition is currently, as I write this, on 5.74 million signatures. The rapid pace at which this e-petition garnered interest certainly made the cauldron bubble.
The author of the petition, Margaret Georgiadou, received a number of phone calls issuing death threats following the sudden success of the petition. Margaret, a 77-year-old currently in Cyprus, has swept away the stereotypes of Remainers with a fat, bristly broom. Politicians, journalists, and a large host of celebrities have all shared the petition calling for Brexit to be stopped. It’s a remarkable thing.
Whether the petition would have gained as much traction a few months ago, is debatable. The proximity to a no deal outcome has intensified campaigning for Remain, with a surprising success.
The march on Saturday was undoubtedly a beautiful and bold display of democratic fervour. For Theresa May to regurgitate the ‘will of the people’ trope like a mother penguin, is now a moot assertion. It was always questionable, but seeing the tarmac so heavily pressed is now a firm rejoinder.
As with the previous marches, it hosted a cross-section of society. Young and old, rich and poor — there was a cluster for everyone. Seeing veterans wheeled alongside toddlers and teenagers brought a warmth to your heart.
I’ll be the first to admit that I cried. Twice at least. And it wasn’t speeches or placards that pushed me to tears, but the sight of strangers laughing and cheering, holding hands as they walked down Whitehall. I recall from October’s march the incredible sky blocked by waving flags of all nations. The flags seemed bluer this time round.
What many critics have failed to understand, is the electric atmosphere of such a positive march. It was a loud, cramped, and bustling experience. But amidst the shouts and cheers, there’s music, drums, and laughter. People were enjoying themselves. Carnival on Park Lane, and unlike other protests there’s energy not anger.
Of course, there were a few critics who graced us with their input on the day. Saturday’s top panto villain was the Daily Mail columnist Sarah Vine (who happens to be Michael Gove’s wife), who flippantly ignored the scale of the march to launch a eugenicist-inspired tirade against the marchers.
Such language is the essence of reactionary political commentary. It has all the bombast of a Mark Francois ‘Dunkirk’ comment with the added venomous bite of a social Darwinist-stanning druid. In fact, the intensity of such language only made the marching a more worthwhile cause. Twitter acted accordingly, and Vine was ratioed more brutally than vanilla extract in a batch of cake mix.
There’s no doubt the march/petition duet has made history. The aerial footage of the march from the back end of Park Lane to Parliament Square shows a snaking mass of protestors. But since the march’s conclusion, a noted argument is how many feet there were on the cobbles.
The official People’s Vote estimate was a million marching, released at 2pm after the majority of protestors had assembled. It’s a big number. And the People’s Vote’s estimate was made from a variety of different sources including stewards, volunteers, and aerial footage verification.
The footage from above is extraordinary. You think the line of people will end, but it just keeps curling around every corner and lamppost, down alleys and pavements.
But to claim a million people protested on the day is a claim that cannot be left unverified. People’s Vote is an important campaign, accuracy and transparency are just as essential to its image as its ethos.
Manchester Metropolitan University’s Keith Still suggests the headcount was more around the 300-400k mark. Professor Still famously debunked the claims by Donald Trump about his inauguration crowd in 2017, and has led research on crowd management and risk for over 25 years. A Wired article also assembled other verifications from crowd analysis experts who claim the march’s estimate was way too generous.
This article was then added to by a Full Fact verification published on the 25 March. But in all claims by experts, journalists and even People’s Vote themselves – they press in most obvious terms that the estimation is not exact nor a precise task. The spokesperson for PV stated as the first line of the press release at 2pm on Saturday, that: “It is almost impossible to put an exact figure on the size of this immense crowd because it is spilling out across central London.”
That’s undeniable. Marchers, armchair activists, and critics can all agree that the march was huge. Even Iain Martin of The Times, with whom I have a distinct lack of transferrable political agreement, attested the march’s scale.
Yes, it’s disheartening that the potentially overjudged estimate of a million in the crowd was wrong. Optics are everything of course, Remain doesn’t want a bad call to push the cause back down a peg. But quite honestly, obsessing over the headcount from both critics and supporters is an irksome process. The independent verification is entirely necessary, especially as one million marchers is such a grabbing claim.
Take strength from the footage and your memories. I’ll never forget my October march. It was hot and sweaty, I had completely overestimated (ironically) the climate. For supporters of a second referendum, you were there on the ground – and you know the noise, the cheers, and energy of a positive protest.
Brexit certainly isn’t over with. Even if we choose to backpedal gracefully into the arms of the EU, we’ll be nattering about customs unions for years to come. But the march is a positive memory, a positive symbol.
Smile people, you’re in the history books.🔷
(The title of this article was excerpted from a letter sent by a ten-year-old to Downing Street, justifying the need for a second referendum.)
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(This is an original piece, first published by the author in PoliticsMeansPolitics.com. | The author writes in a personal capacity.)