This is not an article to explain or complain about police conduct, as you would expect, but to raise awareness of the realities of the Jubilee for those attempting to celebrate it in London on June 3rd.
On Sunday the 3rd of June 2012, thousands made their way into central London to nab a sight of the royals on the first day of celebrations of the Queen’s Jubilee. Tens of thousands descended on the Thames embankment to catch a glimpse of the river pageant. More than a thousand republicans (1,200, Republic Campaign Group) also made their way to a demonstration for an elected head of state near Tower Bridge organised by the Republic Campaign group.
As republicanistas, my colleague and I headed down to join the demonstration near City Hall, as usual I was very cynical of the expected policing tactics of the day considering the unlawful policing policy covering last years royal wedding which led to scores of arrests on spurious charges (which is now under judicial review in the High Court). Whole groups of people, such as the Zombie Wedding in Soho Square and the Charing Cross 10 which I was personally part of, were rounded up and arrested arbitrarily and held in detention for hours several miles from Central London. These arrests were justified through the words of one Police Officer (on video) “the Met have been going round, rounding up people for the royal wedding, to make sure there’s no problems.”
This year was completely different, the police, whilst maintaining a visage of high visibility for the public and tourists as a source of security and asking for directions, they maintained a disconnect from the demonstrations near City Hall. They opted for a policy of one-person-in one-out of a cordon surrounding City Hall, limiting the number of demonstrators in the immediate area.
The police split the demonstration outside City Hall into two parts, breaking the prior agreement with the Republic Campaign group for an authorised demonstration. Despite rude and angry royalists walking past the now two demonstrations, one on Tooley Street and one on the embankment in front of City Hall, the police stood back and let it play out leading to (from my understanding) no political arrests on the day.
However, I am not writing this article to explain or complain about the police, rather to raise awareness of the situation that arose and faced thousands when they arrived at the embankment on Sunday.
Happy royal revellers on arrival were faced with a large metal fence cordon around the entire riverbank of the Thames on both sides, for the length of the river. And to make matters worse any fences that were close to the riverbank were covered in cloth to stop, I guess, people from seeing the pageant without paying.
I want people to enjoy themselves as the next person, admittedly I was there to protest at the cost of the lavish celebrations of an unelected hereditary monarch who just hasn’t happened to have died yet, but still, what I found was genuinely quite shocking and angered me. As a bit of a naval fancier I was still planning on getting a look at the huge sailing ships lining the Thames that day, listen to some of the pleasant music and generally observe the spectacle, it’s not everyday you get to see Tower Bridge opening to its full height to a trumpet fanfare is it?
As you would expect, there were millions of pram-wielding parents and children waving flags looking to enjoy the pageant and thousands upon thousands of pensioners in particular (being of the age rage of the end of Empire and all that) who had travelled far and wide at great expense to come down and see the spectacle.
When we attempted to get onto the embankment path near Tower Bridge, on the west side of Southwark Cathedral, and the east side of Tower Bridge, there was absolutely no access unless you had ‘an advance ticket or VIP wristband’. Now, pardon me if I seem a bit rash, but surely these celebrations, paid for by the taxpayer at incredible expense (the Royal Barge itself cost £75million, and the wider celebrations cost an overall £1.3 BILLION (1)) should have been open to everyone? But at every access point to the paths I saw hundreds of people queuing to gain entry, and then (I saw this first hand) realising the cost/ticket/wristband access problem, trying to find access elsewhere.
At one point I saw a large crowd of parents and children attempting to gain access to the waterfront near the Southwark Playhouse through a large redbrick alleyway. The event-security guards there were preoccupied with telling an elderly couple they couldn’t enter without a ticket (that had to be bought or applied for, a week in advance on the internet), so I sneaked past and to my surprise some of the families followed, and several desperate people clutching Union Jacks ran out from behind me and ran through another group of security guards in front of us, one made it past and was separated from his family before he tried to get back through after being told off by security. When the latter security guards by the water-side entrance to the alley noticed we had sneaked past they formed a line and told us to go back unless you have a ticket. I replied, saying that I don’t need a ticket because me and all the people behind me are taxpayers and we have a right to view something we paid for.
The security guard, unphased, radioed his colleagues, and then began to push me and a parent to my left with a pram (I was against the alley-wall) to get back, we refused, and the parent and several others started having a go at the security guards.
Before I found myself arrested I backed off and tried to find another access route barking “I’m a taxpayer, screw this farce, I’m off to the republican protest!”
We walked into, and briefly hung around the demonstration, witnessed a man with a family in a Union Jack suit wave a rude gesture at the crowd of republicans, and then left to find another access route.
Later, we tried to walk across Tower Bridge but like the cordon, there was a first line of security guards/event staff that literally only said “You have to pay to cross the bridge, you will be turned back if not”. I attempted to anyway, which ended in failure. We walked for a long time through residential areas in what I guess was Bermondsey, and like us, hundreds and thousands of others were doing exactly the same. Hundreds of elderly people trapsing along the pavement trying to get a look at their Queen without having to pay.
By this time, despite the overcast weather and light showers all day, many families had resigned to having their picnics on the pavements behind the cordons which, even for a republican who dislikes the entire event and everything it stands for, was a sad sight, which angered me.
We reached some sort of special access disabled area, which was free, but had very high walls over which it was hard for children, the elderly and shorter (average height) adults to see over.
After a time, we headed back, and on our way back we saw repeatedly, the same thing happening over and over again. Groups of people were trying to challenge the security guards and gain entry, perfectly normal folk, not republicans, just people trying to enjoy themselves. Of course, they were turned away, and the police on the whole agreed with what people were saying, I didn’t get it on camera but I remember a young police officer saying how terribly organised it all way and that it was wrong for people to have to pay to see something we had all paid for, I’m pretty sure coppers aren’t allowed to say that, but it summed up the general mood.
The BBC and the mainstream media on Sunday only paid attention to the size of the crowds, the glorious flotilla etc, and completely ignored the plight of hundreds of thousands of people unable to enjoy their own Jubilee.
Even then, the actual event itself, when I eventually saw it on BBC iPlayer a few days later didn’t even seem that great, and seemed more like a damp, exceptionally expensive, squib. During a time of austerity, imposed upon us by a government in tow to massive fiscal special interests, in a country with rocketing unemployment, a recessive economy, thousands of homeless on the streets and a burgeoning debt, is it really the time to spend £3.6 BILLION on a celebration of an unelected, elitist, hereditary head of state?
I managed to get a glimpse of ‘life behind the cordon’ on Sunday, by poking my camera over one of the fences near Tower Bridge, and here’s what I saw:
It turns out that the security guards I was arguing with were unpaid workfare victims now the centre of a government Jubilee scandal. ( CALL FOR INQUIRY INTO USE OF UNPAID JUBILEE WORKERS ) ( UNEMPLOYED BUSSED INTO LONDON TO WORK AT JUBILEE ) ( GOVERNMENT EXPLOITING LONG-TERM JOBLESS-PRESCOTT )
Again, it’s nice to know ‘we’re all in it together’, and to see what the establishment really think.
No wonder that all arguments about republicanism in Britain come down to money, tourism and the financial benefit to the UK of having a living monarch when they try to milk it for all it’s worth to the peoples’ detriment/ instead of the real, principled arguments for democracy and a more equal society, without institutional symbolic hereditary elitism and faux meritocracy (when the highest public office is limited by birth!).
Thanks for reading.
Figures: 1. http://www.culture.gov.uk/publications/8519.aspx