I missed the London protest against Brexit in March, because I had things to do in the midlands. But I did check out the leave march organised by Richard Tice, now an MEP for the Brexit party. I wrote a long piece comparing the two marches as hikes.
Another pro-remain march was booked for October 19th, the day Parliament was due to vote on the Johnson deal. This time I went along with my friend Kate and her Rich Astley sign (“never gonna give EU up”).
The March to Leave had explicitly compared their multi-day hike to the previous London march, which they described as an easy stroll through London. I’d be interested to see how a democracy based on walking actually worked. There could be something there. But we’d have to solve the question I asked previously: Does a million people walking a single mile trump a couple of hundred people walking a couple of hundred miles?
As we walked through London on Saturday, the heroic March to Leave was pretty much forgotten, just another strange plot twist from an earlier season.
We arrived in London early and headed from Victoria to Green Park. As we waited for friends by a food kiosk, we met a woman who was leading a cheese tour. Her attendees were delayed by the march, so we got talking, and she told us her favourite cheese joke: What are cheese puffs made from?
We also got talking to a woman who was at the march with her young son, but couldn’t find the friend she’d planned to march with; Kate invited her to join us. We all soon set off through London. Pace-wise, the march was slow, but the signs were a lot funnier than the ones on the pre-leave march. (I liked the ‘Extension rebellion’ one, and another comparing a donkey with an ice-cream cone on its head with the unicorns we’ve been promised). We persuaded some Lib-Dems to lead a chorus of the ‘Revokey Kokey’, which Kate had been hoping to hear on the march. And, talking to one of our party, I learned she’d met Nigel Farage the night before but refused to shake his hand. She’d also been wearing a blue dress and star earrings for the event.
We made it to the mall in time for the votes. The crowd roared as the Letwin amendment result was announced. I know the deal will go through, that Parliamentary maths makes it inevitable, but I still felt joy that it was being scrutinised, that MPs were standing up despite the abuse and mockery they received. I’ll treasure the memory of being in that crowd. Among the cheering there were shouts of ‘Order!’. It’s probably a bad sign that the speaker is such a partisan figure, but that still made me smile.
One the March to Leave, Richard Tice talked about the horrific weather his marchers had faced. “We showed true grit. You softies in the guardian would’ve delayed it a day but we pushed on, we had hundreds out it was amazing.” As the vote was announced it started to rain. As I headed back to Brighton, the march continued through Trafalgar Square, thousands of Guardian readers carrying on anyway. Richard Tice would have been impressed, I’m sure.
My feelings about Brexit are complicated. David Cameron’s government made a lot of promises that are undeliverable, but the commitment on his ‘advisory’ referendum was repeated. Even at this late stage in the process, almost 50% of the country still wants Brexit to proceed. Maybe a more united remain campaign, with clear leadership from the opposition would have shifted popular opinion. But it didn’t happen, and there is not yet a sensible pathway to remain. So, we need to hand this over to leave and tell them to do their best.
I don’t know if there will be another hike through London for remain, and I’m not sure what good marching does. But it was a friendly group to go walking with, and I’m glad I went. It was certainly a funnier and friendlier group than the March to Leave, who were a little scary.
And what are cheese puffs made of?
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