It is all over. The protesters have taken down their tents, packed up their mung bean salads and headed home. The superb Michelle Obama's First Lady fashion show, with supporting Presidential husband accessory, has folded up its J.Crew dresses and twinsets and jetted off to continental Europe (as the best couture so frequently does). The streets of London still have heavy metal crash barriers along the pavements but they serve little purpose now. In truth I don't believe they were serving much purpose during the G20 summit either, despite the show of battening down the hatches and ramping up security over the two days when the senior world politicians were in town.
My initial thought on April 1st when I ventured out was "nice day for a protest". Beautiful sunshine, clear skies with no risk of clouds to rain on their parade. (A brief thought which flickered through my mind was that I hoped they all wore sunscreen and took lots of water.)
On my way to work I desperately searched for signs of anarchy and public dissent, and disappointingly I saw nothing so exciting. There were a few more blacked out people carriers on the road than usual, and possibly fewer suits pounding the central London pavements. Many office works vowed to ignore the advice to dress in "mufti" clothing (i.e. jeans and t-shirts) rather than suits to avoid anti-capitalist attacks however. Many city office workers reported a rise in the number of ludicrously coloured cords and tweed sports jackets; hardly a look which screams "man of the people". One senior office worker at a city firm apined to a local paper that he would be going in to work in his suit as usual as "my only other option is my gardening clothes".
From my office I watched the news coverage of the march progress and protests outside the Bank of England. Lots of people standing, waving their arms, chanting, holding banners and signs (the odd one embarrassingly misspelt). A firm favourite from the day seems to have been the wag who waved "Make Love Not Leverage"!
Lines of fluorescent yellow police dividing the great swathes of multi-coloured protesters, the majority of whom seemed energetic but unthreatening. (Those who were dancing in a quiet square, and rolling around on the floor very slowly were more bizarre than demanding.) A couple of trouble-makers could be picked out, jostling police, provoking others around them, but the vast majority were peaceful yet solid. As much as the papers hyped up the "chaos" and "anarchistic attacks", a mere handful of people were arrested for carrying knives, climbing a monument and hitting a policeman (this could've been a regular Thursday night in some areas of London). Thousands of others remained well-behaved however, and for this I feel we should commend them.
Air Force One left Stanstead on Friday and conveyed the Obamas to Strasbourg to attend another two day summit, this time for Nato. Now I know the French are taught to protest, smoke Gitanes and drink wine as soon as they can walk, but watching the protests in Strasbourg made me feel rather proud of our own efforts; as if London had taken a more grown-up approach to taking a stand against globalisation, capitalism and those who irresponsibly disregard climate change.
Before the summit in France had even started three hundred people had been arrested for rioting. Where a few protesters in London had smashed into the Royal Bank of Scotland offices with a large pole they had seemed reluctant to go any further with destruction and violence, lest they get into real trouble. After smashing in the window they dithered outside ("After you, man", "No, no mate, please go first") then climbed in, were unimpressed by what they saw, and were out again within about five minutes. In Strasbourg the protesters set up flaming road blocks and smashed up telephone boxes. The fact that the protestors in Bishopsgate, London, were being goaded by several banking idiots (no doubt clad in bright red cords and sports jackets) waving £10 notes out of their office windows at them seems not only to explain their frustrated snapping and hitting the odd policeman but also seems to point towards the reason we're in this mess in the first place. Go and do some work you morons! It's no wonder the world's in a state of financial crisis with those monkeys at the helm. Congratulations should also go to the extremely efficient police force who by Friday, after the window smashing incident on Wednesday, had all four people responsible scheduled to appear in court to answer charges of criminal damage and pinching a single computer. We all should admit that's a pretty swift turnaround, as sort of Kwik-Fit approach to crime-fighting.
The news of the death of Ian Tomlinson, who died on Wednesday was deeply saddening however, although his involvement in the protests remains unclear. Whether he was there as a protester or merely a bystander who got caught up in the situation, his death was premature (he was only 47 years old) and evidently linked in some way to the action going on around him. What I found most saddening, and here I lost a fair bit of pride in how our nation behaved, was that as police struggled to administer help to him, they were attacked by protesters. Ironically a new march appeared a couple of days later to Bethnal Green Police Station demanding an inquiry into Mr Tomlinson's death. I fear that if an inquiry takes place certain behaviours will be exposed which will shame those involved, whether they be police officers, protesters, or members of the public. Something went too far. When demanding something one has to admit that sometime enough is enough, and heading home then trying again another day may be just as effective. Or if you really can't wait for another international summit to complain about, go to France where they hold such protesting jollies most Mondays, except in August when they're all at the beach.