On one of those perfect Autumn days, when the suns shines and blesses but doesn’t blaze or burn, people came from all round the UK to express their dislike of ‘Brexit’. The organizers of the ‘People’s vote’ march had expected 100,000 attendees. 670,000 turned up. The atmosphere was carnival, witty, intelligent, gentle, friendly – but behind that lay a firm, powerful sense of rightness. A sense that something in our national life was being deeply mismanaged, both morally and practically, and a determination to change that for the better.
Wit was to the fore. My favourite home-made banner? I think it has to be the Banksy reference, the picture frame with a half-shredded symbol of Brexit in it. I loved the tatty piece of cardboard that read ‘This placard is about as professional as Brexit’. Others:‘Fromage not Farage.’ ‘Pulling out never works.’ ‘IKEA make better cabinets than this one.’
Sceptics could point out that big, feelgood marches don’t have much political effect. The even larger peace march in early 2003 didn’t stop Tony Blair blundering into Iraq. But he had America breathing down his neck. The ‘Support the Miners’ rallies of the mid 1980s didn’t result in the miners winning – but theirs was an industry which had been in decline since the late 1950s. This time round, something different could happen.
How? The road map isn’t clear. The first step, I hope, is that the political parties get the message – especially Labour. Maybe those Tories who reckon Brexit will be a disaster but who have been pushed into silence by the threat of deselection will rediscover their courage and put country before career. Maybe the Liberals will wake up and find a more dynamic leader.
Or maybe none of these things will happen, and the UK will just totter over a cliff. If so, it won’t be destroyed, just damaged. Life will go on, and the idealism, intelligence and energy I saw and felt on the march will be part of rebuilding it as a better, more positive, more humane, more competent place.