Ceasefire Now march to US Embassy, London 11th November 2023 Ceasefire Now march to US Embassy, London 11th November 2023. Photo: Steve Eason / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0 DEED

John Rees counters the right-wing narrative about the Palestine demo

For most people either on or watching the armistice day Palestine protest the meaning of the day will be clear: the demonstration was a huge success. But what’s obvious to Palestine supporters or to those who are simply unbiased observers will not be the view of the right-wing commentators and that will influence mainstream media accounts. So we need to be clear that no fact, howsoever obvious to us, interprets itself. It will always be contested. There will always be a battle for interpretation, and if we don’t win that battle then what was won on the streets can be lost in the airwaves.

From my BBC Radio 5 breakfast time interview this morning it’s clear what the government and right-wing response to the demo is:

  1. Pretend the protest was only 300,000 strong. This is the police figure, not the 800,000 figure of the organisers. The Met police have not given attendance figures for demonstrations for many years because they claimed it was ‘too controversial’. Not least because they had been proved wrong by the Iraq protest figures so many times. But they have begun again for these demos. We should ask why. Quite clearly these protests are so important that the figures have to be contested.
  2. Try to confuse the fascist protest and the Palestine demonstration. The police keep using the word ‘counter-protesters’ to refer to the far-right fascists. This confuses who is who for many who are not following events in detail. When Channel 4 referred to ‘far right’ protestors, conservative columnist Isabel Oakshot demanded that they retract.
  3. Try to pretend there was ‘violence on both sides’, as Rushi Sunak’s statement this morning attempts to do. Actually, there is no comparison. The whole fascist demonstration attacked the police and 20 percent of them were arrested. On the Palestine protest, 16,000 times bigger than the fascist mobilisation, there were two arrests on the demo and five afterwards.
  4. Try to absolve Braverman by saying ‘one op-ed couldn’t have caused this’. But Braverman, and Sunak, and the whole right commentariat, and the press, campaigned against the demonstration for over a week. This had an effect. Even some in the movement started to argue that we should postpone the march, or that we would have to do so if it was banned. This is why the ‘We Will March’ hashtag was so important and why the Stop the War Coalition was right to insist on our right to protest. But the main effect of the Braverman led campaign was to mobilise the far right. There was no fascist march before she started, it was called as a direct result of her agitation. And it went hideously wrong because the knuckle-draggers have only one aim: violence against the left and, in this case, the police because Braverman herself had painted the police as soft on the left, ridiculously as that might seem to anyone familiar with the Spycops enquiry, the Steven Lawrence enquiry, or the policing of the Sara Everard protest, never mind the Miners’ Strike. 
  5. It was armistice day and so the march was ‘disrespectful’. This argument should be over now but they are still running it. Actually we held a minutes silence on the demo which will have been the largest single show of respect in the country. And if the protest is fine with the organisers of Poppy Day, Royal British Legion, perhaps the right wing should pipe down.

The right’s real problem is that their supposed populism has been exposed as isolated and as a political weakness. They don’t have support in the polls, on the streets, in the Welsh or Scottish Parliaments, or at the UN. Even that bastion of loyalty to the establishment, Sir Keir Starmer’s leadership of the Labour Party, is in trouble.

The right are losing the argument. This week all effort must be concentrated on continuing to mobilise for Palestine, but also on getting rid of Braverman. That would be a win for Palestine, for civil liberties, and for anti-fascism. If Sunak will not get rid of her, then he should go now. He will have handed his leadership of the Tory party to Braverman and her supporting gaggle of right-wing commentators and GB News cheerleaders.

Before you go

Counterfire is growing faster than ever before

We need to raise £20,000 as we are having to expand operations. We are moving to a bigger, better central office, upping our print run and distribution, buying a new printer, new computers and employing more staff.

Please give generously.

John Rees

John Rees is a writer, broadcaster and activist, and is one of the organisers of the People’s Assembly. His books include ‘The Algebra of Revolution’, ‘Imperialism and Resistance’, ‘Timelines, A Political History of the Modern World’, ‘The People Demand, A Short History of the Arab Revolutions’ (with Joseph Daher), ‘A People’s History of London’ (with Lindsey German) and The Leveller Revolution. He is co-founder of the Stop the War Coalition.

Tagged under: