Photo: Shabbir Lakha

Despite police harassment, protesters were undeterred and took the fight to the Tories at their conference in Manchester, reports Shabbir Lakha

The Tories in Manchester for their annual conference were given the unwelcome they deserve by thousands marching on the People’s Assembly national demonstration. It was an impressive confluence of trade unionists, students, campaigners against the cost-of-living crisis, war, racism and attacks on disabled people, those calling for action to save our public services, housing and the climate, and ordinary working-class people fed up with the Tories.

The wet start to the day didn’t stop protesters taking to the streets of Manchester and making their voices heard. They chanted, demanding the removal of the Tories, in defence of refugees, in opposition to cuts, and in support of striking workers.

Photo: Counterfire

Central Manchester looking like a military zone, with massive fences and road closures, hundreds of armed and unarmed police officers crawling on every street, and snipers on the roofs, has only helped to reinforce visually how scared the Tories are of working people.

In a dystopian display of the Tories’ drive to authoritarianism, police stopped a coach bringing protesters from London to the demonstration claiming they had ‘intelligence [sic]’ of an attempt to disrupt the Tory conference.  The protesters were removed from the coach while several dozen officers searched it and an Asian woman was intrusively searched on spurious grounds.

Lewis Cook who was on the coach told us,

‘An unmarked police car pulled in front of our coach and instructed us follow them to Knutsford service station about 20 miles from Manchester, our coach was surrounded by about 30-35 police officers who said that the reason they had stopped us was because they had intelligence that we had items which could be used illegally to disrupt the Conservative Party Conference.

‘The stop and search of our coach delayed us in arriving to Manchester meaning we missed the start of the march.

‘Only one person was searched and that person was a young Asian woman, which made the whole event even more confusing, no arrests were made and nobody was detained.

‘I believe there was a disproportionate police presence considering there were only 26 of us on the coach, I think ultimately this was to intimidate us.’

It was a shocking attempt to deter people from exercising their democratic rights. Police monitoring organisation NetPol has said that three other vehicles were also stopped separately under the same pretence.

Photo: Counterfire

John Rees, speaking for the Stop the War Coalition at the demonstration, said to roaring applause that police harassment would not stop us, if the Tories think they can intimidate us into silence they are sorely mistaken, and that the movement will keep mobilising to make the new anti-protest and anti-strike laws unworkable.

In contrast with the empty halls inside the Tory conference, the mood on the demonstration was angry and energetic and filled with a renewed confidence after a year of strikes.

Speaker after speaker also made it clear that there were no illusions in a Starmer-led government, and that the mass movement is prepared to confront him should he come to office and carry on the attacks on working people.

There is a widespread feeling that Britain is broken and there is little faith in an incoming Labour government delivering any kind of real alternative. We need to rebuild a militant mass movement that organises and unites the different strands of opposition to the Tories and this weekend’s People’s Assembly demonstration and festival of resistance was a big step in that direction.

Photo: Counterfire

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Shabbir Lakha

Shabbir Lakha is a Stop the War officer, a People's Assembly activist and a member of Counterfire.

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