Saturday's march against the renewal of Britain's nuclear weapons was angry, political and full of hope, reports Tom Griffiths
‘Nurses not nukes, NHS not Trident’, was just one of the many hand-made placards that protesters carried with them through the streets of central London on Saturday for the Stop Trident Demonstration called by the CND. At least 60,000 people descended on the capital to say loud and clear what the majority of the population think about the Tories' plan to squander taxpayers' money on weapons of mass destruction.
Front and centre was anger at government spending in general, and nobody on the streets was in any doubt that the proposed squandering of the public purse on Trident is made even more obscene by the constant stream of public sector and welfare cuts announced by this austerity government. The case was made clearly by many of the speakers, including Steve Sweeny from the People’s Assembly Against Austerity, who reminded the thousands gathered in Trafalgar Square of the Tories' outrageous hypocrisy. The government says it can’t afford to keep A&Es and libraries open, but it can afford outdated methods of mass murder. With the costs looking like they will run up to at least £167 billion, the ‘Welfare not Warfare’ slogan was never more apposite.
The presence of leaders and representatives from all the main political parties (apart from the Conservatives and Lib Dems), was strong, with the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon, Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood and the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas all speaking from the stage, along with a messages of solidarity from Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness. All of them were unequivocal in their condemnation of the government's plans. Caroline Lucas called Trident ‘immoral and illegal’. Prominent actor and lifelong campaigner Vanessa Redgrave, visibly moved by the sea of people, announced that ‘today is the best day of my life.’
Many of the protesters and even some of the organisers were unsure if Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn would be able to get back from commitments elsewhere in the country to speak, so the announcement on the big screen that he was on his way was met with huge cheers. After taking the platform Corbyn said: ‘Everyone should think about the humanitarian effects on wholly innocent people anywhere across this globe if [nuclear weapons] are ever used. You don’t achieve peace by planning for war.’ As he thanked the crowd amidst loud applause, it was clear that rather than avoid talking about foreign policy and Trident, Corbyn is at his most popular when sticking to his anti-war principles.
Student nurse campaigner Danielle Tiplady gave one of the most rousing speeches of the day. She spoke movingly of her experiences in the nursing profession and how the government's decision to scrap student bursaries for nurses would prevent working class women like her doing the work she loves so much. She called on everybody to come to the People's Assembly national demonstration on 16 April. Her closing phrase probably got the best response of the day, and it was simple: ‘Tories out now!’