The anti-lockdown rally at Trafalgar Square was organised by Save Our Rights UK. This embryonic organisation is so new that its website only has a single page. And it seems inexperienced at staging large demos. The amplification on a windy day needed to be cranked up to the max but the sound was inaudible from many parts of the square. Dozens of protesters were parading hand-made placards – which is standard practice at a rally – but the slogans were unusually aphoristic and politically astute:
‘Quarantine is locking up the sick. Despotism is locking up the healthy.’
‘Compliance with stupidity is consent to tyranny.’
‘When dictatorship becomes law, resistance becomes duty.’
‘Police - we are on your side but where does “just following orders” end?’
‘It’s now a conspiracy theory to believe that the immune system is capable of doing the job it’s designed to do.’
The opening speaker began with a wisecrack. ‘Put your hand up if you’ve got Covid?’ He then adopted an angst-ridden voice and reminded us of our civic responsibilities.
‘Marshalls are going around with hand-sanitiser,’ he said, morosely. ‘Social distancing rules must be observed at all times.’ Laughter greeted this. But he deliberately praised a police sergeant, Stuart, who was helping to ensure that the event was safe. And the crowd cheered and clapped appreciatively. There were several placards expressing sympathy with
For three hours, a succession of speakers took the microphone. Each was allowed to talk for as long as they wished, and many of them rambled. A poet named Gary elicited a defiant cheer with a mixed metaphor: ‘the sleeping lion is starting to wake/And when the lion roars – check-mate’.
Laura from Liverpool asked a good question. ‘Why are we seeing a rise in cases if masks work so well?’ Another speaker quoted the Covid-19 survival rates. ‘UK 99.97%, Sweden 99.98%, US 99.98%’ Since survival is the aim of medicine, these figures ought to be quoted constantly and used to guide health policy during the pandemic.
Then came Piers Corbyn. The charming and ill-kempt brother of Labour’s former leader is an entertaining act but he’s not a convincing orator. He spoke from written notes which blew around in the wind and made him seem amateurish. And he was too eager to get the crowd chanting his favourite slogans. ‘Defund the BBC!’ they chorused, at his prompting. When he finished he greeted the applause by pumping his bony arms in the air and grinning ecstatically.
The closing speaker was David Icke, a tall, solemn, snowy-haired presence with a distinctly regal air. He turns out to be a highly effective platform orator. He spoke for just five minutes using slow, clear and emphatic phrases with frequent repetitions which ensured that his arguments were followed even by inattentive listeners. And he relied on an impressive array of well-crafted soundbites.
“A mask is a symbol. A symbol of oppression. A symbol of silence. A symbol of the destruction of individuality. Take your bloody mask off!
He described the pandemic as a ‘deceit’ engineered by ‘psychopaths’ who want to impose a form of ‘fascism which you will have to live your lives within.’ The ‘psychopaths’ had worked for years, he claimed, to cultivate a ‘little-me’ attitude that would make us more malleable when the time came. That time is now. And the key to resistance is self-respect.
“Awaken to who you really are …self-respect has broken every tyranny in human history…we are freedom and we will accept nothing less.
Spontaneous chants erupted as he spoke. ‘Freedom! Freedom!’ pealed out across the square like the cries of ‘Rooney! Rooney!’ that once rang around Wembley stadium.
Icke hoped that ‘the spirit of this place will spread out across the world.’ And he looked forward to a reckoning.
“We must not rest until those responsible are subjected to Nuremberg-style trials.
He then strayed, rather weirdly, into the work of Bill Hicks, the late comedian, who regarded humanity as ‘a single consciousness experienced individually.’
‘The dream and the dreamer are indivisible,’ said Icke. ‘We are the dance of the moon and the sun.’ This was met by indulgent laughter.
‘We must not crumble!’ he finished. As he walked from the square he was followed by a mob of rowdy youngsters shouting, ‘Freedom! Freedom!’ They trailed him all the way into Charing Cross Station, and out again through a side-exit, and across the river towards Waterloo.
This movement needs a leader and Icke put in a convincing audition yesterday. But he should drop the Bill Hicks routines and his talk of collective dreams and celestial dancing. This battle is about reason and evidence. Not hippy twaddle.