There's a lot of talk about parallels between the TUC anti-cuts demo on the 26th March and the anti-war demo of 2003 - and the dangers of allowing the mood to similarly evaporate. Fair enough. I would also throw in memories of the TUC demo against pit closures in 1992 - a huge demo that really turned out to be nothing than more than a wake for something lost quite a while before. But despite being a jaded old veteran who has been marched up and down the hill many times over, I'm not embarrassed to say that I'm actually getting excited at the prospect of next week's demo.
Although this is not also without a degree of wariness:
The TUC - having clearly gone in to full panic mode upon realising that they have probably unleashed something they can't control - seem to be in danger of turning the demo in to one focused against themselves. Of course there's the usual phenomena of both them and the Labour Party trying to use the event as some sort of pressure release valve. You know the drill - have a day out in the capital, get roused up by Tony Benn then go home and hope that everyone is too distracted to notice that it's Labour councils delivering the cuts and the union leadership standing back to allow them. A new development this time though is TUC's plans for stewarding - from the use of private sub-contractors to an unprecedented integration with the police control and communications. This would seem to indicate a conscious tactic to use the stewards as the first line of policing. More surprisingly Liberty - an organisation I've always had respect for - have allowed themselves to be compromised by being co-opted into the operation as 'officially sanctioned' legal observers.
All of which will on the day re-direct the anger of a significant layer of the demonstrators towards the march's orgainisers. And on this other side of the fence some people are already seeing the 26th as the catalyst for some sort of quasi-insurrectionary moment. Amidst the perfectly justified plans for 'unofficial' actions and platforms there is also an awful lot of bollocks being spoken about the politics of the street and the creation of autonomous zones. Don't get me wrong here I'm all for the idea of camping overnight in Hyde Park to make a point about who legitimately controls public spaces - but talk of turning the park into Tahrir Square not only massively mistakes the current political situation it also dis-respects the position facing comrades in Egypt. And if not carefully handled can be a form of vanguardism that will provoke the full wrath of the state on a wider layer.
And in the interests of being even-handed in my wariness: My heart sinks when I see that my own organisation - no doubt like most others on the Left - has inevitably set targets for paper sales and recruitment. It all looks horribly like the crap I have to put up with at work and is equally ineffective motivationally.
Demonstrations are just that - demonstrations of a wider movement. They are not revolutions - although historically they can and have been the catalysts for revolutions but there's always a context to this. More often they are milestones in building something. And they are no less important for that.