Defend Our Democracy? A March of Misconception| Sarah Stook
Saturday 31st August saw thousands flock to city centres across the country in the newest wave of protests. Though there does seem to be one every week, this one was regarding Boris Johnson’s controversial decision to prorogue parliament. Led by politicians such as Jeremy Corbyn, it saw many people angrily demanding that Johnson renege his decision.
If you look on the surface of the decision- proroguing parliament to stop a play against a no-deal can be concerning. For those who didn’t know much about it, it’s no wonder people are concerned. Even those who do know the history of proroguing are worried. The sceptics don’t see the point of the protest, which is fair, but they had that right nonetheless.
Though the protest was dressed up as exactly that- anger against a decision made, it was not all as it seemed.
Those on both sides of the referendum debate aren’t likely to have the same opinions on this, though some leave voters are no doubted concerned at what Johnson has done. If you look at the photographs of the event, you will see a wave of EU flags. The blue and yellow is prominent across the cities, waved high by the passionate or stuck onto posters by the creative. The EU flag is the rallying cry of the remain movement, for obvious reasons, ones many on Twitter use in their name or bio to indicate their affiliations. The display of so many Europhiles makes it clear that this march was clearly about one thing- remain. Many marching didn’t do so just because they’re unhappy with Johnson’s decision, but because it didn’t go in their favour.
Then there are the optics- intended or not. The march was diverse, but it was hard to shy away from the images of older white people, many of whom were assumed to be middle class. One image showed protesters enjoying a picnic enjoying grapes, cheese and a bottle of wine. The cities in which the marches took place were predominantly remain, but that just happens to be a result of the urban voting bloc. It didn’t seem like a march for the working class, but for the middle class and upward- or at least the more comfortable workers. Owen Jones of the Guardian and other champagne liberals seemed to champion it the most.
On top of this are the placards and posters that many made. Many were frankly distasteful- comparing the current situation to Nazi Germany (so original), calling Johnson, Mogg etc a colourful array of swear words and even advocating violence, such as the guillotine that was captured. We can’t pretend that crassness is limited to the remain side, but it was extremely clear that it wasn’t exactly in short supply. Yes, many are upset by the state of politics, but these placards aren’t going to win favour. What happened in Nazi Germany is just not comparable in the slightest to proroguing parliament for four days. Calling people bad names is not a convincing argument.
The point of the protest was to show anger and persuade not only politicians, but other people. Those on the fence of the argument are not going to be persuaded by crude drawings and rude words, as it’s throwing insults rather than meaningful debate. A lot of people there probably would be happy to politely debate, but it didn’t seem that way. That lack of class just lends credence to the argument that it was a one sided political rally as opposed to a genuine march over a serious issue. Pictures of children holding signs that they may not understand also probably didn’t help them too much.
The final point on this march of misconception is the role of Labour leadership. 64% of Labour constituencies voted leave, the same percentage of those in the lowest social categories (C2 and DE). Jeremy Corbyn, a lifelong Eurosceptic who reportedly voted remain, spoke proudly to the masses. Momentum advocated for the march. A fair amount of Labour MPs represent leave areas, some of whom voted to Brexit in high numbers. If we still cling to the idea of Labour being the party most likely to represent the working class, then it seems they have somewhat violated their trust. Sure, a lot of Labour voters probably don’t like Boris Johnson and aren’t happy with him proroguing parliament- Corbyn and Co are representing that. This march was clearly for remain- and Labour was clamouring for it.
The vagueness of the UK constitution- if we have one that is- makes what Johnson doing legal in the short term at least. Any challenges to the proroguing thus far have ended in failure for its critics. Until it’s over, people will use their right to voice discontent. This will not be the last march against Johnson, Brexit and proroguing- there will likely be many more to come. What we cannot let the majority protestors do is pretend this isn’t about getting their way- they would have been thrilled if the Queen had rejected Johnsons’ request, even though it violates her own rule about being above politics.
If people are opposed to proroguing, make sure their protests are not covers for remain. When marching against something, make it crystal clear and don’t lie. Deception when it comes to protesting makes it easier to poke holes in. The 31st of August wasn’t about defending democracy, it a march of misconception.