You may have missed it, over the weekend, but the UK had an earthquake.
No, not the 4.8 Richter earth tremor in Dudley, but the broad-shouldered masses of the good yeomanry of the nation, Celts and Saxons together, who marched on the bastions of the Jacobins in their Westminster haunts.
407,791 — four hundred and seven thousand! — good sons of the soil turned up on the Liberty and Livelihood March through London on what turned out to be the biggest civil liberty protest in British history.
The backbone of the nation — labourers, agricultural tenants, country dwellers, gentleman farmers and landed gentry — and a goodly smattering of sympathetic Townies, to boot! — all combined to protest the actions of the UK Committee of Public Safety under Tony RobespiBlaire in its attempts to social engineer this Sceptred Isle, the land of Magna Carta and Habeas Corpus, into some morally relativistic, multicultural, Islington dinner party — in between supplying auxiliaries for the Legions of the Empire, of course.
Jefferson would have been proud of the Brits, for once!
The Times noted,
“Among the placards, distrust of the Government was one common thread: u2018Blair — run the country, don’t ruin the countryside’, u2018For fox sake, fox off Blair’, u2018Towney Blair’s got rid of more farmers than Mugabe’, u2018We do not like being DEFRA-cated on’” — the last referring to the post-Foot and Mouth, spin doctor-rebranded replacement for the despised Ministry of Agriculture — a typical Blairite ploy to airbrush history.
The Sun quoted landowner Andrew Duff Gordon who declared: ‘There is a huge strength of feeling because everyone in the countryside is being ignored. The reason I’m here can be summed up in one word u2014 freedom.’
Stephen Robinson perhaps best captured the mood as he exulted in the Telegraph:
‘The placards, swaying in the sunshine, conveyed an attitude of defiance. “We will not be culturally cleansed”, read one; “Future Criminal” read another carried by an eight-year-old; “Revolting Peasant” another, carried by an adult, dressed in the Sloane Ranger’s weekend uniform of plum-coloured corduroys.
Then, at precisely 10am, with whistles, horns and bagpipes blaring, the Liberty march began to roll from the eastern corner of Hyde Park, and into Piccadilly.
Kate Hoey, the Labour MP and darling for many of the marchers for her brave and lonely stance within her party, stood at the front, alongside Richard Burge, the alliance’s chief executive. One placard read: “Hoey for Prime Minister.”
The crowd eased forward at about half normal walking pace, into Piccadilly and past the Ritz where Londoners lined the pavement, shouting their support.
The marchers cheered one placard at the Ritz: “Kiwis Support Country Poms”, carried by John Falloon, a New Zealand farmer visiting friends in England. Hunting is popular in New Zealand, and Mr Falloon said he worried that a ban in Britain might have a knock-on effect in his country.
As the giant procession snaked rightwards into St James’s, the gentleman’s clubs had all opened up. At Boodle’s, the staff stood on the first floor balcony in their waiter’s uniforms, quitely applauding the marchers.
The marchers loved that touch. Most of the the upmarket St James’s traders were closed, but they had left banners of encouragement in their windows.
On surged the crowd, down Pall Mall, and into Trafalgar Square, where Mayor Ken Livingstone, no friend of the countryside or hunting, had left his mark. The road narrowed into an uncomfortable funnel because of the continuing roadworks, forcing the marchers to furl their giant Liberty & Livelihood banner, as they eased around the construction equipment of the mayor’s half-finished pedestrianisation scheme.
The Liberty march turned into Whitehall where — with immaculate timing — it merged with the Livelihood march which had been making its way over from its eastern starting point.
There were whistles and cheers and shouts of recognition as these two tributaries met in the middle of Whitehall to form a giant river of humanity heading towards the Cenotaph, where the marchers fell silent as a mark of respect.
This meant the marchers could not shout their true feelings towards Downing Street, which was just as well as the mood was specifically hostile to the Prime Minister. One man, dressed as the grim reaper with a Tony Blair mask, was wildly cheered.
If the well-heeled of St James’s were sending their best wishes, the tone of the march was not at all grand. Early yesterday, a presenter on Radio Five Live put on a jokey posh accent as he spoke to a reporter in Hyde Park, perhaps to convey the BBC’s general disdain for the event.
The presenter should have spoken to Mike Idle and Ewan Gaskell, keen members of the Ullswater fell pack, whose Cumbrian accents were so thick they warned “you might need an interpreter to interview us”.
Both had been to London only twice before, to attend the previous countryside marches, and they were in no hurry to come back.
They said they were incensed that the media always suggested hunting was for rich people on horseback. “There are no toffs in our hunt,” said Mr Gaskell, a van driver, rather giving the impression that they would not be welcome there.
“And I’ll tell you now, we’re not going to stop because of what Blair says. How are they going to stop it? They don’t police the towns in Cumbria, so how will they police the hunts?” There was a definite edge of defiance on the streets.
From a different perspective, Richard Fry, who owns a business in London and a farm in Dorset, had brought his family, along with another 1,000 or so supporters of the Cattistock Hunt.
“Make no mistake,” he said, “this one is the last peaceful march I’m coming on. If they press on with a ban now, the gloves will really come off.”
There were no speeches, no rally, no concert to raise the spirits before the long journey home. Once they had passed the counting station, the marchers were asked simply to disperse to allow those behind to complete the route.
The very spareness of the march somehow added to its power. Some 400,000 people came to London from all over the country to tramp along the streets, and simply be counted.
The walk took a good two hours, and the wait could be double that. No gift packs were offered to the children, no jugglers or clowns along the way, no computer games to take home — just long journeys by coach or train, and a long, tiring, march, and aching bones.
“It was brilliant, brilliant,” said Daisy Walker, 12. She was there with her parents, Sean and Karen, north Londoners who carry no candle for hunting — Daisy strongly disapproves of it as well — yet adamant that they should support the countryside.
“It’s a matter of individual choice,” said Mr Walker.
To be on the streets yesterday was to feel you were part of something much larger even than the important issues that had drawn the masses to the capital.
As hard as a BBC presenter might try, you could not generalise about these people. No cosy British social snobbery or inverted snobbery helps you out, for the crowds were so socially and geograpically diverse.
One of the last banners read: “Mr Blair, see what a minority looks like.” This was a pretty good joke when 200,000 were expected, but became better still when more than double that figure turned up.’”
But what was the response of our latter day Richard II to this horde of modern Wat Tylers?
Very much that of Shakespeare’s arbitrary monarch, for Blair was off at his weekend grace and favour retreat in Chequers, playing geopolitics, and no doubt telling his fawning coterie of court favourites:
"We will ourself in person to this war:
And, for our coffers, with too great a court
And liberal largess, are grown somewhat light,
We are inforced to farm our royal realm;
The revenue whereof shall furnish us
For our affairs in hand: if that come short,
Our substitutes at home shall have blank charters;
Whereto, when they shall know what men are rich,
They shall subscribe them for large sums of gold
And send them after to supply our wants."
Richard, you may recall, gratifyingly, did not end well, and, when Bolingbroke finally cast him down from the throne, few mourned his passing:
"With much more contempt, men’s eyes
Did scowl on gentle Richard; no man cried ‘God save him!’
No joyful tongue gave him his welcome home:
But dust was thrown upon his sacred head."
One can only hope!