The people of Newport were understandably puzzled by today’s Anti-NATO summit demonstration. They were assailed with a dozen messages – some incomprehensible. They will also be relieved that the march was non-violent and brief. Most of the planned road closures were not implemented. Much of the pre-publicity was aroused by the promise of the most massive march that Wales has ever seen – with 20,000 demonstrators. It was not that. The BBC estimated that 600 took part. That’s probably about right.
There were a bewildering variety of causes. Many of them I have been supporting virtually all of my life,
Many old friends were marching including John Cox, Bruce Kent and about twenty members of Newport Labour Parties. The big headache is presenting these deeply anarchic events is to avoid the core message being hi-jacked by minor far-left sects with their off-the-wall views.
The Socialist Workers Party is skilled in elbowing their way to the front. CND had the clear message ’No New Wars. No to Nato’ that led the march. Visually Palestine flags dominated with Gaza placards. Whatever Israel can be blamed for, they are not guilty of being a member of NATO. A strong cause but the Gaza demo had already had at least three local outings. One placard had a picture of Obama described as a war criminal – but none of Putin.
‘Global Law not global war’ was the persuasive message possibly from a Quaker. There were a handful of black masked anarchists and a man who was almost totally naked. There were a few anti-nuclear power banners and CND Newport’s message was ‘Nuclear NATO – No Thanks’. The Stalinist view that led to my being ‘dis-invited’ as a conference was on placards that read called for military aid to protect Eastern Ukraine from Kiev. Utterly baffling to most people were the calls to ‘Defend China, North Korea and Laos’.
The police behaved with restraint and intelligence. There are 9,500 of them drafted into Newport - that’s enough for 16 police for every demonstrator. They promised to match their presence to the numbers demonstrating. They had enough to deal with the 20,000 if they had arrived. But only a hundred or so were deployed and they were scarely visible and non-confrontational. They were a lesson to the Met in to police demonstrations. The organisers can be criticised for over-hyping their expectations, which resulted in great deal of expense. However democracy is never cheap and it’s healthy that the challenge to increased military spending and against avoidable wars was expressed. It’s too much to expect a clear coherent message.