by Freddie Sayers
Monday, 28
June 2021
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10:13

A glimpse of deep England on Regent Street

The freedom protests were a vignette of the strange political moment we are in
by Freddie Sayers
Is this the spirit of ‘deep England’? Credit: Getty

London’s Regent Street this past Saturday afternoon, as the “freedom march” was in full flow, was a neat vignette of the strange political moment we are in.

At the entrances of the air-conditioned stores, anxious attendants formed a cordon to protect the well-to-do shoppers who had accidentally chosen to refresh their summer wardrobe that afternoon. Neatly masked couples dashed between stores, hoping not to be noticed; I spotted one father with a central European accent ushering his boys into the safety of Hackett, only for the kids to break out into chants of “Freedom!” in imitation of the protestors on the march. Other children peered with fascination out through the glass at the noise and the coloured smoke on the street.

The thoroughfare itself was given over entirely to the protestors. For over an hour they ambled past, surely in their tens of thousands — young and old, women and children — tooting their foghorns and vuvuzelas and brandishing their homemade placards. By my count, around 90% of the messages were vaccine and lockdown-related; the Socialist Workers Party and pro-Palestinian groups had done their usual thing of trying to get in on the act, papering the entrance to Oxford Circus tube with professionally printed flyers, but they seemed like a tolerated minority rather than a driving force.

If your goal was to point to logical inconsistencies in the messages, it wouldn’t have been very difficult — in particular, the pockets of Extinction Rebellion protestors (whose central aim is to reduce global travel) seemed blissfully unaware that the anti-lockdown activists they were marching alongside view their movement with deep suspicion, due to its connection to fears about “climate lockdowns” and the link between Net Zero and Zero Covid. (One fascinating trend to watch will be whether the protestor class now shifts decisively against the climate change agenda in the post-lockdown era, as it becomes increasingly associated with Davos and an elite technocratic plan.)

You could also legitimately judge many of the placards and stickers that papered the windows of the shops in the protestors’ wake as paranoid and divorced from the facts — the vaccine programme is ‘mass genocide’, for example; ‘many children will die’. But these terrifying slogans sat within a strikingly good-natured, almost carnival-like atmosphere; many of the signs were more about ‘faith not fear’, and the Glasto-style renditions of “Hey, teachers, leave our kids alone” were positively uplifting. Here was humanity in all its glorious messiness, rejecting a style of government that to them is starting to seem tyrannically sanitised and controlled.

https://twitter.com/FranceRsistanc1/status/1408810346966626316?s=20

The connection to feelings of Englishness was also striking —all those St George’s flags daubed with ‘FREEDOM’, above a sea of exposed pink flesh in the sunshine — and called to mind the anarchic English spirit famously epitomised by “Rooster” in Jez Butterworth’s hit play Jerusalem. That “deep England” spirit doesn’t get much of an outlet these days outside football and arguably the Brexit campaign, but on the evidence of this march it is alive and well. Even now, it is not well accommodated in the political system.

At the very moment I was watching the protests on Saturday afternoon, Matt Hancock was putting the finishing touches to his resignation statement. Dozens of placards at the march referenced the then Health Secretary (usually swapping out the H in his surname for a W), suggesting that, in the minds of the protestors at least, he was a highly relevant figure in their movement. The victory was theirs: the weekend’s events proved that, for all his didacticism and carefully controlled “comms”, Matt Hancock’s life was just as messy as theirs — just, until recently, less visibly so.

To me, that was the lesson of the Freedom March, if you can see past some of the more outlandish claims about Covid or vaccines: a substantial minority of our population fundamentally objects to totalitarian laws that go against human nature and strip people of their agency. Whatever happens with Covid in the coming months, they’re not going to stop shouting about it.

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Jasmine Birtles
Jasmine Birtles
1 year ago

I was there and, as usual, it was, as you say Freddie, an uplifting and energising event with a friendly and open vibe. These marches are primarily against the encroaching totalitarianism that we are seeing in this country and in other Western states. It really does seem that we are sleep-walking into an authoritarian state supported by evermore ‘intelligent’ technology. The mainstream media can keep trying to ignore the ever-growing marches but, as you say, they won’t be stopping any time soon. There is just too much to protest about!

Last edited 1 year ago by Jasmine Birtles
Nick Faulks
Nick Faulks
1 year ago

There were a few of the usual interlopers, but nowhere close to 10 per cent of the total – more like one per cent, I’d say. Attempts by a couple of thuggish types to incite marchers to break police ranks met with no interest at all.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago

The marches will stop when the weather gets bad – they always do. Protest marches are just not new.

Sarah Rowe
Sarah Rowe
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

I think you are wrong about the fair-weather nature of the protesters. I protested in November last year when the weather was cold and seasonally miserable. I watched police attack peaceful protesters for no reason at all. Shocking it was. I came away with my views about the system we are under changed forever.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago
Reply to  Sarah Rowe

I am not inconsiderate, not just being clever, not claiming better knowledge and you may be right. As Mr Artzen says below – we are sheep. In France they know how to protest, they shut up towns and block streets, farmers drive their tractors into factories… In this country protesting is a fair weather sport.

David B
David B
1 year ago

The BBC report on the march that was linked to in the article felt wilfully biased in the descriptions of the participants and the message. Surprisingly blatant.

Judy Englander
Judy Englander
1 year ago
Reply to  David B

At least this march was widely reported. I couldn’t help comparing it with an equally large march two or three years ago organised by a group called the Football Lads. I think it was about child s*xual exploitation gangs (a big UK story at the time) or terrorism (I’m having a senior moment here) and the speakers were a diverse group of ethnicities and religious backgrounds. But there was almost blanket media silence, probably because it was viewed as white working class, aka ‘fascist’.

Last edited 1 year ago by Judy Englander
Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago
Reply to  Judy Englander

Talking about senior moments…… Oh, I’ve forgotten what I was going to say. These senior moments have been with me since I became a senior.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago

Wow! The protester class might shift against the climate change agenda. Can I sign up as a protester?

Nick Faulks
Nick Faulks
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Why aren’t you signed up already? It’s the same issue.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago
Reply to  Nick Faulks

Brilliant. You were there!!

Last edited 1 year ago by Chris Wheatley
Caroline Watson
Caroline Watson
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Don’t get excited. They’ll say that the draconian plans don’t go far enough, just as Labour has about lockdowns

Ed Cameron
Ed Cameron
1 year ago

I lived in your country a long time and I’m jealous.
It seems an inchoate list of grievances and it’s all a bit confusing.  But what I’m clear about is that Australians have lost the spirit of protest.  
We too meekly and unquestioningly surrender to government fiat.  
Too dependent on government to keep us safe and solvent? Well, too lazy not to outsource decision making to others.
This is what I love about Britain (and not the only thing) – the wafer thin separation between order and riot. A hot day, a few pints and chaos around the corner. 
If I were there, I would have ripped off my shirt and leapt in.
And I’d love to go out right now and Sydney sleepers wake. But it’s cold, I’m old and I’ve a glass of wine at hand.  
Any small irony intended.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  Ed Cameron

The British are sheep – 16 months after being locked down, still lockdowned, and these people are politely saying it needs tapering-off. The British have become a nation of Pu* si es, and I am from London, so know them. Who knows, I may never get back as I refuse the vaccine, and the new world order is closing in on freedom.

P.S. now they say the nRNA vaccines may last your lifetime -(Daily Mail today). So just what genetic changes has it made to you? But I say get it anyway, and then the passport, you sheep all need your bright ear-tags so you can be managed for the market.

Jane Watson
Jane Watson
1 year ago

Nietzsche wrote about how the world (the German world) comprised 0.1% of thinkers and 99.8% of followers.

I didn’t know he said that, what grandiose tosh (coming from the self-diagnosed 0.1% presumably). Plenty of us have bridled against never ending Lockdowns and only play the game to avoid getting fined. I personally don’t know anyone, other than at-risk individuals, who didn’t bend the rules. Most of us prioritised not infecting our elderly.

We all misunderstand people who think differently to us, and assuming people are sheep because they comply is probably a mistake. Complying, or making a show of doing so, was too convenient for some and a majority of those hankering for more lockdown have not suffered its consequences and don’t expect to. I know non-WFH people who downloaded the app in the hope they would get pinged and have to ‘isolate’ (on full pay).

In every war there’s a resistance (and brave people who go to war for a just cause – not because they are ‘persuaded’). Maybe have more faith in the herd; they may not be the ‘thinkers’ on Twitter, but a lot of them talk and act with more sense than the 0.1%.

Roger Inkpen
Roger Inkpen
1 year ago

they’re not going to stop shouting about it.” Really?
Once the restrictions have been lifted, what will there be to protest about? At least for the anti-lockdowners.

Nick Faulks
Nick Faulks
1 year ago
Reply to  Roger Inkpen

Will they ever be lifted entirely, and all associated legislation repealed?

Sarah Rowe
Sarah Rowe
1 year ago
Reply to  Roger Inkpen

What a naive comment! The changes that have happened in our society since the start of this Covid narrative are far-reaching and profound and will not go away with the lifting of the restrictions you refer to. The deeply disturbing authoritarian approach to societal control by the government, gone about almost without oppositon from elected representatives in parliament (where TF have you MPs been?!) and without any adherence to due process has made an absolute mockery of our parliamentary system, and it has been roundly mandated by the general public in their willingness to cravenly obey without exercising independent judgment. Reasons to protest about the loss of rights, freedoms and civil liberties will not go away because this new knowledge about what people are prepared to accept will without a doubt be used again and again in the future by those in power: to coerce, to control, to manipulate and to oppress in any number of given situations in the future. Oh, and of course to make money for powerful individuals and companies, don’t let’s forget that main driver here.

During the height of the actual epidemic – ie, May last year – the government quietly changed the law about organ donation. Prior to this law change, one had to sign up to be an organ donor, but now the default setting when death visits is that your body can be used for parts without your consent: the government now owns your dead body by default. This is an apparently small change, and you can opti out on a website somewhere, but it has massive implications in terms of the role the government plays in our lives and the vulnerability of fundamental rights we have taken for granted and that may be at risk of being lost. It is all part of a creeping authoritarianism, in the guise of concern for our safety, that we should all be very very afraid of. We do trade in some freedoms for the good of society as a whole, but the reasons why we trade them must be clear and obvious, or the trade should not be made.

A very vulnerable underbelly to human nature has been exposed this past year – the one that shows we get sh** scared very easily and are abjectly afraid of the fact of our mortality – and it is being exploited mercilessly by those in all sorts of positions power all around the world – by governments, by media, by Big Business – which is why the need to keep protesting will not go away.

Roger Inkpen, wake up man!

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago
Reply to  Sarah Rowe

You really gave it to him didn’t you. I don’t quite agree with you.
First of all you are forgetting that Covid-19 is/was not a normal happening. Governments all over the world didn’t know what to do when it came along. In some countries, the intelligentsia (that’s us) are blaming the government for too hard a lockdown; in others (Brazil) people are blaming the government because they were too slow to bring in lockdown; in others they were too slow to vaccinate. Nobody knew what to do. In theory, now that the vulnerable have been double-fixed, we could go on as normal. Who would make that decision easily?
Secondly, back in 1888, Nietzsche wrote about how the world (the German world) comprised 0.1% of thinkers and 99.8% of followers. The other 0.1% were craftsmen and artists. He called the followers, The Herd, hence the name UnHerd. He said that the followers, the 99.8% had to be told what to do and that, as religion was declining, the governments of the world would have to take control.
Thirdly, the governments of the world have caused the major wars while the common people have been persuaded to fight and give up their lives for the cause. In 1914, the Lords and Ladies were still playing croquet when the young men were getting killed in the trenches.
Government control of the Herd is not a new thing.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Chris, love your posts, but 100% disagree. First the upper-class had the greatest fatalities in WWI as the officers led from the front.
I think the governments knew what they were doing in the covid response, and they were doing it for Bad reasons.

Just take USA, Republican states barely locked down, Democrat ones locked down totally! That is a bit of a give-away.

But the intersting part is the outcomes were not worse for not locking up the citizens!

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

The upper class might have had a highest fatality as a percentage but I’m not sure that is relevant.
You live in the USA and you have more experience there than me. It was interesting to watch the countries in Europe go down, one after the other and to see the blame from the populations. When it started at the beginning of 2020 I was working in Italy (the first country hit in Europe) and the government stepped in to lockdown. Immediately, everybody complained about the lockdown, I got out and then Italy seemed to recover. They removed the lockdown as our first sentence started and then there was a rise again in Italy. Everybody in Italy then blamed the government for releasing the lockdown too easily.
Whatever their faults, it is too easy to blame governments for everything.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Well, it is a virulent virus. The thing is overall numbers I suppose, lockdown in theory drags them out over time, but from what I read lockdowns do not seem to effect the end result.

The way I See LOCKDOWN is it is paid for by the young to extend the life of the old and infirm, and not extend it by a great deal, likely by less than how economic harm lowers all lifespans by the stress, BUT AT A HUGE COST!!!
The Titanic is a great example. If Fauchi was Captain he would call “ALL OLD AND INFIRM REPORT TO THE LIFEBOATS, THE REST ARE EXCLUDED.”

In that the young lost a year of education, or loss of first year working, it is taking one step off the ladder of life, and the first step too.

Then it likely will severely KILL pensions as the debt will require Zero Interest – so how can a pension Grow?

Then the inflation of stocks (that printed trillions has gone there) means the P/E ratio is very bad (price to earnings, so the stocks pay very reduced dividends – and that kills pensions!)

Inflation is a TAX!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It is how governments pay for redistribution (money printing) It is totally Regressive! If it is 5% that means every person, poor and well off, is now paying a 5% tax on their money – the very rich have appreciating assets, so avoid this, BUT WE DO NOT.

The young will pay this 50 Trillion$ to give granny another year, and will pay it in reduced quality of life from now on.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

I think you are forgetting a new tax, probably because you see yourself as American.
What about the billions of dollars being used to extend the life of old people. Drugs, surgery and hospital stays are keeping people alive for longer. You probably don’t agree that this money should be spent but it is. Where is the logic in keeping old people alive on the one hand and then saying that they should be sacrificed for the young on the other hand.
As you say, I agree with most of your posts but here you can’t be right – there is no logic in your statement.

Sarah Rowe
Sarah Rowe
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

I agree with you there Chris, government control is not a new thing at all, but it feels new to younger people now.
You are also right that in April/May/June last year any government could have been forgiven for not knowing what to do about this new virus on the block, but raw data showed that by July the epidemic in this country was well and truly over, likely to return as The Winter Flu Seaon, as was shown to be the case by commentators such as Ivor Cummings who followed it month by month by month, predicting correctly the virus’ movement through the population.
Since May last year – ie, since the end of the epidemic – everything else we have been subject to, from masks to social distancing to the undermining of basic freedoms such as the right to work, see family etc etc, has been Politics with a capital P, self interest and an attempt to wrest power away from the voting public who had been proving themselves to be a pain in the ar*e in the past few years.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago
Reply to  Sarah Rowe

Every issue has a viewpoint. That of young people is important but it is not necessarily the main thing.
Government control of the population in the 1970s sent many young people to their deaths in Vietnam. The young people rebelled and won the argument. Good.

But this is not the same as fighting the government to be able to party again. Relaxing the lockdown has produced silly, childish behaviour which says nothing about young peoples’ views of life. Remember, in Vietnam thousands of young people were dying but in the UK thousands were being stopped from hugging and partying.

You also have to factor into the argument the point that there were about 15 million old people hanging around. They should be sacrificed so that young people could enjoy themselves? No. So a government has to look after all of its citizens, not just the ones who make the most noise.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  Roger Inkpen

“Once the restrictions have been lifted, what will there be to protest about?”

The ensuing great depression? The destruction of the economy so you will have to live off some basic UBI and be under the thumb for ever? The pensions wrecked? The fact freedoms never returned?