So at the age of 33 I went on my first ever demonstration on Saturday. I had just never been inclined before. Like David Skelton I was a little sceptical: demonstrations don’t change the world and they can be self-indulgent. There was also a risk of a PR disaster with a tiny gathering portrayed as over-privileged cranks.
But my curiosity got the better of me. There has never been a pro free market demonstration before. I also felt that this isn’t just a passing fad: the debt and deficit are the most pressing issues facing our country.
I arrived and the crowd was indeed a little small, but there was a good vibe, and some people I knew. I probably wasn’t the only one there who hadn’t been on a demo before. There was a vague uncertainty about what to do. We didn’t march anywhere, and attempts to start chanting got nowhere.
Still the crowd was eclectic and lively. Harry Cole put a Chihuahua in his jacket. A girl’s placard asked George for “more, faster, deeper,” someone else had a “Hayek is my homeboy” t-shirt. It was also good natured, two left-wing counter-protestors trying to get a “Libraries Suck” counter-placard in the photo were seen off with good humour all round.
I should stress that this was not particularly a Tory event. There were representatives from UKIP, the Libertarian party and even the Money Reform Party. Priti Patel and Bill Cash were the Conservative MP speakers – both clearly on the right of the party. Nor was it a boys-in-blazers event. There was a good age range and a sprinkling of people with tattoos, alternative dress habits and anarcho-capitalist symbols. These were the ones with Ayn Rand banners and t-shirts.
Speeches were mercifully short. Nigel Farage’s charisma and populism is something that the Tory party should keep a wary eye on. Martin Durkin the documentary maker was also a lively star turn. After speeches the event started to break-up – after only an hour and a half. The public houses of Westminster beckoned.
Was it a success? Well, only a few hundred people came – but then the right don’t have 2,500 taxpayer funded permanent organisers like the trade unions. It didn’t bring the right together – it brought in only the libertarian Tories. Let’s be clear though, the streets aren’t the ballot box: I doubt a No to AV rally would have got more either. The event was enjoyable and not an embarrassment. It was a start.
The left’s mocking should be roundly dismissed: their rhetoric is all about noble dissent and lonely stands by the weak, but when it comes down to it they seem to revel in the comfortable conformity of the big battalions.
So should we on the right do more demos? Yes, for two reasons – to keep trying new things and to enable the Conservative party to keep in touch with a broader right-wing movement.
A simple example: I met a man who was sceptical of the ability of all political parties to protect his tax money – but he was willing to come to this single issue event. Being prepared to use new techniques and channels is a vital part of the future of Conservative politics.
The libertarian movement certainly isn’t the magic elixir to deliver the voters for a Conservative majority. But the simple fact is that we live in a pluralist age of politics, and this means being that a political party must be willing to be part of a wider movement – whilst avoiding being hijacked by it.