The anti-austerity march held last Saturday was quite obviously one of the larger demonstrations held in a while but how many people attended and does it actually matter?
There is never any agreement on the number of people who attend a demonstration or protest. Most are fairly small. Some however are clearly quite big but the estimates of the number of participants differ wildly. Socialist Worker and the rest of the "left" press always exaggerate. The largest demo I have ever attended was the pensions one called a few years back. Probably similar in size to the anti-austerity march with one difference.
It was marred by the banal actions of a few score of anarchists who I saw mask up and tool up as we entered Trafalgar Square and then deliberately kicked off in Piccadilly causing pointless damage and mayhem which diverted attention from the purpose of the march (to defend our pensions) and put off some of the members we had bought along to a march for the first time.
The event was hijacked and the media focused on the violence. The hard work of the trade unions disrupted by a few ideologically motivated "children" (a few well into their fifties) who were not even trade unionists themselves and couldn't even be described as "workers" in any shape or form.
The pensions march failed. We lost.
So did the anti-austerity march. The newly elected Tory Government simply announced another £12 Billion of welfare cuts. They were not going to be pressurised by a demonstration no matter how large (or small) just after they had won a general election on a platform that included the prospect of cuts.
But demonstrations don't often win their demands. The anti-war march over a decade ago was the largest in British history with "over a million participants" failed to achieve their aim. The war they protested about wrongly or rightly (I didn't support the StWC then any more than I do now) went ahead.
The purpose of demos, rallies and other public forms of protest perform other functions than just putting forward "demands". They also bring together people who have a fairly common purpose to form "movements" that allow people to realise they are not alone.
Demonstrations are an important part of the democratic process. Without them our rights would be curtailed.
I have no idea how many people turned up on Saturday. They met, they made a point (ignored by government) and returned home knowing they were not alone.
Was it worth it?
Yes has to be the answer.
So whether there were 70,000 or 250,000 protesters it was right to make a point. The size of a demonstration doesn't matter, it's whether we have the right to make a peaceful protest that counts.
Democracy is constantly under threat. Free speech, the right to strike, the right of assembly and not just from the government.
The mob rule of "twitter". The easily offended brigade who believe that any disagreement with their views is automatically "oppressing" them.
The right to disagree is always worth defending.