Saturday News Review

All roads lead to London

More than a quarter of a million protesters against public sector cuts are expected to flood central London today in the biggest political demonstration for nearly a decade. Police sources, normally cautious about estimating numbers, said last night they were braced for up to 300,000 people to join the march – far higher than previous forecasts from TUC organisers. More than 800 coaches and at least 10 trains have been chartered to bring people to the capital from as far afield as Cornwall and Inverness. The Metropolitan police, under fire for their use of kettling in previous protests, said “a small but significant minority” plan to hijack the march to stage violent attacks. Organisers, however, insist it will be a peaceful family event. Union members are expected be joined by a broad coalition, from pensioners to doctors, families and first-time protesters to football supporters and anarchists. Ed Miliband said the government was dragging the country back to the “rotten” 1980s. Labour is calling today’s event the “march of the mainstream”. The opposition leader will address the rally – his biggest audience ever – in Hyde Park to set out Labour’s alternative to the cuts, accusing the government of fomenting the “politics of division” not seen since Margaret Thatcher’s 1980s. His remarks are reinforced by a Guardian/ICM poll that shows the public divided over the cuts. Of 1,014 people questioned this week, 35% believe the cuts go too far, 28% say they strike the right balance and 29% say they don’t go far enough; 8% don’t know. Two other polls put the balance more strongly against cuts. A YouGov survey for Unison found that 56% believe the cuts are too harsh and a ComRes poll for ITV showed that two-thirds think the government should reconsider its planned spending cuts programme. Just one in five disagree with that view. The TUC organisers of the event said they had organised a family-friendly demonstration with brass, jazz and Bollywood bands. But with unofficial feeder marches, sit-down protests and a takeover of Trafalgar Square planned, there was increasing nervousness that acts of peaceful civil disobedience could lead to stand-offs with police and outbursts of violence. – the Guardian

Thousands of British police officers were preparing for tens of thousands of people to descend on London Saturday for a huge protest march against the government’s harsh austerity measures. Trade unions organising the rally said more than 100,000 demonstrators would turn out to oppose cuts introduced by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition to tackle Britain’s record deficit. Scotland Yard said around 4,500 officers would be deployed, after several huge student protests against plans to triple university tuition fees turned violent late last year. After coming to power in May, the coalition announced cuts worth £81 billion ($131 billion, 92 billion euros) over five years in order to slash a record public deficit it blames on the previous Labour government. Brendan Barber, the head of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), Britain’s trade union movement, said Saturday’s “March for the Alternative” would be the biggest protest it has organised for decades. “We’re certainly going to see well in excess of 100,000 people, possibly many, many more,” Barber said. “It is to make the case that there is an alternative to this relentless focus on the deficit and austerity that we see from the coalition government,” he told BBC radio. British newspaper reports said between 250,000 and 300,000 were expected, which would make it the largest protest in the capital since around one million people marched against the Iraq war in February 2003. – Sydney Morning Herald

Protesters from Aberystwyth to Aberdeen and from Penzance to Perth will travel to central London today for the biggest demonstration in Britain since the anti-Iraq war marches eight years ago. Up to 250,000 people will take to the capital’s streets to condemn the Coalition Government’s programme of cuts. The “March for the Alternative” has been organised by the TUC, but trade union activists will be joined by members of voluntary and community groups, churches and other religious organisations, as well as students protesting against tuition fee rises. Their numbers will be swelled by nurses, doctors, midwives and off-duty police officers angry about the cuts.  Eight hundred coaches and 10 special trains will bring the demonstrators to London, along with one man who has spent the week walking from Cardiff. More than 4,500 police officers and 1,000 stewards will marshal them on their three-mile route from the Embankment to Hyde Park, via Trafalgar Square. Scotland Yard and the TUC have planned the demonstration and representatives from Liberty will monitor policing both on the ground and from Metropolitan Police headquarters. But the greatest worry for organisers is that the event will be hijacked by groups of anarchists and anti-capitalists intent on causing trouble. Police, who have been monitoring such groups on the internet, have advised shops and businesses along the route to ensure their doors are secure and their CCTV cameras are working. The group UK Uncut is targeting banks and shops in Oxford Street and plans a “mass occupation of a top-secret target”. Other activists are said to be planning to stop traffic with “flash mobs”. – the Indepenent

So what do you think?

“We are all entitled.” That was the message delivered, with quivering passion, by a woman attending a “People’s Policy Forum” hosted by the Labour Party in Nottingham today. In all, some 2,000 members of the public had responded to emailed invitations sent to more than 100,000 voters by party bosses. The day-long forum was centred on a question and answer session with the leader, Ed Miliband. His mission was threefold: to show that Labour is listening mode after electoral defeat. To advance a case that the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition is playing “the politics of division” in a return to the 1980s. Finally, Mr Miliband had to prepare the ground for his appearance a day later on March 26th at a huge trade union rally against public spending cuts in central London: an event that carries risks for the Labour leader, either by painting him as a creature of the public sector trade unions, or—should violent protests spin off from the main march—by associating him with militancy that is not to the tastes of middle England. For hour after hour, in policy session after policy session, Mr Miliband and his shadow ministerial team were bombarded with angry, self-righteous demands for Labour to wave a magic wand and make the cuts go away. Denial does not begin to cover the mood in Nottingham. This was more like a gathering of exiled loyalists after a revolution, demanding to be led back to the promised homeland by their battered, bloodied chiefs. – the Economist

Speaking at a ‘people’s policy forum’ event in Nottingham, the Labour leader said the coalition was repeating the mistakes of the past and “dividing” the country. “David Cameron said that ‘we are all in this together’. But it just doesn’t feel like that. Too often it feels like what he is doing is practising the politics of division, most of the country that never caused the financial crisis is paying the price of it, while bankers get tax cuts and more bonuses. People in jobs are being told to resent people on benefits. Private sector workers are being told to resent those in the public sector. Young people are being told that they won’t get the same life chances as their parents.” Mr Miliband said he thought it was the Labour party’s “job” to unite the country in the face of the coalition’s spending cuts. “I’m afraid I don’t believe these policies can unify the country. So it falls to all of us to seek to find ways to rebuild and unify Britain. Our job, as the Labour party, is to unify the country.” –

Price cut, what price cut?

The Chancellor’s flagship cut in fuel duty was in disarray last night after it emerged many motorists are still paying higher prices at the pumps. Independent petrol retailers responded by laying the blame firmly at the Treasury’s door. Prime Minister David Cameron urged garages to pass on the 1p reduction to drivers but RMI Petrol, which represents 6000 forecourts in the UK, said retailers paid the higher level of duty when they bought their current stocks and they would lose out if they charged motorists less. The organisation said it had previously asked George Osborne to delay implementing the reduction until April 1 to give retailers enough time to get rid of the petrol already in tanks underneath their forecourts and buy fuel at the lower price, which it could then pass on to drivers. Rural garages are at a particular disadvantage, according to the RMI, because they buy bigger volumes of fuel and it will take them longer before they stock up with a fresh supply at the cheaper price. The AA said average petrol prices had dipped only 0.6p per litre since Wednesday’s Budget. –  Daily Herald

Greedy garages face a crackdown by competition watchdogs after nearly half the nation’s filling stations failed to pass on the 1p Budget tax cut, David Cameron warned last night. The AA urged Britain’s 33 million motorists to boycott profiteering petrol outlets that refuse to play fair and pass on the cuts. The Prime Minister’s threat of an Office of Fair Trading probe came as damning figures revealed two in every five filling stations did not pass on the Chancellor’s 1p-per-litre cut. The Mail told yesterday how some cynical petrol retailers raised their prices by a penny in the moments after the Budget so they could ‘cut’ them again when the duty reduction came into force on Wednesday evening.  Many more simply didn’t bother to reduce prices at all – claiming they couldn’t afford to do so. Speaking in Brussels, Mr Cameron said: ‘If the market doesn’t respond, obviously there are ways for the Office of Fair Trading and others to make sure this market operates properly. We will be watching like a hawk to make sure the action we take actually helps consumers and helps motorists at the pump.’ – Daily Mail

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