In the aftermath of what even Prime Minister David Cameron had to concede was “not a good week” in front of his Conservative peers at the Conservative Spring Forum yesterday, calls for his resignation have never been louder and more widespread.
Mr. Cameron has recently been criticised for his involvement in the Panama Papers scandal, which culminated in a rather late admission that he had benefitted from his late father’s offshore trust- to the tune of £31,500. Indeed, this was the driving factor behind the grassroots organisation of Saturday’s protests outside Downing Street- something achieved primarily via a series of Facebook events and something I’m extremely proud to have been a part of. The event was well-supported on social media and viral hashtags such as #CameronResign and #ToriesOut continued to circulate extensively on Facebook and Twitter.
As reported by The Mirror, swathes of protesters also marched on the Conservative Spring Forum, where the Prime Minister gave a speech yesterday, with others choosing to protest closer to Big Ben. Regardless, the bulk of the estimated 2,000 protesters remained at Whitehall, where a sit-in protest was staged and those of us gathered heard from inspiring speakers from organisations such as Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC). Comedian and actor Jolyon Rubinstein also spoke to the crowds, albeit in a far more serious tone than what we’re used to in his capacity as Dale Maily on BBC Three’s The Revolution Will Be Televised.
The desire is not only for Cameron to resign, but for there to be a general election in 2016
From speaking to others present on the day, and from listening to spokespeople from several groups, it is clear that the desire is not only for Cameron to resign, but for there to be a general election in 2016 to remove the Conservative Party from power. Partially as a result of the protests, a petition on the government’s website calling for a general election to be held in 2016 reached the required 100,000 signatures for it to be considered for a parliamentary debate. In fact, crowds were led to believe that certain factions within the Metropolitan Police were likewise in agreement due to positive reactions from certain elements of the police presence upon the mention of the 20:20:20 Challenge– a controversial plan by Conservative Mayor of London Boris Johnson to reduce crime by 20% and increase public confidence in the police by 20%, all whilst cutting the force by 20%.
The signs and banners on show reflected multifaceted nature of the protest’s goals. Although most of the slogans were specifically directed at Mr. Cameron, many were also more generally aimed at the Tories, whilst others yet criticised the First Past the Post System which helped the Conservatives to a majority in 2015. Those levelled at Cameron generally mixed the themes of tax avoidance/offshore trusts and pig jokes but other common gripes with his leadership included the extensive cuts and changes to disability benefits under Cameron’s leadership which have been linked to thousands of deaths.
On the suggestion of the loose network of organisers, protesters split into smaller groups in order to discuss how to move forward with the desired change. Common talking points were the encouraging of everyone (particularly younger voters) to vote whenever they can and to make sure that everyone’s voice is heard. One young woman told crowds of how she was ashamed to have to admit that she didn’t vote in the last general election – the implication being that her not having done anything made her part of the reason that the Conservatives were able to form a government.
The number of young faces in the crowd was also a pleasant surprise
What was most remarkable perhaps, was the fact that for so many people, this was their first protest. As was remarked upon by the BBC Radio Four journalist who interviewed the small group I befriended on the day, the fact that for so many people this was their first time taking to the streets is very indicative of a change in public opinion and the anger that Cameron and the Tories have generated during their time in office. The number of young faces in the crowd was also a pleasant surprise given that the youth are traditionally viewed as being very politically apathetic and are known for not voting. The most prominent take home from all of this is most certainly that young people as a voting group hold the key to shifting the balance of power through their increased engagement in the political process.
In the wake of such a positive day of campaigning it is clear that the coming weeks will be trying for David Cameron and his fellow Conservative MPs. This is especially so given the calls from many for more transparency with regards to tax returns from MPs and others involved in public life, a measure that the Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn has suggested he is in support of. A “Panama Carnival” themed protest in the same vein occurred today and there are plans for protests to repeat every Saturday at Whitehall until the Prime Minister hands in his resignation.