Friday, 9 December 2011

Francis Maude comes to Liverpool

Today, Cabinet Office Minister and Paymaster General Francis Maude visited Liverpool. He went first to the Capital Building, then to the BT Convention Centre where he was to address the Liverpool Conservative Business Forum. Both sites were attended by demonstrations.

Maude's recent infamy comes from his leading role in the government attacks on public service pensions. As well as sneering insults like the offer of a 15 minute strike and threats to make trade union laws even tighter, he is also a prime exemplar of ruling class arrogance - claiming expenses on a flat a few hundred yards from his own home and shoring away a gold-plated pension whilst demanding austerity for the working class.

I arrived at the site of the first demonstration early, meeting up with a comrade from Liverpool Against The Cuts who had brought down a number of people from the Occupy Liverpool camp. Soon after, a number of trade unionists from PCS arrived and began assembling pickets at all of the entrances to the building that Maude could possibly use. We headed over to join them.

The demonstration was muted, perhaps due to the cold and the surreptitious battering of rain, wind and hailstones that we received. People talked amongst themselves, occasionally glancing up at other entrances when cars passed. It soon became apparent, however, that we had missed the Minister's entrance. The demonstration continued for another half an hour before the PCS contingent drifted off, and the rest of us decided that it was worth making our way over to the BT Convention Centre ahead of Maude's speech there.

Arriving about an hour before Maude was due to come in, those of us who were there first chose to loiter until more people arrived. However, the act of walking up to the Convention Centre doors and setting down a bag of placards caught the attention of the security, who soon came out to ask that we stand behind the board advertising the day's event.

There was no reason for this, as evidenced by the fact that absolutely nothing happened when we declined to comply with the request. This was little more than a desire to arbitrarily assert authority, and our refusal made us dangerous enough for an increased presence on the doors.

Despite the wind and intermittent rain and hail, the protest was a lively one. Another contingent from PCS showed up to this demo, and Occupy Liverpool unfurled a banner in front of the entrance. People made jokes and generally kept up their sense of humour despite the awful weather - though it was a combination of this weather and the short notice of the demonstration that kept numbers fairly low.

Francis Maude was spotted driving in via an underground car park entrance some distance from the Convention Centre, so the protesters never got to confront him. Who we did get to face, though, was Labour council leader Joe Anderson on his way to the forum. Heckled as he arrived, he got in the face of an SWP member with a microphone and called him a "disgrace," only to be drowned out and chased off by chants of "scum!"

Not long after that, the protest broke up and people returned to whatever else they were doing - whether the Occupy camp, their jobs or, in my case, Christmas Shopping. We proved that there will always be people willing to come out and oppose those orchestrating the attacks on our living conditions, no matter what the weather. However, as with both this and October's demonstration against Andrew Lansley, the small numbers can be demoralising. Especially since they also rule out much hope of getting anywhere with disruptive direct action.

Still, that remains the point - this is about class conflict, not personalities. No matter how satisfying it may be to shout in a politician's face, it remains far more effective to take action which disrupts the economy. With November 30 now in the past, we don't need to be looking at building a bigger protest, but a longer, bigger and more militant strike.