A MOOD of quiet determination to hold the line against anticipated UK government winter restrictions dominated the monthly march for medical freedom in central London on Saturday. Several thousand took to the streets of the capital, at a time when England basks in relative freedom compared with many countries, including its neighbours Wales and Scotland. Realistic and resilient, the protesters suspect new restrictions are coming down the line, but they are not going to let the government think they will get away with it without a fight.
The march was pitched by the organisers, Unite For Freedom, as a chance to celebrate our success at preventing the sort of madness we see in Canada and Australia, and to show solidarity with the imprisoned citizens of those states as the march passed by their embassies. That, of course, is not to underestimate the scale of the continued threats to our freedoms here in the UK, the reason many joined Saturday’s protest.
Everyone I spoke to said they were nervous about where the authorities were going to jump next. They’d spotted the direction of the narrative, talking up problems in hospitals, pushing boosters and mandatory vaccinations, while pursuing vaccine passport plans. Yet for me there was an unexpected buoyancy among the crowd, born of their individual conversations with colleagues and friends, suggesting resistance was still possible, vital, and having some effect.
Musician DJ Lange put to me that the fact that the government has made only limited progress with introducing vaccine passports despite talking about them since July, is a positive sign, particularly when for so many other countries they are already a formality.
Jenny, an ex-practice nurse, told me that people she knew were questioning things much more now. ‘We need to keep talking to people, one-on-one, that’s how we can change minds,’ she said. I asked her whether she was optimistic, having already attended at least 15 protests. ‘It depends on the day,’ she said, ‘but mainly yes. More and more people do seem to be waking up.’
A more recent recruit to the protests, former Royal Navy mariner Laurence, had been to his first demo in July in trepidation, having been warned off them by newspaper reports of violence at the end. He said he would not have come back if it had been anything less than peaceful. For him, being among others who felt the same way as him had given him a boost, and hope that things could change. If he’d come on his own today, it was only because it was taking a little time to persuade others to join him, but he seemed confident that they soon would.
Recently formed through a private exchange of messages, a group of paramedics from around the country were finally ‘coming out’ to express their horror at what is happening in the health service. Feeling that they were being press-ganged into getting vaccinated, with mandatory injections a real possibility, they were disgusted by how the profession had gone from being hailed as heroes taking risks with their own health to help others, to pariahs putting people at risk. ‘We worked without protection for most of last year, doing our best for patients, and now they want to force us to have a vaccination we don’t need,’ Kathy from Liverpool told me in anger.
No one I chatted to seemed pessimistic though. Perhaps it was partly the effect of the weather. The Met Office had threatened heavy rain, yet the sun shone so brightly it was hard to believe we were that close to winter. A good omen, perhaps? Or a last look at blue skies before the leaden clouds of November lockdowns gather?
The numbers were down on previous protests. People are clearly enjoying many of their freedoms again and couldn’t all be tempted out to send a warning to Johnson not to try any more funny stuff. But, as many demonstrators told me, a lot of people are quietly ignoring government guidance, and defying petty public transport rules, small daily protests of their own. Would it take much heavy-handed force from the powers-that-be to bring them back out on the streets? Who knows? But the good news is they would meet a cheery bunch of fearless rebels, ready to resist.