Maggie, Maggie, Maggie! Die, die, die!
This was one of the most enthusiastic chants I heard outside the Tory party conference on Sunday; two decades later, protesters in Manchester haven’t forgotten what happened under the governments of the 80s and 90s. But then Manchester has a very long history of resisting Tory policies, and to some people, the presence of so many visiting Conservative Party members in their city feels like a calculated insult. Manchester was the site of the Peterloo Massacre, home of the Chartists and has strong associations with the campaign for women’s suffrage. Today, there isn’t a single Conservative on the local council. The city is firmly rooted in the Left, and when add in the savage cuts that the coalition government have recently imposed on Manchester, it’s easy to see why the distinctive blue lanyards given out to conference attendees have been attracting so much verbal abuse.
On Sunday, the Tory conference was literally under siege. When we arrived, streets near the city centre had already been blocked off by solid metal police barricades – draped with “I (heart) MCR” banners in an attempt to make them look less threatening – while the main conference venue and hotel had been encircled by several layers of fences and police lines to keep the public out. When the shout went up that there were police snipers posted on a roof behind us, there were a few moments of nervous silence, followed by muttered indignation, before about a hundred people turned round to extend Vs and middle fingers to the men with guns and binoculars.
Although the MPs and party officials were hidden away from the trade unionists, students, and local families who had turned up to heckle them, the fact that their conference needed such heavy security is a bad sign for the Conservatives. This is a party which was elected to government by the support of only 36% of voters, and those fences showed just how precarious a hold they have on power. A government which has the consent of the people shouldn’t need riot police to keep 35,000 angry citizens away from their door. As the crowd chanted on Sunday: that’s not what democracy looks like.
The Conservative Party have always inspired strong feelings amongst the Left. In the words of Aneurin Bevan, founder of the NHS: “No attempt at ethical or social seduction can eradicate from my heart a deep burning hatred for the Tory Party. So far as I am concerned they are lower than vermin.” As I write this, somewhere in Manchester there is a Tory sipping a drink that has been spat in. Millions of people already hate the Tories’ selfish, individualistic ideology, and they don’t care who knows it. It’s not a mass movement yet, but it’s start.