Grauniad – 5th October 2015
“This has been the most ridiculous protest I’ve ever witnessed” said Chief Superintendent Bacon, describing the mayhem of yesterday’s Peoples Assembly Protest at Conservative Party Conference.
The day began peacefully enough as thousands of marchers heard organisers explain how it was going to be a peaceful march to “Take back Manchester“. As they assembled next to a giant “A” in All Saints Park, the protest had a carnival atmosphere with dancers, jugglers, hipsters and even bloggers joining the protest. However, as the marchers began to arrive at a giant “B” outside the Conference Centre is was clear that the mood could turn ugly.
As city clocks chimed three, the march stopped as one, and sat down in the road. Inside the security barrier, delegates began to look anxious. Some scurried into the centre clutching their champagne glasses, though some appeared to taunt the marchers by burning fifty pound notes. Once the crowd had settled on the floor, whistles started to blow and the protesters all started searching their bags then hiding their faces. After a minute, more whistles sounded and as the demonstration took to its feet once more, all that could be seen surrounding the Conference Centre was a sea of pink pig masks. Most were simple smiling pig masks made from paper. There were many more home made versions, some almost lifelike. Some with open mouths, others with “No Entry” or “Cameron Free Zone” stuck across their mouths.
“Hey! Pigs! Leave Our Pigs Alone!”
“Protesters are instructed to remove all facial covering” echoed the police tannoy outside the Conference Centre. “Failing to do so may result in force being used under section 60AA of the 1994 Criminal Justice & Public Order Act “. The crowd seemed to ignore this instruction, and in fact began to move rather ominously towards the security barrier.
This time it was a police whistle that blew. Officers immediately started moving among the crowd and attempted to pull the pig masks of every demonstrator. The protesters responded with oinks, chants of “Hey! Pigs! Leave our Pigs Alone”, and general laughter. It soon became apparent that despite the seizure of thousands of pig masks, every demonstrator was still covered.It seems that they had all brought more than one each. The police then began to arrest people, searching them for more masks and charging them with intent to personify a pig and intent to cause offense by laughing. Despite the use of force used by officers, the protest remained good natured. The protesters seemed to be in hysterics as they shook the fence grunting at the conference delegates. As the laughter spread throughout the crowds, behind the barriers delegates pleaded with the police to do something.
“They’re calling us pig fuckers” one was heard to complain. “I’m disgusted. They need to be taught some family values”. Before I was able to interview her, events overtook us again. A group of what appeared to be police officers in protective armour and helmets appeared to be climbing the security barrier. As they strolled towards the entrance, they were applauded by delegates until they lifted their visors to reveal their carefully crafted pig masks. Delegates screamed, but before they could even run, the pigs in police uniform were surrounded by anti-terrorist officers in full body armour, guns trained on the score or so armoured “pigs”.
From the crowd, more chants of “Hey pigs, leave our pigs alone” drowned out any conversation. Then at an interval in the chanting, a lone voice called out “Fuck The Pigs!” At that moment, the Prime Minister and a few other delegates appeared at a conference centre window seemingly very excited.
As the pigs in riot gear (who turned out to be performance artists, not anarchists) remained on the ground, guns still trained on them, they looked from pig to delegate, and from delegate to pig again; but already it was impossible to say which was which. Outside the cordon the scenes on the demonstration began to turn nasty. The police’s stash of seized pig masks had been discovered by protesters, who now had more masks than ever. Sadly, but understandably, some officers were seen taking their frustration out on protesters. Dozens were arrested, though whether charges of “laughing deliberately to cause offense” would stand up in court remains to be seen.
Perhaps more worrying for the police will be the images in the press the next day. Among the paper pig masks were dozens of hand crafted and shop bought masks of a range of fictional pigs popularised in children’s literature.The image sharing that began on the social networks quickly made the mainstream news – except for the BBC. Riot police batoning Piglet. Peppa Pig being battered by an officers riot shield. Pink & Perky bloodied and handcuffed to a lamp post. The Three Little Pigs plus houses getting trampled by mounted police. Wilbur of Charlotte’s Web fame was covered in blood, as was Babe. Now, parents will be expected to explain to their children the scenes on television and the pictures on the front pages. This will be yet another nail in the coffin of Hameron’s premiership.
What future now for David Cameron?
Two weeks on and #pigate continues to provide endless material to send up the Prime Minister. Deliveries of live pigs to Downing Street have become a daily occurrence and are becoming a major tourist attraction. Speculation has increased about Cameron’s mental health. A leaked memo from President Obama reported Cameron as flying off the handle at a G8 summit after Angela Merkel snorted – accidentally she claimed later. At a Cabinet meeting, the Chancellor had to apologise for putting the problems of Portugal Ireland Greece Spain as an agenda item. Sources close to the Prime Minister have revealed that this happened the same day he’d snapped at his wife for offering bacon and eggs.In Parliament, he was even barred along with Dennis Skinner. Skinner’s relentless heckle, “Porkies!” each time Cameron claimed “the NHS was safe” with him eventually led to Cameron standing up and shouting “Just fuck off OK?”. Even the speaker accidentally referred to Mr Hameron, and this exchange soon become Hansards most popular record. As the Prime Minister walked the corridors of Westminster Palace, he never knew whether the looks and sniggers from everybody from cleaners and bar staff to fellow Conservative MPs were related to #piggate.
At every public engagement, there is always someone to give a quiet “oink”, followed by suppressed and not so suppressed laughter, together with a scowl from Mr Cameron. At every protest for there were pig masked protesters, floating pig balloons, Peppa Pig placards and sound systems blasting out every piggy song written or just farmyard sounds. We are unable to say whether this public rule is affecting his judgement and conduct in vital meetings. Following today’s protest, and the pictures that have been seem globally, Mr Cameron’s position is more on a knife edge than at any time. It is looking like #piggate will lead to the most ridiculous resignation in British political history, A general election called in these circumstances could even lead to a Corbyn government, the outcome of which has already been featured here.
As a final reminder of the absurdity of the day’s events, a giant blow up pig, reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s Animals LP, was floating above the Manchester Conference Centre. It looks as if it will remain there all week as Conservative delegates prefer not to risk the wrath of the Prime Minister by simply telling him about a plastic floating pig.