Leeds Students Take to London’s Streets to Campaign for a People’s Vote

On the 20th of October, Leeds students boarded coaches at 6am to head down to London. A sea of people greeted us as we exited the coaches at Hyde Park tube station, the point from which the March would soon depart. Amidst this sea, EU flags, banners, homemade signs and people littered London’s streets as far as the eye could see.

As the March began, London Mayor Sadiq Kahn joined the student contingent, being led by campaign groups FFS and OFOC, to lead the students off. The march progressed from Hyde Park, past Nelson’s column, to Parliament, where celebrities and politicians were giving various talks on the movement.

100,000 people turned up to the last People’s march in June. Similar numbers were expected this time, but the turnout vastly exceeded expectations; around 700,000 people joined the March. For this reason, the ‘March’ ended up as more of a shuffle, with the hoards of marchers struggling to fit in.

It was hard to tell the immensity of the turnout from the ground, but aerial photographs show just how many were there – the road to Parliament from Trafalgar square was entirely blocked by the sheer masses. Political speakers at the march included: Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, SNP Leader Nicola sturgeon, Conservative MPs Anna Soubry and Dr Sarah Wollaston, as well as Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable and Labour MP Chuka Umunna, and the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan. Many public figures with less of a political background also gave talks: Delia Smith, Deborah Meaden, NUS President Shakira Martin and NUS Vice-President Amatey Doku were among those who spoke at the event.

But, crucially, did the March have any tangible impact, or was it just an excuse for remainers to have some self-gratification?

The Independent‘s ‘Final Say’ petition now has over 1 Million signatures, and with more MPs beginning to support the campaign, it is entirely possible that the march may affect domestic opinion and politics. Since September 2017, YouGov opinion polls have consistently shown that a majority of people believe it is wrong to leave the European Union, so perhaps there will be enough support for a People’s Vote.

But of course, no March is complete without protest signs, and the People’s March delivered on this front. Signs reading ‘Pulling Out Never Works’ were commonplace. Humans actress Gemma Chan carried a banner which read “Even Baldrick Had A Fucking Plan”, and the Remainiacs podcast made their mark with signs that were both plentiful and amusing.

However, the political arithmetic hasn’t changed; an Act of Parliament must initiate another referendum, and this seems unlikely. Instead, perhaps the People’s March shows something more important – momentum and belief. The remain side clearly has the wind in its sails. When contrasting this with the pro-Brexit ‘Leave Means Leave’ rally on the same day, attended by 1,200 people, it really does seem that the Remain side is more engaged and more motivated, and this could be crucial.

Matthew Plant

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