Put it to the People vote… MM venture south to ignite Brexit debate with droves of passionate Remainers

The camaraderie and humour were already evident at 6.30am, as people gathered at Manchester’s Central Bus Station.

This was the meeting point for the coaches going down to London for the Put It To The People Vote demonstration late last month. It was a gathering of old and young, an intergenerational collection of passionate Remainers, from grandparents all the way down to grandchildren.

Young children held placards, reminding us, lest we had forgotten, that the future belongs as much to them, as it does to us.

A striking feature of the march was the number of people for whom this was their first time. My travel companion on the coach, Julie Erwin, was a typical example.

Julie, 55, is a yoga teacher and therapist from Greater Manchester and was attending her first protest, because of her anger at the way she felt that the government had ignored and marginalised the concerns and interests of those who voted to remain in 2016.

Although she is agoraphobic and does not like being in large crowds, she was determined to be in London to make her voice heard.

Entertainment in the form of a sing-a-long was provided to help relieve the tedium of a five-hour coach journey. We warmed up our vocal chords with a few renditions of “Bollocks to Brexit”, before getting stuck into the main fare.

John, a music teacher, had composed a few songs for the occasion, the best of which was his Singin’ to Remain, sung to the tune of Singing in the Rain:

We’re singin’ to Remain, just singin’ to Remain

This Brexit is bonkers, that’s why we campaign

There’s nothing to gain, so end all the pain

We’re singin’ and marchin’ to Remain

Excitement and anticipation grew as we approached Marble Arch, and saw the huge crowds gathering.

It was clear immediately to those who had been on the October 2018 demo that this protest was going to be bigger. Back then around 700,000 people took part.

This time organisers estimated that roughly one million people attended.

We started at Marble Arch and made our way down the east side of Hyde Park to Green Park, before making our way around the top of St James’ Park and heading to Parliament Square, a total distance of around two miles.

It took us five hours to complete the route due to the huge numbers of people attending.

The protest was characterised by its good-natured and carnival-like atmosphere. Cyclists with loud speakers and music systems streamed through the crowds playing hit singles.

At one stage we were dancing in the street to disco classics such as Stayin’ Alive by the Bee Gees. As we passed Eaton Square we were regaled by a dishevelled and drunken Boris Johnson, profusely apologising for the Brexit chaos.

A group of jazz musicians played their anti-Brexit jive and the wonderful creativity of British political satire was on display in an array of brilliant placards.

One such placard depicted Jacob Rees-Mogg in a top hat, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Nigel Farage under the heading “We need immigrants… dilute this gene pool”.

Yet the humour and relaxed atmosphere belied the strength of feeling and passions of the demonstrators.

There was real anger at the lies of the Leave Campaign. Emily Pearlstone from South Somerset spoke for many when she said: “The whole Brexit thing is ridiculous. The campaign for Leave was just full of lies. So many of us know that, and so many knew it at the time.

“But unfortunately those lies were taken as read by so many people. We really, really hope that they will consider changing their minds if they voted leave, because they were lied to time and time again.”

When asked how she had enjoyed the day as a whole, she replied: “Absolutely phenomenal, the people are incredible. There is no hate, no malice, no divisions, no party politics between anybody. Everybody is here because we care about each other and the EU.”

If Britain is truly divided, then the Britain on display on that Saturday is the one that I want to  believe in, and is the one that I always imagined to exist: a Britain that is tolerant, inclusive, outward looking, and confident in its own identity to embrace other cultures without feeling threatened.

A Britain that is creative, innovative, passionate and determined to fight for social justice and equality.

A Britain that rejects isolationism, and the dark and venomous poison of ethno-nationalism and English exceptionalism.

To be there was to believe again.

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