More than 250,000 people have attended a march and rally in central London on Saturday. Union leaders condemned violence in which over 200 people were arrested.
In the largest public protest since the Iraq war rally in 2003, marchers from across the UK set off from Victoria Embankment to Hyde Park, where Trades Union Congress (TUC) general secretary Brendan Barber was first in a line of speakers. The TUC said more than 250,000 people had taken part, and the Metropolitan Police confirmed the numbers. There were lots of families and older people, and the atmosphere was good-natured but the anger was real. About 500 people gathered in Oxford Street, before targeting the Topshop fashion chain’s flagship store and the banks Santander, HSBC and RBS.
Labour leader Ed Miliband addressed crowds in Hyde Park and the main march passed off peacefully. But small groups attacked shops and banks with a stand-off in Piccadilly. There have been 214 arrests and 66 people injured, including 13 police.
Ministers say the cuts are necessary to get the public finances in order. The majority of banners on display were from the big trade unions – Unite, Unison, the NUT, the PCS, the Fire Brigades Union, as well as groups such as CND, Stop the War and the Green Party. Some said it felt like a return to the 1980s, when they demonstrated against public sector cuts imposed by Margaret Thatcher’s government. “They are making cuts on a scale Margaret Thatcher could only dream of, all on the back of a concept called the deficit,” said Michael Stewart, whose home-made banner read “Like Thatcher, Only Worse”.
There have been separate incidents involving a number of protesters, some with their faces covered by scarves, away from the main march. Scotland Yard said there had been 202 arrests for public order offences, criminal damage, aggravated trespass and violent disorder.