The following is an account of the events in Trafalgar Square on April 13, when a group of people met to celebrate the death of Margaret Thatcher. I went along to see what happened.
First, some general thoughts. Second, a sketch of what happened. And third, a video of some of that.
The event was billed as a party, and people were drinking (until the police confiscated them), and so on. It was almost impossible to tell how many people there were, though it was certainly 1000s rather than 100s. The mood lifted and fell, mainly in sync with the rain.
But it was much like a party, in that respect: we arrived too early, unsure of what or how many people to expect; it was awkwardly quiet at first, flared up with little patches of excitement, and ultimately settled into most people dancing to music while a few drunkards brawled with each other (and got thrown out). The people were a diverse bunch, changing as the night went on, but the mood stayed mostly pleasant.
Thatcher wasn’t mentioned much, and if it weren’t for the occasional outbreak of chanting or the arrival of a giant puppet, it would have been hard to guess what was going on.
The chants were mostly obvious things: Maggie Maggie Maggie, Dead Dead Dead; slightly shambling renditions of Ding Dong, The Witch Is Dead; and so on. But there was less chanting than might be expected; until the soundsystems turned up, which was oddly late, there wasn’t really very much noise at all.
The MAGS DEAD | WHAT NOW graffiti above was probably pretty reflective of the mood, really. It’s been nearly a week since Thatcher died, and most people’s reactions have been worked out and through. “Thatcher’s dead, now kill Thatcherism,” and variations upon it, was a common sentiment. Shouting at a corpse gets very tired, very quickly, and isn’t particularly attractive whatever side you’re on. It was clear that people had thought about that, and besides the repetition of her name, Margaret Thatcher the person didn’t really get much of a mention.
But that gave it an odd dynamic. It seemed as if people thought that just having a party was somehow decadent – or, more likely, that doing so outside in such horrible weather made little sense without some grander purpose. And so without anywhere to go, things started to get a little pushy, before settling into a quite pleasant looking party outside the National Gallery. The mood, with the most limited of exceptions, was very positive – this can’t be said enough.
The day began (for me) at 6pm, in Trafalgar Square. It was soggy, and quiet. People drank, chanted, with no music. People trickled in, slowly, and the puppet (“The lady’s not for burning”) arrived. It didn’t seem like much was going to happen, and I tweeted that “If anything kicks off here it’ll be because police are taking people’s drinks away. Otherwise, atmosphere quite cordial.”
Then a soundsystem appeared, and the police tried to take it away. People started to push at the police, who ended up surrounded. People chanted, “Who’s kettling who?” The atmosphere – until then very pleasant – soured completely, and everything began to feel a lot more like a protest.
Occasional skirmishes happened, while most people partied, drank, and chanted. A lady climbed up on the front of the National Gallery, and then jumped off. Others climbed up too.
Around 9 o’clock, the rain started to fall a lot more heavily and everything dissipated. Jungle music was played, people drummed. The mood switched from a protest to a party and the police seemed to step back.
Things happened occasionally, with the police occasionally getting worried. The graffiti above was sprayed on, and police reacted. But people were too drunk and happy by this point for any of those scuffles to gain any momentum.
Some people had a fight, including (it seemed) one person who’d made it through from Millwall. He was taken away by police.
Then I left. The momentum had died off, and most people there were now a part of the party.