A decade ago this would have made headline news. Hundreds of 50s women deprived of their pensions until they reach 65 or 66 blocked the road in Parliament Square for over an hour yesterday. The police – just five of them – had to divert traffic away from Parliament as they sang slogans deriding Theresa May from ” We paid In, U Pay Out ” to ” Hey, Hey, Theresa May, Theresa May, how many women who have you robbed today ” in an extraordinary display of anger at successive governments decisions to raise the women’s pension age from 60 to 66.
The noise from the vibrant demo drowned out irritated van drivers, bus drivers and motorists tooting their horns as they were stuck on the one way system round the Square. But the women were more than a match for the motorists, the police and certainly are making an impact on MPs.
The decision to block the road was not planned and taken spontaneously by some of the protesters and led to a traffic jams right up Whitehall. Even Fiona Bruce, the BBC newscaster had to flag down a passing police car to get to Millbank to present the six o’clock news.
The protest began with a 1000 strong rally in Hyde Park bringing together Backto60, Waspi and the ” We Paid In, U Pay Out” groups under a #One Voice and ” shoulder to Shoulder ” banner. Groups from as far away as Aberdeen, Cornwall, Wales, Tyne and Wear and Derby came to London to voice their anger.
It has got the backing of the Fawcett Society, the Women’s Equality Party and the SOS Initiatives who have highlighted the desperate plight of the women , some of whom have contemplated suicide or self harm.
What was clear at Westminster is that it is attracting support from senior people in the leadership of both the Labour Party and the Scottish Nationalist Party, the two biggest opposition groups in Westminster. John McDonnell’s office sent over a senior researcher and unless I was mistaken, Laura Alvarez, wife of Jeremy Corbyn, who keeps a low profile but I would bet will be telling the Labour leader about the strength of feeling there.
Other Labour MPs there included Chris Williamson, the Labour MP for Derby North;Laura Smith, shadow Cabinet Office minister and MP for Crewe and Nantwich; Battersea MP Marsha de Cordova; and a number from Scotland and the Midlands. Two prominent Scottish Nationalists, the Westminster leader Ian Blackford and Mhairi Black also pledged support. Tory MPs were noticeable by their absence.
What is clear is this issue which I fully support – I did address the rally myself on the key issues- is now going places. This weekend it made the mainstream media, the next stage must be inside the courts and Parliament itself.