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Arty McBain: Why you shouldn't believe the claims that 250,000 were involved in Saturday's protests

Arty McBain is a former Conservative Party official.

It is claimed that 250,000 marchers took part in Saturday’s TUC march to Hyde Park. Maybe. High numbers are notoriously difficult to estimate correctly, especially when it is in the interests of those doing so – the TUC and the police – for them to be high. Our cynical rule of thumb in the Party during our 1979-97 government was that the police tend to double the numbers and the organisers double them again.

On Saturday a friend counted via television the numbers passing a certain camera. There were 20 every five seconds, which equates to 14,400 per hour or 72,000 over four hours. If we leave a very generous allowance of 100% for denser parts of the march and for the much smaller feeder marches which joined it at various points, we still have a figure of only 144,000.

The 800 buses the TUC allegedly booked could carry only a maximum of 40,000 people; the 10 trains only 8,000 if we allow 100 people per carriage and 8 carriages per train. If we assume that every TUC assisted place was full and that twice as many people arrived under their own steam, we come to exactly the same figure, 144,000.

Two personal experiences tend to confirm the likely exaggeration. I once organised a march from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square. As the head of the march arrived under Nelson’s Column, the end was just leaving Hyde Park Corner. It filled Park Lane and Piccadilly simultaneously! We were incredibly excited. Yet the final crowd was disappointingly small – we claimed 10,000 but I suspect 5,000 was nearer the truth. Trafalgar Square can hold 20,000 people, 12,000 in the well and 8,000 on the north terrace. The terrace was empty and the main part could have taken twice as many easily.

In the late ‘80s when CND were running annual marches on roughly the same route as used last weekend, they regularly claimed a quarter to a third of a million participants. They too took four hours to pass any one point. One year Julian Lewis, now MP for New Forest East but then Campaign Director of the Coalition for Peace Through Security, hired the country’s top private photographic interpretation experts and put them in the air over London with state-of-the-art lenses and cameras. They photographed the huge crowd  in Hyde Park once everyone had arrived, blew it up and started sampling. The final photo was huge, with density contour lines all over it. The result from the best methodology open to science: just 100,000.

So for Saturday I am not buying a figure of over 150,000. A notable organisational achievement but not in the league of the Countryside Alliance and anti-Iraq liberation marches under the Blair regime. 150,000 is just 1.7 Wembleys and only 2 Old Traffords or Millennium Stadiums. 160,000 watch London’s top four football clubs every Saturday. 300,000 young people drink in the West End every Friday and Saturday night. 750,000 people commute into London from outside the M25 every working day. So even these supposedly giant demonstrations are tiny in the wider scheme of things.

The fact is that the Left, when it can really wind up its people, can put a few hundred thousand people on a demo. No change. We won every election in the 1980s in the face of crowds like these and Blair won every election in the Noughties despite bigger ones. So within parameters (2 million would be stunning success and 50,000 a disaster) the exact number doesn’t matter and will be quickly forgotten.


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