There was a great commotion in central London last night. A police helicopter hovered over The Spectator‘s office making a din, police sirens sounded and thudding music rattled the windows. I found out why when I left the office and walked via Parliament Square to Whitehall.
There was an anti-Trump protest outside Parliament – #stoptrump was the theme – coinciding with the (non-binding and pointless) debate inside Westminster Hall, about President Trump’s state visit to the UK later this year.
The protest was a very slick affair. There was a massive TV screen broadcasting anti-Trump videos, and speeches blared out over a speaker system. But there was just one thing missing: a crowd to match the scale of the event.In the square itself, there were hundreds of people – maybe a couple of thousand tops, I thought. (By the way, the Metropolitan Police, who I rang to check, say they don’t give out estimates of crowd sizes, and instead rely on the organisers to give them a number.) But there were very few people on Whitehall. By the entrance to Downing Street, I saw just two people lamely holding placards, outnumbered by bored-looking police by about 10 to one.
The police helicopter circling overhead, as I tweeted at the time, seemed completely over the top for such a small protest (costing the taxpayer about £850 an hour). It wasn’t like I was pushing through crowds: I was walking along quite empty pavements.Imagine my shock, then, when I got home and saw a report from The Hill going viral on Twitter. It began: ‘Hundreds of thousands of protesters rallied outside the British Parliament, as the governing body debated whether it would invite President Trump for an official state visit.’ It went on: ‘About 300,000 protesters had gathered at Parliament Square on Monday…’