The sheer number of people who came together in north London on Saturday should not have been so astounding – the cause is a worthy one – but in the end the never-ending train of protesters who stopped the traffic in Holloway was overwhelming. They came in their thousands. How can anybody still have the stomach or the heart now to close down services at the Whittington Hospital in the face of such public distress?
From the front of the march, you couldn’t see the back. From the back you could only just about see the top of the bus the New Journal and Islington Tribune hired to lead the way to the hospital. And by the time the whole procession had made it to the Whittington’s front entrance, a few of the speakers had already spoken. No exaggeration, this was a sea of objectors. There were some seasoned marchers of course, arriving with loudhailers, but more on this march were people who had seen the poster, read the story or been told in the cafe about plans to cut the Accident and Emergency department – and felt moved to take to the streets. To be heard saying: ‘No, this is not alright.’
It didn’t matter what political party you vote for, whether you came from Camden, Islington or Haringey, what local newspaper you read, or what personal reason you might have for holding the Whit in high affection. With each step of the walk, past the Emirates Stadium and the Nag’s Head, the numbers seemed to swell.
At one point, the split-splat rain grew heavy. It made no difference to the mood at all. The jazz band on the double decker just kept playing, Red Jen’s band did the same halfway down through the crowd.
By the time the politicians took to the stage outside the hospital, the sun was peeping through the clouds and in their puddle-drenched shoes, these men, women and children were going nowhere. This was defiance. A message in bold human form that you can’t just decide to take away a cared for hospital service without a fight. Even if the ‘administrators’ weren’t there to see it, news of the size of this gathering will already have got around to the highly paid architects of these cuts.
Peter Gruner, the Islington Tribune reporter, whose brilliant commentary on the mic from the top of the bus,raised more than one smile on the path to the hospital, joked: Whittington turn again. You could see the cliche coming from Highbury Corner, but there is still time for the number crunchers to think this one out again. There’s a people’s army who want to see another momentous change of heart on Highgate Hill.