SOME 35,000 people have turned out in Manchester to demonstrate against government budget cuts as Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives opened their annual conference.
The march in the northwest England city was organised by the Trades Union Congress, which billed it as a rally for “the alternative – jobs, growth, justice”.
“The TUC is organising a march and rally to show opposition to the coalition government’s disastrous policies of pay freezes, cuts and attacks on public services that are producing rising unemployment, cuts in living standards and stagnation,” it said.
Police estimated the crowd at the anti-Tory rally at 35,000, including mainstream public sector workers and left-wing activists, carrying placards saying “Unite and fight”.
Mark Serwotka, leader of the the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, told the crowd that the whole country would unite in a mass strike called by several trade unions for November 30.
“If you never fight you lose every time,” he said. “Now’s the time to fight, now’s the time to defeat the government.”
Cameron’s Conservative Party is the senior partner in the governing coalition formed with the Liberal Democrats following elections in May 2010. They have set a target to balance Britain’s budget by 2015.
Police said Sunday’s march had been peaceful with no arrests, although about 50 demonstrators staged a sit-down in front of the city’s town hall.
A local fire alarm tester Gerry Collier, 64, said: “I’m here to show solidarity, and I’m against the government policy of cuts and attacks on pensions.
“There are thousands of people here, but I doubt the Tories will listen,” he said.
Inside the conference, Conservative Foreign Secretary William Hague delivered a message to the demonstrators blaming Britain’s economic woes and necessary austerity measures on the legacy of the previous Labour government.
“The money you were promised by the last Labour government never existed. It was never there. And we have been left with the task of telling you that truth,” Hague said.
“A government betrays instead of serving its people if it allows them to live on a delusion,” he added.
“And above all it is wrong, unfair and irresponsible to leave a massive debt for the next generation to deal with instead of facing up to it now.”
Hague also used his speech to accuse the opposition Labour Party chief Ed Miliband of showing weak leadership.
Miliband “is too frightened to tell the unions – who pay for his party – that it is not in the national interest for them to strike”.
Earlier in the day, Cameron vowed to keep Britain in the European Union despite growing dissent in the right-wing of his party over the current crisis swamping the eurozone.
“It’s not our view that there should be an in/out referendum,” Cameron told BBC television.
“I don’t want Britain to leave the EU. I think it’s the wrong answer for Britain.”
Cameron did have some tough words for the 17 European countries that share the euro currency about the urgent need to take action to contain the crisis.
“Frankly, right now the eurozone is a threat not just to itself, but also a threat to the British economy, a threat to the worldwide economy and so we have to deal with this.”
The 44-year-old prime minister also apologised for comments made in parliament earlier this year that angered female MPs.
He said he “deeply regretted” telling MP Angela Eagle to “calm down, dear” and remarking that Tory colleague Nadine Dorris was “frustrated” during a debate in April.
“I obviously said some things in the House of Commons that just came out wrong and caused the wrong impression and I deeply regret that,” Cameron said.
“It’s not what I’m like, that’s not who I am.”