Thousands in London protest against austerity, PM Theresa May

People taking part in the London anti-austerity demonstration, July 1, 2017.
People taking part in the London anti-austerity demonstration, July 1, 2017.PHOTO: EPA

LONDON (AFP) – Thousands of people marched through London on Saturday (July 1) to protest over austerity and demand Prime Minister Theresa May’s government resign after its disastrous showing in last month’s election.

Demonstrators converged in front of the BBC headquarters in central London to demand an end to belt-tightening that has led to cuts in spending for public services.

Many brandished signs and placards reading: “No More Austerity”, “Cuts Cost Lives” and “Tories Out.” After holding a minute’s silence in honour of the victims of a deadly fire in London, which killed at least 80 people, and staging a round of applause for the emergency services, protesters headed towards Parliament Square.

Main opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn was expected to address the rally.

The union-backed march was organised a day after the June 14 Grenfell Tower inferno in west London.

An investigation into the fire is under way, but critics blame lax standards and cost-cutting, which they say is a consequence of austerity.

AUSTERITY CONCERNS

The prime minister, who lost her parliamentary majority in last month’s snap election, narrowly survived a confidence vote on Thursday thanks to the support of Northern Ireland’s small DUP party.

Their deal has been attacked by both Labour and some of May’s own Conservative MPs, in part because the DUP secured an extra billion pounds (S$1.8 billion) in state aid for Northern Ireland.

A day earlier, the government had also narrowly voted down a Labour Party amendment to its legislative programme – known as the Queen’s Speech – calling for an end to a six-year cap on public sector pay.

Funding for public services – from the National Health Service (NHS) to police and fire personnel – has taken an increasingly emotive tone in the UK after the country was struck by three terror attacks, followed by the deadly tower blaze.

Government officials have indicated they may review spending policies, reflecting concern among Conservative MPs about continued austerity.

May’s alliance with the ultra-conservative DUP has also raised concerns across Britain because of the party’s stance on same-sex marriage and abortion rights.

The DUP’s opposition to same-sex marriage makes Northern Ireland the only part of the UK and Ireland where homosexual marriage is not allowed by law, despite widespread public support.

According to a June 2016 survey by pollster Ipsos Mori, 70 per cent of adults in Northern Ireland believe homosexual couples should be allowed to marry each other.

Thousands of people descended on Belfast on Saturday to protest the DUP’s stance and demand the law be changed to be in line with the rest of the union.