Yesterday, I took part in the largest protest to take place in the UK for many years. Organised by the Trades Union Congress, the March for the Alternative called for the government to put jobs, growth, and justice at the forefront of its economic plans.
I saw tens of thousands of people - of all ages and from all parts of the country, from private sector construction workers to public sector NHS staff and employees from the voluntary sector - marching to demand the Tory/Liberal government listen to their demand that they abandon their risky experiment with austerity which, is leading the UK economy back into recession.
Michael Burke, former senior international economist at Citibank, explains the fall in private investment in the course of the recession was supplemented by an increase in public investment, a stimulus that revived economic activity and reduced the deficit. Chancellor Osborne's budget last week was an admission of failure - if austerity was working, he wouldn't need a "budget for growth".
Sadly, the Tory/Liberal government has abandoned the strategy Labour was taking to secure economic recovery in favour of cutting expenditure, ignoring the risk of recession and a worsening of public finances.
The last demonstration in London that I took part in was The Wave in December 2009, which called on governments around the world to agree to a plan to reduce carbon pollution. The turnout was obviously smaller than March 26, but the protest was supported by trade unions like Unison (I travelled to both events with Darlington members) and the co-operative movement (such as The Co-operative) in addition to environmental campaign organisations such as Friends of the Earth.
At the time, Ed Miliband was Britain's Energy and Climate Change minister and was representing the government at the UN climate talks in Copenhagen. Sadly, the talks did not seal a final global deal, largely because of the opposition of the major world powers, the US and China. But the support for efforts to decarbonise the global economy did emphasise to the UK and other governments the importance of heading off the rising costs of carbon emissions, both in terms of energy supply and the effects of a changed climate.
March 26 lacked a sympathetic UK government, but the Northern Ireland Executive, the Scottish Government, and Welsh Assembly Government, and Labour-controlled councils across the UK, are all opposed to the Tory/Liberal UK government's economic policy.
Labour's leader, Ed Miliband, spoke to marchers in Hyde Park and praised the peaceful marchers for acting in the tradition of past movements for change. As a minister in the Labour government, he encouraged people to join The Wave, and as leader of the Labour Party in opposition he has supported those exercising their democratic rights to march for an alternative.
In the last week, the Canadian and Portugese governments have fallen in the face of parliamentary opposition to their austerity proposals. In the case of Portugal, it was notable that the conservative opposition rejected the plans, no doubt realising that continued expenditure cuts are not only unpopular but damaging to the domestic economy.
Labour's Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls has been warning in public and private for over a year that there is a danger that the austerity favoured by governments around the world risks repeating the mistakes of the 1930s, when after major global economic crises governments responded with expenditure cuts, only to discover that public investment provided the route out of depression. In his response to the budget, he apologised for Labour's deference to finance before the economic crisis, and set out proposals to reduce unemployment.
The local elections in May are an opportunity for the Tory/Liberal government's disastrous economic policy to be challenged at the ballot box. I hope that after Marching for the Alternative, people will be campaigning and voting for Labour's alternative.