Learning by number

Dear Auntie _ At one of the Gaza protests in London, Stop the War put the number of protesters at around 100,000 but the police insisted it was only 20,000. Can Auntie reassure me that the Met has a scientific methodology for estimating crowd numbers? _ Numberless in London

February 1, 2009 · 2 min read

Dear Numberless,

Though Auntie couldn’t be there herself (she has a sicknote – what’s your excuse?), she was regularly updated by text messages from comrades eyeballing the crowds. With estimates varying between 40,000 and 200,000, it’s fair to say that the truth might lie somewhere in the middle, but that’s still a huge disparity with the ‘official’ police count.

Auntie can’t quite believe it’s just down to the rozzers being, well, a bit rubbish at counting (although they do run out of fingers after reaching ten). Rather, their formula seems to depend on whether it’s constable Dave’s granny protesting against asylum seekers, in which case each two square feet of road space counts for one granny (plus one for the pot), or some smelly black-bloc hoodie, who is deemed to take up half of Parliament Square single handed. Not forgetting to subtract 200 protesters for every eyeball of George Galloway or Lindsey German (triple subtraction bonus if caught snogging).

On the other hand, recently a climate camp activist claimed the police no longer underestimate the numbers on protests but over-egg the figures to justify their budgets. This got Auntie thinking about a new win-win recession-busting strategy.

The police should deploy teams of crowd counters at demos across the UK. This would make a dent in the unemployment figures for all those city bankers (and teach them how to do basic arithmetic). And protesting would become a Keynesian civic duty – the key to economic revival. Who could possibly object to such a job-creation scheme?


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