Students protesting against tuition fees and education cuts proposed by government. Police stopped them and held several thousand in Whitehall for some hours. London, UK. 24/11/2010.
Students marched through London today in a national walkout and day of protest against tuition fees and education cuts. Police stopped them and held several thousand in Whitehall for some hours. London, UK 24/11/2010
Today was a nationwide day of walkouts and protest for students with major events planned in virtually every major city in the country as well as at individual schools, colleges and universities.
Students are incensed at the Browne Review of Higher Education Funding, which has advocated an increase in tuition fees, allowing them to rise to £9000 a year - £27,000 for a three year course. Living costs are also still increasing, and a typical student needs around £6000 for the college year, more in high cost areas such as London. It's also getting harder for them to find work to support themselves either during the term or between terms, and those without rich parents need another thousand or two to live on then.
Add this up, and a three year course can end up costing £50000, a very heavy commitment for 18 year-olds to face. Putting the Browne proposals into effect make university a place for the very rich, and also for those minority of the very poor who manage to struggle through our educational system and still qualify for some financial assistance.
The Government's spending review calls for the Educational Maintenance Allowances (EMA) to be scrapped. At the moment it's restricted to 16-18 year-olds in full time education from a household with an income of less than £30,810 - and the full amount of £30 a week only goes to those whose household income is less than
The Con-Dem coalition are also removing their funding for university arts and humanities courses, with 35 percent cut backs to courses which will destroy some departments. Allowing universities to charge variable fees will lead to competition between them and to the trimming of they services they give to students. As always in competitions, some will win and others will lose and we may well see whole universities go out of business.
Around a thousand students gathered outside the University of London Union in Malet Street for a march to Whitehall which started around 11.45pm. More joined in on the way, including a group from the LSE, outside which the whole march broke into a run and swung round into Aldwich south side where it was stopped by a row of police vans and officers. Although this was the obvious route towards Trafalgar Square, the police would not let them continue along it.
After waiting a few minutes, the crowd surged down towards Temple station and then resumed normal marching, going along the Embankment and then up a side street and on the the Strand.
On reaching Trafalgar Square, the march turned down Whitehall and went past Downing Street. Outside the Treasury it met several thousand other protesters who had met at noon in Trafalgar Square. They had made their way down Whitehall and had been stopped by police in Parliament Street, just before the junction with Parliament Square.
There were now perhaps 5000 students milling around in a small area, some chanting slogans (rather than the rather ordinary ones about education and cuts many favoured "Tory Scum, Here we come" and a long drawn out "David Camero-o-on, answered by the crowd with "F**k off back to Eton") but most just standing around waiting for something to happen. People had expected to march further on, to the Lib-Dem headquarters in Cowley St, and also for there to be a rally, but neither seemed likely to happen. Some musicians had been expected to perform - and there was a samba band and several mobile sound systems on the march, and there were a few people dancing around those.
A small group tried to surge through the police line into Parliament Square, but were easily held, although a line of police in light blue caps were soon replaced by more heavily equipped officers. There were a few fires made from placards on the roadway, and the odd firework was thrown.
Police had thoughtfully left an old police van as a plaything for the protesters outside the treasury. Perhaps because the tread on its tyres was so worn it would have been a traffic offence to move it - and it looked very unlikely to pass an MOT. The stewards told the protesters it was obviously a plant, and certainly the press I talked to were convinced. This didn't stop a few masked guys attacking it (and I was threatened with having my camera smashed for photographing them doing so) despite a number of students who tried to prevent them, some linking hands and forming a chain round it. It was possibly the same small group who earlier had smashed the glass on the bus stop across the road.
By now the police had closed all the roads around the event and were preventing protesters from leaving, and it was beginning to look like the start of a long "kettling". Then people put out the word that they were going to try and push their way through the police line towards Downing St, and the crowd surged in that direction. I thought it was more likely that they would try and get down King Charles St which only had a fairly small police guard.
Had this been a protest by seasoned demonstrators, the police would have stood no chance in stopping them, but most of those taking part were probably well-behaved students on their first demonstration, and although the police line was breached a number of times most of them just stood around wondering what to do rather than following them. A number of the police made pretty liberal use of their batons and a couple clearly went a little berserk - at least one was restrained by some of his colleagues. Although it took rather a long time for more riot police to arrive, most of the demonstration was contained, though perhaps a hundred or so were now outside the police line.
Some of the protesters then made a rush towards Downing St, and there was a tremendous crush and there were people screaming that they couldn't breathe - it was bad enough to make many of us push our way back and out of the crowd. I was knocked over at one point, but quickly got up as a number of people around sprang to help me.
The protesters were making no progress against the riot police blocking their way, and after a while I decided to use my press card to go through the police line and photograph from the outside. At the opposite side of Whitehall police were allowing a small trickle of people - mainly young women - to leave the area (there were even one or two tourists trying to walk through.)
As I was about to leave, riot police decided to charge towards the people between the pavement barriers and the west side of Whitehall, again with what appeared to be some fairly indiscriminate batoning. I was forced to move away from the wall over which I had been leaning rather than be hit. They stopped their charge a few yards down the street.
As I was leaving, more groups of students were still arriving for the demonstration, and in Horseguards Avenue a group of a dozen police on horses were preparing to join in the action. Until I saw that, the comparisons made on some of the placards with the Poll Tax riots had seemed far-fetched, but now I wasn't so sure. It was the images of the police horses out of control in Trafalgar Square that really brought the Poll Tax to its end.
It had been a pretty confused situation, and it seemed to me that neither police nor students came out of it with much credit. The police tactics seemed designed to create public disorder by kettling and a small minority of the students rose to the bait. Although most of the students were out for a peaceful march and rally and to exercise their democratic right to protest, the police seemed to have little interest in upholding that right.