Political Promise

Student Demo Turns Sour: Shame on Clegg? Shame on you

In Vicky Wong on November 11, 2010 at 10:09 am

The NUS rally in central London yesterday was overshadowed by violence from a minority of hooligans who “hijacked” an otherwise succesful march. Vicky Wong was there.

Is it pure irony that on the day that David Cameron lectures students in Beijing on the virtues of democracy, students in Britain revolt, with disastrous repercussions? Is it also just pure coincidence that on the day Cameron is in China, Clegg is holding the fort at PMQs amidst one of the biggest demonstrations of the year?

The NUS-UCU Demo, Fund our Future: Stop the Education Cuts has been recorded as the biggest protest against government cuts so far. What started off as a peaceful process soon disrupted into chaos and violence when an unidentified group of students/protest hijackers vandalised Tory HQ.

50,000 people attended demonstration, and there is expected to be another one on Saturday March 26th 2011. I was fortunate enough to be part of the Reading contingent of the National Demo, the University of Reading gathered up to 600 students attending the demo, and is said to have had the largest number of students attending the demo nationwide.

All was well when students gathered outside Horse Guards Palace, waving placards passionately at the passing tour bus, with the occasional rallying cries. Compliments were passed on other student banners (personal favourites included “Nick Clegg, shame on you, shame on you for turning blue” and “I took a Gap Yah, and just CHUNDERED EVERYWARE on everybody’s future!” and light hearted ones such as “I can’t afford a poster”, “what do we want? Procrastination! When do we want it? Meh”, and “I don’t believe in anything, I just want to miss PE”).

Also bonus points to the students who made the effigy of David Cameron and Nick Clegg (i.e. Cameron’s face on one side, Clegg’s on the other).

The atmosphere was purely intoxicating, empowering, and further testimony to how valuable democracy is. The march proceeded at turtle pace, which student officers already briefed us on prior to arriving in London. Before reaching the Houses of Parliament however, some minor havoc ensued when students separated a fence dividing the protestors from the London traffic (apologies for any inconvenience to travel that this protest has caused). I was only hoping that that would be the only minor setback to the procession, and any violence would end there. I was soon proven wrong.

All was well as we marched past the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, MI5, the Inland Revenue Office. Eventually we reached Millbank House which, until a demo steward on a megaphone announced, was unknown by students as the Tory HQ. Naturally, the mob of undergraduates congregated outside the office block waving their fluorescent pink placards in anger at the spectators within the building.

Some mild excitement spread when we learned that the windows had all been egged, and that there had been some banging on the windows. Soon this began to evaporate into concern as I edged closer to the building and saw the damage done to cause of the protest.

Concluding the march were passionate speeches condemning the many broken promises made by the Liberal Democrats, by TUC Deputy General Secretary, Frances O’Grady; and NUS President, Aaron Porter. Despite the excitement of the affair, it was hard not to take a light-hearted swing on it; it felt like a scene from 300, with Porter, rallying troops with his battle cry to fight until the end. It was hard to ignore the fact that it almost felt like a socialist uprising (also hardly helped by the fact that the open top double decker bus in which Porter was delivering his speech also had the words “commbus” written on the front). The only thing missing was mood music.

It was upon reaching this final destination that I was reunited with a friend who showed photographs of the Clegg/Cameron effigy being burnt outside Tory HQ.

Unfortunately, the demonstration will not be remembered for 50,000 stronghold of students, nor will it be remembered for its message of equality of access to higher and further education for all. Instead it will be remembered for the catastrophic vandalism caused, and one can only wait to see if the destruction will serve as the strongest metaphor for a government that has yet to be deeply divided.

Students have gained notoriety for their sensationalist image of regular all-nighters, promiscuous drinking and general hedonism much to the chagrin of the taxpayers. This incident has most certainly marred any attempt by students to exert any further pressure on Liberal Democrat MPs and the government, and no doubt, there will be words from Nick Clegg condemning the events of the day.

But what is even more embarrassing is how do students explain these events to the taxpayer, who will now see their taxes wasted on people who behave like this? We have all seen the case for privatizing the Universities system, and the events of today will not do to student population any favours.

But even more striking was the euphoria of the event. Students love to protest at anything and everything insofar as some change is going to come out of it. For many attending, this would have been their first major protest, and risk of getting arrested, and the excitement from vandalism in the name of equality is a tempting offer for those who could be easily led astray into violent means.

University is meant to be the transition period into young and responsible adulthood, and if this is how adults behave, then it would hardly be considered surprising if my parents will start shelling out £9,000 per year for my sister to go study medicine.

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