Two contrasting opinions: NUS’s Aaron Porter condemns the spontaneous-seeming action at Tory HQ Millbank Tower, where windows were smashed, Tories shouted at, the building stormed, the roof occupied. ULU’s Clare Solomon – of more far-left persuasion, for sure, says it’s “only the beginning” and entirely justified.
I’m not going to write everything about the protest today now because (a) I’m pressed for time and essay-writing beckons and (b) I’m writing something for next week’s London Student.
But I did want to take on some of the stuff I’ve been hearing since I got back about the Millbank invasion. People have queued up to argue that it was a result of the protest being hijacked by rent-a-crowd extremists (one interviewee described them, in fear, as anarchists) – and I presume they mean the large contingents of the Socialist Workers’ Party, Class War and other such fringe groups.
I was in the crowd at Millbank – mainly after the NUS rally outside the Tate had finished. To clarify, I did not storm the building, smash windows or chuck fire extinguishers from the rooftops. Much of the activity at Tory HQ – though not reported in the press – was in fact fairly calm, good spirited, and ultimately seemed completely spontaneous.
A couple of observations:
Most of the protestors here were not drawn from extremist organisations. Many were not seasoned campaigners at all; on the contrary, I was struck by the large numbers of A-level students. I know for a fact that many of those who stormed the building, who squared up to the police, who occupied the roof fitted into this category. Unlike current university students, A-levellers may face the increased fees, and it is not hype and hysteria, but anger, which has been most apparent among my peers.
I don’t think I have to explain why.
Around 80 from my sixth form attended – a great deal more than we expected – and I know the contingent could account for a number of the roofers and lobby-stormers, and a huge number were, like me, part of the crowd. One was a disillusioned Lib Dem, several Labour activists but most had never really involved themselves in politics before. Most people my age have never witnessed an assault on this scale – not from their parents, not from society and not from government.
As ULU President Clare Solomon pointed out on BBC News earlier, it’s unlikely the protest would have got much media attention at all if the action at Millbank hadn’t taken place. I’d like to hope she’s wrong, but I simply can’t.
I’m not condoning injury of individuals – I deplore any assaults which took place today – by either protestors or police. I’d have liked to have seen a peaceful protest at the Tower, without outrageous fire extinguisher incidents.
But it’s not rocket science that if you assault thousands of people in the way the coalition has done to students, you will get some very angry people who will want to fight on your level.
And of course, today’s most powerful message was undoubtedly that of the 50,000 who marched peacefully.
Next up: some favourite slogans and chants from the rally. Sorry for my blogosphere absence – but I wrote a Labour Uncut piece the other day on Michael Foot – accessible HERE. I blame Twitter – it seems to destroy most blogs – and I won’t let it destroy mine! But to unashamedly plug, I’m @conradlandin.