Wednesday 4 April 2012

Student Demolition 10/11/10

On the 10th of November 2010, 52 000 students and lecturers united in a common cause marched through London protesting against the cuts to Higher Education. Amongst the throng were 10 coach loads of students from Liverpool, up since 5am, no longer bleary eyed and yawning but singing and shouting and determined to have their collective voice heard.

Placards in hand, we had joined the back of the march at Trafalgar Square and in minutes were sandwiched between protesters from all around as more joined us every second. The sheer size of the protest took us all by surprise and we were quickly hyped up with the hysteria, screaming into the air with the rest, ‘No Ifs! No Buts! No Education Cuts!’

The cuts we were marching against will result in some universities having to raise tuition fees up to as high as the stratospheric figure of £9000 per year. It is thought that even this increase will not be enough to plug the whole axed open by the 40% reduction in government funding leading to some Humanities courses to be cut from certain institutions altogether. Such dark prospects had invigorated students across the country; peaceful passion and exuberant energy on show as we paraded past Downing Street. The signs and banners to be seen were brilliant, ranging from the wonderful, ‘Tuition fees = £9, 000. Student debt = £40, 000. The look on Nick Clegg’s face when he loses Sheffield Hallam = priceless’ to the blunt, ‘Clegg is a c***!’

Indeed it was the Liberal Democrat leader who was receiving the brunt of the abuse from the crowd, many of whom had voted for his party due to his pledge to abolish student fees. One memorable sign declared him, ‘The second worse Nick in politics.’ He was receiving a bashing inside Westminster as well as Harriet Harman likened him to a na├»ve first-year: ‘You’re at freshers’ week. You meet up with a dodgy bloke and you do things you regret.’

Police had deployed many of their officers outside the Liberal Democrat offices, with only five to guard the Conservative Headquarters, Millbank, which left it vulnerable to the 200 wayward protesters who infamously invaded the building early in the afternoon. Once inside these hotheads smashed windows, lit bonfires in the courtyard and occupied the roof, from where one launched a fire extinguisher down to the crowd below. This fringe group saw it as civil war; one insurgent shouted at us as we passed to turn around and help him ‘take back Millbank!’ and a text message sent from the roof declared, ‘This is only the beginning . . !’

The riots resulted in ten people in hospital and thirty five arrests. NUS president Aaron Porter rightly condemned the actions of this ‘minority of idiots’ as ‘despicable’, our own Student President Josh Wright echoing these remarks.

These people sabotaged the positive impact the march could have had, one columnist writing the next day, ‘The public will have little sympathy for students who plea poverty but can afford to bunk off their studies, pop up to London and beat up policemen.’ All we can hope for is that the majority of the public will see past the aggressive few and look to the peaceful masses. Some of our group from Liverpool were shocked and flattered when one Liberal Democrat MP stopped them on the street to shake their hands and apologise for going back on their promise on student fees. Walking through Westminster at dusk, cars were now flowing once more and all that remained to be seen of the march were a few discarded pickets, collapsed and lifeless on the pavement. But this is not to say that the march was at all in vain.

52 000 is a big number. Though marches often fail to force governments to retract their policies, they often force them to think twice before planning similar future proposals. Demolition 10/11 can be seen as the beginning of a ripple of resilient response as others affected by the cuts take to the streets and show that they are not prepared to be stifled, or give up hope for the future.

Bertie Digby Alexander
Liverpool 2010

Originally published in Ellipsis Issue 2 Spring 2011 -

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