Following much reader interest and comment on our previous blog about British student apathy, young people in the UK have finally found their political voices and taken to the streets en masse to protest the upcoming rise in tuition fees and proposed government cuts to university funding.
However controversy has broken out after a 50,000 strong crowd marched through Westminster leaving criminal damage in its wake, with the glass front of the Conservative party headquarters smashed in as a swarm of students took up residency there, before being forcibly ejected by police. Indeed, clashes with fully fledged riot police were shown in ugly scenes across the national news, as the chief of the Metropolitan police condemned the inadequate preparation and response of his own organisation as an “embarrassment for London”.
The big question now is what direction the protests will take next, with supporters of the movement clearly divided in their response to the events which took place in the capital. National Union of Students president Aaron Porter has predictably (and responsibly) condemned the violence as the rash action of a splinter group, which he accuses of ‘infiltrating’ a non-violent demonstration, claiming that only a tiny percentage of those involved were guilty of perpetrating damage or criminal activity. Meanwhile, several student leaders and even some MPs have praised the actions of the protesters who smashed their way into the Millbank building, claiming that the damage they caused was insignificant compared to the devastation the cuts to university funding would signal.
With Nick Clegg refusing to address the protesters despite Harriet Harman’s goading and Prime Minister David Cameron announcing that the demonstrations would have no impact in preventing the cuts from going ahead as planned, several leaders have praised the use of violence as a desperate measure to draw attention to a truly important cause.
Right to recall
Meanwhile Aaron Porter has urged the use of non-violent methods of protest such as sit-ins and peaceful demonstrations, whilst he argues that the next stage of the process should be political lobbying. Across the UK he plans to collect signatures from constituents whose Liberal Democrat MPs pledged to oppose tuition fees whilst taking part in the ‘right to recall’ scheme. Porter is confident of gaining the 10% vote necessary to force these MPs to stand down from their newly gained seats as a result of their abandonment of their promises, and claims he will find students to stand in their stead.
But though Porter has not organised any further mass demonstrations, a day of disruption is anticipated on 24th November when student unions and organisations across the country plan another wave of protests. Whether or not these will turn ugly remains to be seen but it is certain that this time the police will be on full alert and taking no chances.
Is violence the answer?
Having so strongly advocated the importance of student political presence and motivation to protest in my previous blog I find myself somewhat torn by the events of the past week. Whilst I am thrilled to see British students finally standing up for themselves and refusing to allow the shameful hypocrisy of the Liberal Democrats to pass, I cannot help agreeing with Porter’s advocacy of non-violent protest, if for no other reason than to prevent tens of thousands of responsible, law-abiding protesters from being written off and disregarded as ‘yobs’. The question is: will either type of protest really get the government to listen?
I’m really keen to hear your views on this contentious issue – have you been out protesting? Which form of demonstration do you think will be most effective? Let us know using the comments box below.