As a Lib Dem, the past few months have been a living nightmare. And nothing comes any worse than the tumult over tuition fees. I may not be a student any more (those days are long gone) but I understand the dismay that they feel, knowing that in the future, the burden of paying for university will be placed on those that attend, rather than the taxpayer.
I also supported the protests when they were announced. We talk a good game in this country, but when it comes to direct action, we’re not always the best at walking the walk. However, it’s been astounding the size and amount of demonstrations, both in London and around the country. The sour taste that sits in the mouth though, and that will continue to do so, is the violent element to these protests.
Now trying to unpick the propaganda is easier said than done. It wasn’t hard to see there was a hardline element willing to cause as much damage as possible when they broke away to Millbank, and some of these were aiming for damage not just to the buildings, but the police, or bystanders. And once the police’s underwhelming response was noted, the stage was then set for ugly repercussions. We’ve seen it all before. In the G20 demonstrations, where the Met Police stated that trouble was ‘inevitable’ beforehand, thus giving them the perfect excuse to kick off. We all know what happened that day.
And so it came to pass again on the day of the vote. While many students were aiming for peaceful protest, the minority, just like the police’s pre-justified actions, will know that, since violence is ‘inevitable’, then they have the perfect excuse to disrupt and grab all the headlines from those trying to uphold the tradition of peaceful protest. Watching the scenes on tv it was pretty appalling. The police stated the protest strayed from an ‘agreed route’, thus justifying their first overreaction. With the violent few then pushing at the barriers, the first baton charge was their pre-prepared reaction, and after that, the rest of the events were almost pre-ordained.
Sights of a wheelchair user being dragged from their chair were disgraceful, as were those of a policeman being knocked off their horse, and the barricades being flung at riot police. Seeing Winston Churchill’s statue defaced, and idiots swinging on the remembrance day’s flags on the Cenotaph were flashpoints that will go just as far (especially with older generations) to evaporating any sympathy that students may have garnered over the last months.
There are no winners here.
The students, protesting in a battle they surely knew they’d lose (and did, just). Their futures and those of students that will see the first hit of the new fees in 2012, pitched into a system that puts the epmhasis on mere higher education attendance rather than excellence and focus on academia.
The police, who, while they are often in a no-win situation in scenarios such as this, were brutal, heavy-handed, untruthful, and have shown themselves to have learnt little since the G20 other than to make sure their ID numbers now show as they bring the batons down on the skulls. Mounted police charging a kettled crowd (students, rather than rioters) was shameful, and the myth that protesters (some young kids or old) were allowed out when this wasn’t possible is one that should be exposed. Kettling the last group until midnight on Westminster Bridge was a story that seemed to get scant coverage. It deserved more.
The press, who covered in an often hysterical and biased way, reporting on the police hurt and never the students, until much later in the day. What happened to impartiality?
And lastly, the politicians, who through their thinking got us into this ghastly mess in the first place.
This may be the death knell of the Lib Dems. Personally I hope (and think) this isn’t the case, but like the case for Iraq for Labour, this may haunt them for years to come.
And with the dire economic future showing little sign of improving, this may be the start of a very long, violent winter of discontent.