So I went to the demonstration on Wednesday and got caught up in the incident at Millbank. While I don’t support violence and think that the riot seriously damaged the credibility of the NUS cause, the situation could have been much bloodier. 30 Millbank or ‘Tory HQ’ was very specifically targeted and was on the route of the march. The buildings either side suffered hardly any damage as they weren’t targeted. Aside from isolated stupidity such as the fire extinguisher being launched from the roof, the incident was limited to vandalism and minor injury. Once the police arrived on the scene, they handled the situation without using excessive violence and made sure that students could leave the scene easily so long as they weren’t the primary instigators.
The incident aside, I think the march was a massive success. We had a turnout 500% more than expected and the vast majority of the demonstrators carried out the march peacefully, helping to spread our message.
For readers outside the UK, here’s a summary of what the march was all about.
- Students in England and Wales currently pay £3000 (plus interest) a year on higher education.
- The coalition government have proposed raising this figure to £9000 as an austerity measure.
- Furthermore, higher education funding is going to be critically cut. Many university departments are loosing all of their funding which means that they will be forced to charge students as much as £9000.
- Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg originally opposed tuition fees altogether but his party joined forces with the Conservative party he has changed his mind and supported the increase in fees.
- The National Union of Students as well as many other organisations and bodies see these proposals and actions as a blatant right-wing attack on students and the quality of university education. Many say that these cuts and fee rises are unnecessary and that the economy can be revived through other less extreme means.
- The NUS organised a national march in central London and advertised it for several weeks. Before the day of the march, there were estimates of 10,000 students attending. The turnout was actually 55,000.
The march in pictures: (click images for full size)
The Millbank Incident: