Friday, 10 December 2010

Student protests: shaken government relies on vicious policing and media spin

“Attacks on police officers and property show that some of the protesters have no respect for London or its citizens,” so said Tory Home Secretary Theresa May, just hours after proving she had no respect for the young and the poor by voting to pull the rug of higher education from beneath their feet.

Last night’s student protest against the trebling in tuition fees has been characterised in the media as unprovoked mindless violence. But the main violence to be seen came not from the students carrying placard sticks or overturning litter bins. After all, shattered glass can be replaced--shattered futures can't.

The real violence came from the police force, seen to use horses to charge at dense crowds of people, beat protesters unconscious and even get caught on film pulling a student from his wheelchair.

One protester, Alfie Meadows, was beaten as he tried to leave the area. He fell unconscious and underwent a three hour operation for bleeding on the brain. Others report that police refused to allow another unconscious protester out of the kettle to receive medical help.

As one anonymous protester reported to the Guardian, “I was outside the kettle in Parliament Square yesterday watching as riot police fought with protesters and then split like the Red Sea to allow two charges of police on horseback into the crowd. It was absolutely horrific to witness. These are dispersal tactics used on the continent but the Met are using it against people who have nowhere to run because they are kettled. The horses charged at high speed and from where I was they seemed to end up wading through the protesters. It’s a miracle that no-one was seriously injured, or even killed.”

This was not simply the case of police responding to violence and disorder. Before the protest had even begun, Scotland Yard was already straining at the bit for a fight, using inflammatory language unseen since the G20 protests in 2009 which saw the death of Ian Tomlinson.

Meanwhile, David Cameron has moved beyond talk of a “violent minority”, now preferring to label most of those who came to stop the fees as “wanting to pursue violence and destroy property.” This is the talk of a man who is scared of opposition from the streets – it’s not easy to con the brave student movement into dropping their opposition to fees. They aren’t Lib Dems, after all. But it is also his attempt to brand all those wanting to stand up to his coalition of cutters as a violent mob, hell-bent of destruction.

But one thing is clear—the movement does not end here. In 1990, the poll tax became law, opposition on the streets continued, and police used horses and truncheons to beat protesters into submission. It didn’t work and the poll tax fell.

The gamble by the police was that using extreme violence against school students would scare them off the street. This gamble has failed. It has simply increased the anger of these young people, who have been taught a valuable—if painful—lesson in whose side the state is on.

This is still only the beginning.


  1. Saw a great article at the following link that took a funny look at why students attacked the car carrying Prince Charles…. makes the point that students thought the car had a riot horse in the back seat. Well worth a look

  2. can we now accept Alfie Meadows wasn;'t hit by a trucnheon ,but by an object thrown by a protester