Over 50,000 students, lecturers, trade unionists and others marched together in London today against the cuts to university education and the rise in fees. Though there were a few violent scenes, the vast majority, as Aaron Porter of the NUS tweeted, were peaceful. From around the country people came to raise their voices against the Lib Dem betrayal.
The protest has, and is, making the topic of education cuts even more important and debated in parliament, as PMQ’s earlier showed. Nick Clegg was asked over a dozen questions about fees, which he dodged, disgracefully and predictably blaming the former government instead of answering the questions clearly.
An article in the Guardian suggested that we are seeing a return to the student radicalism of the late ’60s, and this should be wholeheartedly welcomed. Students who previously weren’t interested in how politics affects them are now realising that they must defend each other and fight the coalition.
We set out to march in Truro today in solidarity with the NUS against the tripling of fees. Chants of ‘stop the cuts’ and ‘save our students’ were heard around our small city as we marched through the town. There was a large amount of support from the public, and we got over 600 signatures – shop owners, mothers, pensioners, shoppers and workers said they supported us. A great result, then. But the Lib Dem office was our main target.
We managed to get around 10 of us into the office to hand in our petition, express our feelings of betrayal and raise our voices in anger. ‘Shame on you’ was certainly the anthem of the hour. Since Cornwall has 3 Lib Dem MPs and many Lib Dem councillors, we sent a strong message that we will not accept them going against their pledges. Finally, our placards were thrown into the office, and a ‘save higher education’ banner plastered over their main sign.
The Conservative office, very near the Lib Dem’s office coincidentally, was struck by well over 50 students, chanting and putting up posters. There was a tiny police presence and we were mostly free to demonstrate, until one policeman told us to dissolve because we were ‘obstructing the highway’. I made it clear that we were on the pavement – not stopping traffic – and that if the fulfilment threshold of an obstructing the highway charge is so low, then that is undemocratic and effectively makes most protest and peaceful assembly illegal.
Nonetheless, we did disband after 3 hours and most felt the protest was a success. There were plenty of members of the press present and we therefore expect to get good coverage in the local media.
Congratulations to the NUS and UCU for organising the massive mobilisation in London today – we support you completely.
Now we wait and see if the right-to-recall constitutional legislation goes through, because if the Lib Dems in Cornwall vote for the tuition fee rise, we will make sure a by-election is called and that they are replaced by MPs who are not going to break their pledges to the electorate.