Headlines of ‘Protest Mayhem Strikes London’ (from I) and ‘Charles and Camilla Caught Up In Violence’ (The Guardian) adorned the front pages today. But as has happened with every previous protest, the coverage has been heavily skewed towards the Metropolitan Police’s account of the events, and has dwarfed reportage of the vote itself: a vote which indicated just how weak the coalition really is.
Let’s start with the Prince’s car incident. The Rolls-Royce Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall Camilla were in was splattered with paint and a window was cracked. Why does that demand the attention of dozens of front pages and spark outrage among the mainstream press? So, these unelected aristocrats were frightened by the protest. What isn’t being raised is the fact that the extravagant Rolls Royce they were driving in is paid for by the tax-payer, and part of the anger which caused the violence emerged from legitimate disgust that Britain’s ultra-wealthy elite is taking millions of our money whilst workers, the unemployed and students are hit with increased VAT and massive cuts to welfare, education, legal aid, transport and the rest of the public sector.
Secondly, reportage of militant elements of the demonstration has overshadowed the vote itself, which saw the government’s majority of 80 reduced to a mere 21. Dan Rogerson of Cornwall North and Andrew George of West Cornwall & St Ives voted against the government’s tuition fee proposals. Disgracefully, front-bencher Steve Gilbert of Newquay & St Austell back the rise, contrary to his election pledge. The Morning Star have reported that Vince Cable was visibly shaking and pale when defending the plans in Parliament yesterday. The charged protest of 30,000 people right outside might have had something to do with this.
Always active in opposition to the cuts is Caroline Lucas MP, the Green Party comrade in the Commons. She has been asking Theresa May whether she will be investigating the nigh-criminal behaviour of the police on the 24th, and Lucas will no doubt challenge the Home Secretary in the coming days about the handling on 9.12.10, which saw the heaviest-handed police tactics used yet.
Even some Tories voted against the tuition fee plans (though Lee Scott, a Conservative MP who pledged to oppose the rise U-turned on his promise and abstained). Outside of Parliament there have been other surprises – UKIP’s EU division declared this week they are ‘wholeheartedly’ ‘against fees’, a fantastic development that has added to the broad coalition of opposition to the government’s education cuts.
The vote passed. That is something we can’t ignore. But what must drive the campaign over the next few months is the astounding number of concessions already made – Scotland and Wales exempt, first year free for some students and the fact that dozens of Lib Dems defied the party whip and voted against the measures. The Poll Tax was defeated three years after it was passed – there is plenty of time for the resistance to organise and work out the next steps for the fight-back, and the presence of almost all the major unions – Unite, GMB, RMT, UCU among others – at yesterday’s demo was a much-needed progression towards complete worker and student solidarity.
Meanwhile, a vigil has been held outside Charring Cross in West London for Alfie Meadows, a student who was hit on the head by a Met police baton and then left to wander, wounded and dazed, while the police refused to for medical help.