"Thugs." "Students Storm Tory HQ in Bloody Day of Riots." "Anarchy in the UK." "Tory HQ Ransacked as Peaceful Demo Ends in Terrifying Violence and Bloodshed." Going off the back of these headlines, you could be forgiven for thinking Central London briefly resembled downtown Sarajevo circa 1994 yesterday afternoon. Apart from one particularly idiotic incident, the "violence" at the UCU/NUS march against the Coalition's plans to dismember higher education was overwhelmingly directed towards property, and hardly different to the argy-bargy you can expect after the average footy match. And in the grand scheme of things, the scenes plastering 24 hours news and the press are but a thimbleful compared to the very real violence the ConDems are rolling out. Theirs might not come at the end of a policeman's baton (though of course, it's always backed up by it), but the misery they're about to inflict on millions of people who depend on cut services, benefits and jobs is infinitely more devastating than a few broken windows at Tory HQ. I think Goldsmiths UCU nail it on the head:
We the undersigned wish to congratulate staff and students on the magnificent anti-cuts demonstration this afternoon. At least 50,000 people took to the streets to oppose the coalition government’s devastating proposals for education.Unfortunately my own experience of 'Demolition 10.11.10' was marred not by violence but an awful coach journey that saw us turn up *two hours* behind schedule. We joined the back of the demo (pictured) at the assembly point just over an hour after John McDonnell tweeted he was marching past parliament. As readers can see, the demo was still 20-wide, very loud and extremely enthusiastic. For once the official estimates of 50,000 were probably *too* conservative. Surely this makes it the largest weekday demo since Bush came to town in 2003?
We also wish to condemn and distance ourselves from the divisive and, in our view, counterproductive statements issued by the UCU and NUS leadership concerning the occupation of the Conservative Party HQ.
The real violence in this situation relates not to a smashed window but to the destructive impact of the cuts and privatisation that will follow if tuition fees are increased and if massive reductions in HE funding are implemented.
Today’s events demonstrate the deep hostility in the UK towards the cuts proposed in the Comprehensive Spending Review. We hope that this marks the beginning of a sustained defence of public services and welfare provision as well as higher education.
John Wadsworth, President GUCU; Des Freedman, Secretary GUCU.
The political fall out of the march? The demonstration was thrust to the top of *international* news. Far from being an embarrassment to London, as Met Police Chief Sir Paul Stephenson said, yesterday went some way to discarding Britons' reputation as the doormats of Europe. But also the automatic attraction the slightest bit of trouble has for the media means it will be all the more likely on future marches. If a small hardcore are responsible for instigating window smashing, then surely similar elements are going to do it again in the knowledge the media will be there to cover it. The unrepresentative minority and the upstanding journos are caught in a virtuous circle both are happy to escalate. This presents a stewarding challenge - it can't be left to simply happen to allow the great and the good to line up after offering their pious condemnation.
Second, yesterday represents the first major demonstration of anger against the cuts. The Vodaphone protests, the localised public meetings against cuts, none of these have really captured the depth of opposition that's out there. But now a touch paper has been lit that can fire up not just other students, but workers and service users too. It adds to the pressure on the unions to do something. It opens peoples' minds to alternatives, to the idea we don't have to roll over and accept the Tories' assault on jobs and living standards. And I strongly suspect most people away from medialand watching yesterday's events will be thinking 'about bloody time' rather than 'bloody students'.
Then there is the Coalition. As well as the police, the Tories and LibDems were caught on the hop. Typically the Tories condemned a little more and understood a little less, an advantage the labour movement will always have over them. But above all the weight of numbers will have focused not a few LibDem minds on tuition fees. With Dave away in China, all Little Dave could say - when confronted with his party's hypocrisy - was he should be more careful about signing pledges in future. Not that he will get a chance, unless he and his Orange Book cronies are absorbed into the Tories and awarded safe seats before the next election. If I was a LibDem MP I would be very worried about my seat - it will be interesting to see what is strongest when the fees are put to the vote: loyalty to the party whip or the instinct for self-preservation.
NB: The Daily Telegraph are inviting readers to write in and identify the ne'er do wells responsible for yesterday's trouble. Jolly good show. Email them on firstname.lastname@example.org if you recognise the miscreants here and here.