"I have long argued that the giving of offence, and even hate speech, should be a moral matter but not a matter for the criminal law. That is as true on the football pitch as on the streets. We should always challenge racism. We should also always challenge attacks on liberties in the guise of faux antiracism." Kenan Malik

Student radicalism awakens, slightly after lunch.

The 10th of November saw around 50,000 students descend on London. The occasion was not a casting call for Skins or the unveiling of Russell Brand’s new clothing line at Topshop but a mass demo against the government’s proposed tripling of student fees to £9000 a year. Students came from all over the UK, with Norwich’s UEA sending seven coaches as well as delegations from NUCA and city college. Scottish students also turned up on mass to show solidarity and German and Australian students were also spotted.

Unsurprisingly for students the language was colourful, placards proclaimed “The Con-dems put the N into cuts” and under the black and red banners an informal ‘most offensive chant’ contest seemed to be taking place. Honourable mention to “If ya Tory and ya know it slit ya wrists” which was met with a socialist refrain of “that’s a bit too far…”

The march itself had a slow start and appeared to be a micromanaged affair with little scope for hijinks, stewards strictly enforced the will of the markedly un-progressive National Union of Students. During the march’s pre-ordained route mischievous spirits began to soar as some students were passing Millbank Tower, the headquarters of the Conservative party and a small section of the protest broke away and laid siege to the unguarded building.

Protesters quickly stormed the building, occupying the lobby and throwing open the front doors and urging others to join them. Windows were kicked out and masked protesters spray painted revolutionary symbols and slogans on and around Millbank Tower.

The attack on the building escalated throughout the day, only a few hundred yards from where NUS hacks appealed for calm from their podium. The students however had different ideas and at the peak of the disturbance around three thousand students were reported to be involved in the disturbances, lighting fires, damaging or stealing office equipment and generally making themselves at home in the Tory HQ. Conspicuously absent from the party were the delegations from A-fed and Sol-fed who left early claiming that they didn’t see any tactical advantage or point in smashing things.

At the time of writing as far as I know only 32 arrests were made, a minute amount for an action that lasted over four hours. I do fear however that those who were new to civil disobedience/ direct action may have left themselves open to reprisal by failing to protect their identities by appearing unmasked and in some case talking to the media and giving their names. This will be a lesson learnt hard. On the positive side only fourteen injuries were reported and half of these were to the Police.

I’d like to wind up by saying how inspiring today has been. Whilst black banners were in attendance they quickly disappeared after the first wave of the assault as their followers were well aware that they would be marked as targets and scape-goats for police, leaving the majority of the damage to be done throughout the day by students who may not have previously embraced militant tactics. So whilst the NUS may blame radical elements (and my sources tell me that members of P.I.I.S.T. may have been in attendance) it is quite clear that no vanguard can claim responsibility for this spontaneous uprising and that it was certainly not a few ruining it for the many. So let us hope that this is the re-birth of student radicalism, France or Greece it may not be but it is definitely a leap in the right direction.

Student activist on the scene.


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