For the second time this month, students were on the streets demonstrating against the proposed increase in University tuition fees. The event a few weeks ago was focussed on London- this week there were protests throughout the country so the one in London, was attended by fewer people, although just as much incident.
The day started off at the ULU in Malet Street and was a straightforward march with the usual array of placards, banners, whistle-blowing and shouting. Part way through the procession down to Trafalgar Square the front of the group broke away and ran off ; this was a very light-hearted affair and the police maintained a sensible profile to keep everyone on the road to Whitehall. The clear rumour, and expectation was that the demonstration would end at Lib Dem HQ which is just beyond Parliament Square, and within easy reach. The Police had done their research this time, and pre-empted this aspiration.
As the tidal wave of the crowd passed through Whitehall and beyond the Cenotaph, the might of the Metropolitan Police were waiting, in force, presenting an impenetrable barrier to the protestors. The Police were allowing no one through into Parliament Square – no risks were being taken. The crowd density increased at the front and the opportunity was taken to create a surge onto the Police lines resulting in confrontation and agitation. It was fairly evident that the riot uniform clad police were not going to allow any embarrassment on this occasion.
Further back, attention was drawn to the sight of a police van rocking from side to side, as a number of protestors turned on the vehicle as a target of frustration. A select number of youths made it their purpose to break the windows, and decorate the outside with all forms of graffiti and anti-government slogans. Vain attempts were made by students to protect the van from further damage, but the activists were insistent on completing the job. By the time that the attention began to divert away from the van, the full extent of the police prescence became clear, by which time the “kettle” was fully engaged – there was no exit. Inevitably confrontation, friction and violence took place at all possible exits as opportunists tried to make a break for it. There was much shouting of “Let us out” as their focus turned from university fees to basic self-preservation.
As night closed in and the temperature dropped, all available materials were being used to create an array of bonfires – the main one forming near to the bus shelter. This became something of a totem, as it was a focus for a sit-in and sit-on protest, graffiti and an ever-increasing bonfire…in size, heat and the variety of objects thrown on to it – including police riot shields, and the adjacent ticket machine. A number of conscientious students brought along books so they could do some homework while they were waiting to be released, some started using their textbooks as material to create a fire. A small community of students occupied the pavement side road works so they could easily gather round the fire.
Whitehall and Parliament Street were bereft of any shops so the opportunity to buy food and water was non-existent, as was the availability of public toilets so for the male population, they had to resort to using one of the doorways as a public urinal. Before long, the entire pavement in the vicinity was covered in urine. By now, a number of the younger students were becoming anxious – there was no way out, and no information on how long it would last for – a fun day out had become a creeping, cold nightmare for some. The Police did start to allow children under the age of 16 to leave one at a time.
Messages were coming through that Police were going to make toilets and water available to all. These did arrive, however the portaloos were behind the police lines, as was the water…and the majority of the people were oblivious to their presence, so were unable to enjoy the facility – and continued to suffer. The agitators became more bored and set about destroying the bus shelter, completely. Someone tried to break into the Treasury in a half-hearted way, and despite last gasp protestations by legitimate students, the nearby, traditional, red phone box, tourist trap, was trashed.
As the scene became a cross between Mad Max and a low budget film about an urban dystopian future…the Police began the process of slowly releasing the inmates.It was predictable that the police would be more robust this time round, and would not accept any risk of embarrassment. The tactics being exploited revert back to the G20 days when containment is the primary objective. As anger continues to develop over the Coalition Spending plans – the Police will come under more scrutiny as to how they handle the people’s legitimate right to protest.
More Photographs of the day HERE