Thousands of protesters marched through the streets of London on Wednesday in a demonstration against the government’s White Paper on higher education.
Reports suggest that around 100 protesters travelled from Oxford to take part in the march which attracted all sorts of groups from students and trade union members to anarchists.
The demonstration, organised by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, saw protesters set off from Malet Street in London’s university district and march through central London carrying banners and placards with slogans such as “Scrap Tuition Fees” and “Free education” and chanting “No ifs, no buts, no education cuts!”
As the march went through Trafalgar Square a small group broke away and attempted to set up tents at the base of Nelson’s Column but were swiftly moved on by Police. The official route of the march ended at London Wall at around 4pm.
In an attempt to avoid the violence and disorder of last year’s higher education protest the Metropolitan Police had 4,000 officers on duty and were authorised to use rubber bullets on crowds if necessary although this eventuality was not required on the day. Reports of the number of protesters taking part in the march vary from 2,000 to 15,000 but the general consensus from eyewitness accounts suggests that there were about as many protesters as police officers.
Tristan Honeybourne, a PPEist from Magdalen who describes himself as a Conservative, commented “I’m glad that the protest passed without violence and disorder, and proud of a police force that went out en masse to ensure there wasn’t violence like last time.”
However, he also questioned some of the aims and views of the protesters, saying, “People are too quick to forget that Labour are in favour of £6000 fees, and to campaign against change to university funding is to take a view held by a minority in parliament.”
He added, “I believe that in an ideal world we would not have tuition fees, but given the state of the public purse and problems with a graduate tax, high tuition fees are the only way forward. It is better to charge those who will one day be better off than their peers -fees are in effect a progressive tax.”
Police have announced that 24 arrests were made on the day – three arrests were for public order offences, one was for possession of an offensive weapon, three were for going equipped and 12 were breaches of the peace.
BBC correspondent Mike Sergeant called the demonstration, “the most tightly controlled march through London that I have ever seen.”
Despite the relative peace compared with previous events, there remained some hostile feeling towards police from some protesters. A protester from Oxford who wished to be referred to only as ‘Dave’ commented, “The police response was heavy-handed, violent and irresponsible.”
He described a localised incident of violence, “The police tried to provoke people to react violently, and some people had to act in self defence against police attacks but we all supported one another and prevented the police from causing a riot. There was an incident where people were moving forward and the police wouldn’t let people go through. I was kneed in the balls, pushed over and punched in the back of the head by police. But I was saved from further beatings by other people.”
Education Activist Network member and 1st year History and Politics student, Nathan Akehurst, also told Cherwell about the “heavy presence” of the Police, saying, “undercover police snatch squads attacked and grabbed people from the demo, and an arrest was made on board a coach with the only apparent reason being that the student had a felt-tip pen.”
Akehurst commented, “Overall it was a lively and vibrant march, if rather long! The link-up with workers’ struggles on the same day sent a clear message- for a range of groups of people, this government has gone far enough. This can only be the beginning of putting a stop to a White Paper that would otherwise drive a wrecking-ball through higher education.”