Tensions Treble in Fees Fight

Jacob Hewlett Case

Up to ten thousand students took to the streets of London on the Ninth of November to protest against the increase in tuition fees. This came one year on from the large scale student marches to oppose the trebling of fees under the Tory-led coalition.

The police had a very heavy presence at the march following the summer rioting, last year’s trouble at Millbank Tower and wild claims from certain papers of an “anarchic storm of fury” to be expected.

Even before the day of the protest arrived, the Metropolitan Police had been ramping up efforts for people to stay away with students claiming that they had received formal warnings not to take part.

The threat of police became more imminent the day before with a huge media storm brewing when the Met threatened the usage of rubber bullets if things got out of hand – Fortunately they were not needed but it did lead to one of the funniest chants of the day; “you can shove your rubber bullets up…” well I’m sure you can imagine the rest.

A sure sign of police activity was when the bus I was travelling to the march on was pulled over and boarded by an officer who took a quick check of who was on board and if we were heading to the protest. Around 4,000 officers were on the streets along with police dogs and horses. Needless to say the atmosphere was tense on most of the route which started at University College London (UCL) near Euston and was planned to finish at London Met near Moorgate station.

The entire protest passed peacefully, however many people involved said that they found the crowd control tactics intimidating and very restrictive as police stopped the progress frequently. Tempers did begin to flare after crowds at the front of the march were once again stopped and penned in for around twenty minutes whilst the back end caught up. A group of about fifty threw bottles and ran through police lines toward the Barbican Centre with a sound system on a bike and even an impromptu football game working its way through police lines. There was an amazing show of support from spectators during the day with some builders stopping work to cheer and wave placards from scaffolding when they were passed by. Electricians were also out in force on the same day but they were kept from joining the students march.

Just short of the end of the planned route the police employed the infamous ‘kettling’ tactic stopping the entire protest in its tracks. Some people were dragged away but it was not clear whether they were arrested or not. At this point things died off very quickly with the remainder being kept in the ‘kettle’ for another couple of hours. Later on in the evening, a planned occupation of Trafalgar Square was broken up after a number of tents had been set up there with therest of the people either heading to Findsbury Square occupation or attempting to join protesters at St Pauls Cathedral.

Though smaller than last year’s events (partly because of the difference of organisation and later support from the NUS), many were hailing the protesta success.A lot ofprotestors that I spoke to on the day were heavy in their criticism of the police for unnecessary over precaution.

It is fair to say that it’s a tough balancing act to between the correct policing of such protests, especially after the rioting over the summer, heavy handedness is now more likely. However, it is a little over the top to keep an entire march tightly penned in by officers, unnecessarily frightening people into not attending and almost symbolically kettling the entire march just short of its destination – after all, by their very nature students are a peaceful cross section of society, not the anarchic mob that seems to be the increasing media image of any student attending such a demo.

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