Posts Tagged ‘student fees’

Student Fees & Cuts And Two Views On Egypt

Saturday, January 29th, 2022

The main event I covered 11 years ago on 29th January 2011 was a march by thousands of students, teachers, parents and others through London to defend education and the public sector. The demonstration, backed by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts was one of two national marches today, with another taking place in Manchester.

Two months earlier on Nov 10th a similar national protest had ended with some protesters storming into the Conservative Party HQ on Millbank, where considerable damage was caused and a number of protesters and police injured. Protest stewards tried to stop them but were unable to do so, and there were apparently very few police around as they rushed in. It was an hour before riot police arrived and began to fight the students and force them out. Around a dozen of the protesters were injured badly enough to require hospitalisation, along with three police officers. Fortunately no one was killed when a protester threw a fire extinguisher off the roof into the crowd below. 54 people, mainly students were arrested.

I’ve often criticised the police estimates of numbers taking part in protests, typically less than a half of the actual participants, and on that occasion they had been misled by their own estimate that only 20,000 would attend the protest. On the day it was more than twice that number, and the 225 officers deployed was far too few.

There were further student protests in November and December where police came out in larger numbers and some seemed to be taking revenge for their earlier failure – including twice dragging one protester from his wheelchair and across the roadway and almost killing another who was later charged with taking part in violent disorder along with four others – and eventually all were found not guilty.

But by 29th January police tempers had cooled, and too many videos and reports of their extreme actions had been aired on social media and even in the mass media. They were taking no chances this time and there were many more police around, but they were also doing their best not to provoke confrontation.

As I commented in my report on My London Diary:

Police do seem to have learnt lessons after their mistakes last year, and I saw no real problems arising today. Despite the number of protesters in anarchist dress with facemasks, most students are not out to cause trouble. But if police start pushing people around, or kettling them, problems are going to arise.

And later:

At one point outside the Millbank tower complex, police wanted to drive a couple of vans of reinforcement through a crowd, and some people sat down on the street. Police asked them to move but met with no cooperation. Rather than try and force the issue, police just formed a line so that the two vans could bypass the seated students and drive along the pavement. It was a simple solution that avoided further friction. Later there were reports of half a dozen people arrested in minor incidents.

My London Diary

As in November, the event ended with a rally close to Tate Britain on Millbank, but by the time I arrived with the tail end of the march this had ended. I was a little surprised by this as it was a much smaller event then in November, with perhaps 5,000 marchers, but perhaps few speakers had wanted to attend. Some of the marchers planned to go on to protest in Oxford St and at the Egyptian Embassy, but for me it was a chance to walk across Vauxhall Bridge and catch a train home.

I’d been at the Egyptian embassy earlier in the day, and photographed two protests taking place there. Opposite the embassy Egyptians had gathered “”to show our solidarity & support of our fellow Egyptians in our beloved country, who decided on making Tuesday 25/01/2011 a day of protests & demonstrations in Egypt against the unfair, tyrant, oppressive & corrupt Egyptian regime that has been ruling our country for decades.”

A hundred yards away Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamist group calling for the establishment of a Muslim caliphate was also holding a protest. The Egyptians opposite the embassy had told very firmly that the embassy protest – like the Egyptian revolution – was to be entirely non-sectarian and that they were not welcome there.

More about all three protests on My London Diary:
No Fees, No Cuts! Student March
Solidarity with the Egyptian Revolution
Hizb ut-Tahrir Turned Away


Students March Against Huge Fee Rise

Thursday, December 9th, 2021

Thursday 9th December 2010 was the day of a third student protest against the three-fold increase in university tuition fees which was being debated in Parliament that day, and the scenes in the area around were probably the most confusing of any I’ve seen in London.

My account of my day on My London Diary runs to around 1,700 words, and I’ll attempt not to repeat myself here, while giving a rather shorter account. The march started outside the University of London Union in Malet St, with a crowd of perhaps 10-20,000 including many sixth-formers who would be hit by the £9,000 a year fees when they went to university as well as current students and supporters.

There was a good atmosphere as the crowd listened to speeches there from trade unionists, John McDonnell MP and two sixthformers from schools that were being occupied in protest who got the largest cheers. As usual with student protests there was plenty to photograph.

The march began well though progress was rather slow, and several hundred students decided to walk in front of the main banner and for some reason police tried to stop them. They thought they were about to be kettled and rushed off towards Covent Garden. The official march continued without obstruction along the agreed route along the Strand. It wasn’t at all clear what the police had intended, and this was something that set the scene for the day.

Many more protesters joined the march at Trafalgar Square, and rather than proceed down Whitehall, police and march organisers had agreed on a route though Admiralty Arch and down Horseguards Road, and then left into Parliament Square. The march was then meant to continue down Bridge Street to an official rally on the Embankment, but most marchers had a different idea and wanted to stay in Parliament Square, the obvious place for the protest to continue.

It’s hard to understand why either police or march organisers had thought people would march on rather than stay outside Parliament – and probably many on the march had simply assumed it would end there. And soon police were actually preventing any who wanted to go on by blocking all the exits from Parliament Square except that into Whitehall (which they later decided to block.)

I managed to move around thanks to my press card, but even with this I was often refused access through police lines even in calm areas, and had to move along and find other officers in the line who would let me through, or take a longer walk around to get to where I wanted. The police didn’t appear to know what they were supposed to be doing and at one point I was being crushed by the crowd against the barriers in front of the riot police who were threatening us with batons unless we moved back – which was impossible because of the crush. Several press colleagues did get injured.

Late in the day students who wanted to leave were told by officers they could do so by going up Whitehall – only to be stopped by other police who were closing the street off. We were pushed back into Parliament Square by riot police and police horses. Police told protesters they were not being detained although they were not being allowed to leave, a kind of police logic most of us find infuriating.

Kettling like this is used by police as a kind of minor but arbitrary punishment, and as in this case it often leads to violent incidents and arrests which are then used to retrospectively justify police actions. After I had managed to get through one of the police lines and catch a bus away from the area I heard that Police had pushed a large group into a very confined space on Westminster Bridge with a total disregard for their safety, with some needing medical treatment for crushing. As I pointed out “there could easily have been more serious or fatal injuries and people pushed into the freezing river below.”

Of course protests like this need to be policed to avoid serious disorder. But the confused and sometimes unnecessarily violent way it was done on this occasion seemed to create most of the problems of the day.

As well as a long account of my day there are many more pictures on My London Diary in Students Against Cuts – Day 3.


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Christmas Is Coming – 2014

Monday, December 6th, 2021

Three of the four posts I made on December 6th 2014 had a Christmas theme, with two of them around the then annual Santacon event in London. In 2014, around a thousand Santas were gathering on Clapham Common and more at two other locations in East and North London, along with the odd elf, reindeer to start to a day-long alcohol-fuelled crawl through London, eventually meeting up somehere in the centre of the city in the early evening.

I followed them for a short distance, but I’d actually come to Clapham for an entirely different event, the South London March for Free Education, part of a national day of education activism against tuition fees, where students and supporters including Lambeth Left Unity and South London Defend Education were meeting to march to a rally in Brixton.

It was a rather smaller march than anticipated – perhaps many students were in Santa costumes on another event, or busy with Christmas shopping but I marched around a mile with them taking pictures before getting the tube into Central London.

The Fossil Free Nativity – Churches Divest! in the area between Westminster Abbey and Methodist Central Hall was organised and performed by Christian Climate Action and Occupy London, and was an entertaining if rather amateur performance starring Westley Ingram who wrote the play and performed as the Angel Gabriel, and George Barda of Occupy who played Joseph with his child as the baby Jesus. It was part of a continuing campaign to get churches to disinvest from fossil fuel companies.

From Westminster I set off in a bus towards north London in search of Santas, jumping off when I saw a red cloud of them in the distance. Or rather ringing the bell and fortunately it was not far from a stop where the driver would open a door. I don’t at all mind wearing a mask for Covid, but still feel something of a loss of freedom over the loss of open-door hop-on, hop-off buses.

Thousands in Santa suits and other Xmas deviations, police trying hard to keep smiling, cans of beer, doubtfully soft drinks, just a few Brussel sprouts in the air, crowded bars, sprawling mass of mainly young people having fun on the streets of London. Santacon!

I’d met a couple of photographer friends also out photographing the Santas and they packed up and left as the light fell, while I continued working with flash for another quarter of hour or so, until a phone call alerted me to a pint awaiting me in a local pub. I’d been photographing people drinking for hours but all that had passed my lips to that point was water, and I was ready to break that particular fast with a little Christmas celebration.

Santacon North London
Fossil Free Nativity – Churches Divest!
South London March for Free Education
Santacon Start in Clapham

State Opening, Class War and Student Protests

Thursday, May 27th, 2021

I usually make a point of keeping away from the big occasions such as the State Opening of Parliament, but made an exception on Wednesday May 27th 2015, partly because I had been told that Class War were planning to come and protest, but mainly as there were other events I was intending to photograph later in the day.

Class War arrived too late to reach the centre of Parliament Square where they had hoped to display their banner and the area was already tightly sealed off by police. Police security for royal events is always very tight and as on this occasion often goes well beyond what is legal. So although they managed to briefly display their banner well before the Queen’s coach arrived they were quickly forced to take it down and pushed away. Around 50 police then followed the dozen or so as they made their way to a nearby pub and a few more supporters, and stood around for an hour or so looking as if arrests were imminent before most of them moved off, but police continued to follow the group until they left Westminster. Two other people who had been showing posters against austerity in Parliament Square were arrested despite their actions being perfectly within the law; they were released without charge a couple of hours late.

I walked from the pub up to Downing St, where a line of people from Compassion in Care where holding up posters and calling for ‘Edna’s Law’ which would make it a criminal offence to fail to act on the genuine concerns of a whistle-blower, and would make the state protect whistleblowers rather than them having to spend thousands of pounds on taking their cases for unfair dismissals to industrial tribunals. They say current law, the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 which has failed to protect the public, the victims or the whistle-blowers. So far nothing has changed.

As I arrived in Trafalgar Square where people were gathering for a protest against education fees and cuts there was an angry scene when a squad of police surrounded and arrested a man, refusing to talk with any of those in the crowd around about their actions. Had they explained at the time that the man being arrested had been identified as someone who was wanted for an earlier unspecified offence and was being taken in for questioning, it would have defused the incident, but this was only revealed after the man – and one of the protesters who had questioned the police about their action – had been put into a police van a short distance away and driven off.

Back in Trafalgar Square there was music as we were waiting for the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts protest to begin, provided by ‘Disco Boy’ Lee Marshall from Kent who had brought a mobile rig to Trafalgar Square. Apparently as well as running local discos he has a huge social media following.

Finally the NCAFC protest got under way, with a good crowd of mainly students in Trafalgar Square and speakers on the plinth of Nelson’s Column.

Class War came along (still followed by police) and there were cheers as they displayed their several banners; also taking the stage and marching with the students were the Hashem Shabani group of Ahwazi Arabs, who later held their own protest.

After the speeches in Trafalgar Square the NCAFC protesters set off to march to Parliament. Police tried to stop them with a line of officers and barriers at Downing St, but there were too few officers and many of the protesters walked around them and the barriers. Police apparently randomly picked on a few of the demonstrators and tackled them with unnecessary force making several arrests. The protesters continued marching around Westminster for some hours, but I left them at Parliament Square.

I finished my day’s work in Parliament Square with the Ahwazi Arabs who protested there against the continuing Iranian attacks on their heritage and identity since their homeland, which includes most of Iran’s oil was occupied by Iran in 1925. The occupation was important in protecting the interests of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, effectively nationalised by the UK government in 1914 (later it became the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and then in 1954, BP) and even after the nationalisation of Iran’s oil, BP remained a leading player in the consortium marketing Iranian oil.