Dan Swain reports from today’s student demonstration in London.
Over 7000 students joined today’s demonstration for free education in London, making it the largest student demonstration in Britain since 2011. The demonstration was organised by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts and the Student Assembly Against Austerity, and supported by the Young Greens.
It had initially been supported by the National Union of Students (NUS), who later withdrew their support. Despite this, there were substantial delegations from across the country, including from places like Essex and UEA, where Student Union support was withdrawn following NUS’ decision. The strong turnout raised the question of how much bigger the demonstration could have been had NUS taken it seriously. Adria Porta Caballe, Campaigns Officer at University of Essex SU, said “We’ve brought 40 people to this demonstration, but if our SU hadn’t withdrawn support, we could have brought more than 100.”
The march was due to rally at Old Palace Yard, near Parliament, but upon reaching Parliament Square a large contingent broke through barriers to enter the square itself. After occupying the square for some time this group moved down Victoria St, towards the Department of Business and Skills and the new Conservative Party HQ. This group became increasingly fragmented, whilst Police employed increasingly heavy handed tactics, including several arrests. One arrest caused a large contingent to pursue the Police to the entrance of New Scotland Yard. Meanwhile, those who had continued along the agreed route heard a closing rally with speeches, including from Caroline Lucas MP. Barnaby Raine, trustee at Oxford SU said “It was a great day, but it was frustrating that the demonstration ended up split into different groups. Better organisation could have avoided this, and been the basis for more effective action.”
This felt like a step forward for the student movement – most of those present will not have been at University during the last major wave of protests in 2010-11. But this could easily dissipate without some sort of long term structure in place. The next step should be activist meetings on every campus to discuss where next.