“Nick Clegg, we know you, you’re a fucking Tory too!” This was a popular chant yesterday at Millbank, London, where some 52,000 students protested against the coalition government’s cuts.
I was there, rather accidentally, and – apparently having lost all my journalistic intuition as I wasn’t working – left the scene before anything exciting happened. When the windows of the Conservative party’s campaign headquarters were kicked down, I was enjoying the tranquility of Tate Britain. (I recommend the Eadweard Muybridge exhibition.)
The reason I found myself walking past Westminster along the demostrators was Paul Lewis, the Guardian reporter who is known for breaking the story about Ian Tomlinson’s death at the G20 demonstration. I was supposed to interview him for my research, but he got dispatched to cover the protest. So I shadowed him for some time.
The Guardian was doing a live blog about the event. Paul was, among Twittering and texting, supposed to send video that would instantly upload on YouTube – alas, this failed due to lack of wi-fi connection.
The demonstration seemed to be very well organized. We made our way to the front of the masses before the march began. There were people from the organising National Union of Students asking everyone where they were from – “Birmingham, you have to go back there, to the corner”. They seemed to know exactly which university was where in the massive queue.
Deputy prime minister Clegg seemed to be the favourite villain of the day. Cuts in education and increasing of tuition fees are hardly a surprise coming from the Tories, but Nick Clegg, among a lot of other Liberal Democrats, signed a pre-election plegde to oppose any rise in tuition fees.
This is what Clegg says in The Times (paywall, cannot link):
“I should have been more careful perhaps in signing that pledge. At the time I really thought we could do it. I just didn’t know, of course, before we came into government, quite what the state of the finances were. We didn’t win the election outright. This is also part of a compromise in a coalition government.”
It is a bit of a demo cliché to say that a small minority ruined a perfectly peaceful protest, but it is also usually true. The bulk of the people there were well behaved young people who had a very good reason to be angry. My favourite was the young man whose sign read “I’m upset so I’ve made a sign”. British understatement at its best.