– Richard III, William Shakespeare. 1594
So on Thursday 9th December, 2010, Parliament voted to raise the cap on tuition fees and condemn future generations to a lifetime of debt. All the protests, marches, demonstrations and petitions thus far have clearly had no impact on the government, which begs the question – how do people get the government to listen to their pleas?
This is our winter of discontent. The winter that has begun with London burning – images of fires and smoke trailing into the night sky as Big Ben watches over the chaos. Winston Churchill standing hunched over his cane, hand in pocket, as metal fences litter the pavements and graffiti is sprayed on stone monuments. Shattered windows and broken buildings highlight the less-obvious damages – the damage done to the people, an electorate who believed in the lies they were fed, the false promises and pledges from a party that wanted “an end to broken promises”.
The cuts have not even started to bite yet, but already mass movements have been generated from the ground-up – bringing sympathisers from various movements under one shared cause. Trade unionists, socialists, anti-war protestors, UK uncut demonstrators, students, sixth formers, school kids, teachers, lecturers, anarchists… all have shown their faces at recent demonstrations.
This is only the beginning. Rather than discouraging demonstrators, the recent protests have actually inspired a generation who has found their voice – and found that they are not alone in their anger. The police violence of late has only served to fuel the cause, to promote solidarity amongst the groups, to educate the uninformed. These young protestors have had a crash-course in demonstrating – Protesting 101. They have had to learn quickly, and the results are beginning to be seen: protestors kettling the police, protestors breaking through the containments in small groups instead of large masses, bringing supplies and learning to hide their faces. There are those who show up just to cause trouble – from full-fledged anarchists to groups like the EDL who show up to cause trouble. Some “gang” members mugged several people on Thursday – stealing their phones or belongings whilst the police watched on, laughing or simply not giving a damn. But the protestors are learning. They do not stand for the violence, and ostracise those who incite it. Just like at Millbank when the fire extinguisher was thrown, the crowd turned on the culprits shouting: “Stop throwing shit!”. But what do you do when the ones instigating the violence are the police?
The protests are far from over, and once the cuts start to bite you can guarantee that the “movement”, whether it be an anti-cuts movement or a tuition-fee movement, will be joined by sympathisers who are also feeling the cut-backs. In a democratic society, you feel secure in the knowledge that the government is working for the people, and that if enough people get together the government will listen. But is this the case?
The police seem to be being used as the arm of the state, rather than enforcers of justice or protectors of civil liberties. The government does not appear to be relenting, no matter how many individuals join the cause. The actions of the violent minority are being used by those in power to damage the whole movement – even when the actions have not actually occurred. David Cameron stated that protestors dragged an officer from a horse and beat him. Video footage shows the officer falling from his spooked horse whilst two protestors, hugging one another, are pushed about and hit with batons by other officers. Meanwhile, Cameron is spouting his version of the scenario whilst stating that the protestors will be punished “to the full extent of the law”.
Despite over 43 protestors being injured on thursday, one needing brain surgery, and many personal accounts of police brutality, the government is calling for more powers for the police. Despite the fact that officers charged at packed crowds on horseback and beat journalists and school-kids alike with batons, the government is praising the officers for showing “restraint” and calling for more powers. Theresa May was hinting at the use of water cannons being employed, however the police cannot be trusted to use their current powers responsibly! The Met has been “kettling” school-children and students for hours upon hours in the freezing winter air with no escape – if they start containing soaking wet protestors in the cold of the winter air then we could even start to see some serious illnesses or even deaths resulting from hypothermia or similar conditions! After all, our police force was reluctant to treat a young girl on Thursday who collapsed from a blow to the head (from a friendly bobby, of course)
It should be noted that Theresa May DID state: “‘It is a matter for them to decide what tactics to use. I’m sure you wouldn’t expect me to sit here today and give the game away about anything that might be done in the future.” Give the “game” away, eh, Theresa? I’m sure it doesn’t seem like a “game” to those hospitalised by the police on Thursday.
It wasn’t a “game” when officers pushed to get injured protestors transferred to another hospital, because the sight of the protestors was “upsetting” to their officers. Alfie Meadows, the protestor who needed three-hour brain surgery, was almost transferred, despite the fact that he needed urgent medical attention. An ambulance worker had to argue with officers who were demanding that he be transferred, despite the fact that the transfer could have resulted in his death. According to Alfie’s mother, the worker stated: “I’m getting angry now, and I’m not going to do this.” This lack of respect, compassion or remorse in the officers was evident at the protests that I attended. Not every officer is like this, it must be said, but quite a few seemed more like thugs than officers of the law, I felt at times. Then you have scenarios like the disabled protestor being dragged from his wheelchair that do nothing to help their cause.
The battles between the Met and the demonstrators is far from over. This may just be the end of the beginning – nothing more. But if the police force get more powers, and if they are not investigated for their recent actions, then the violence will simply escalate. Demonstrators will not be “put off” from attending – it will just make them more focused, determined, and angry at the establishment and the police force. The Met is already concerned with public backlash against them – with them being seen as the enforcers of the cuts. However, their actions are not doing them any favours.
This is the winter of our discontent – the discontent of a mass of people who have been betrayed, lied to and put down by the powers that be and the bully boys of the elite: the police. This is not cynicism, this is how the majority of protestors are feeling. Teachers, parents, journalists and other respectable members of society have also been involved in the protests of late, and have also witnessed “kettling” first-hand, have also witnessed the police response. One journalist was hit by a truncheon and needed stitches. As you can see, it is not all students and violent kids that have been “attacked”, to use a loaded term. The internet is being flooded with first-hand reports and eye-witness statements of the events of late – blame Twitter, Facebook, blogs, forums etc. Photographs and videos are surfacing and people are bypassing the media to view the evidence first-hand.
Shakespeare’s original verse went: “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer…”, but unless there is a positive change in the near future, our “glorious summer” may also see London witness to skirmishes and destruction.
- Riots, fire, anger – and a defining political moment for a generation (guardian.co.uk)
- Tuition fees protest: Video shows police DID charge at students in Trafalgar Square (dailymail.co.uk)
- Student protester operated on after being ‘hit with police baton’ (guardian.co.uk)
- Police could use water cannon to disperse protesters following tuition fees demonstration, warns Theresa May (dailymail.co.uk)
- Police officers ‘tried to stop hospital staff treating injured protester’ (guardian.co.uk)