I decided to cycle to the demo today. I’m on the mountain bike because it’s smaller and slightly lighter than my new touring bike. It also has SPD pedals which allow me to ride faster and more efficiently. I arrive at Trafalgar Square after battling my way through inexplicably heavy traffic on Kensington High Street. The scene is noisy. I can see Paraic O’ Brien from BBC London News talking on his phone and greeting fellow journalists like old chums. Maybe they are old chums. Who knows? Someone hands me a leaflet. I take one look at it. It has David Icke’s name on it. I crumple it up and snap “anti-Semitic filth” to the man who gave it to me. He looks bemused. There’s a sudden surge of noise coming from Nelson’s Column which prompts the cops into action. But there’s nothing for them to get worked up about. The crowd is just being noisy.
We move towards Whitehall and the police follow us. There’s easily a couple of thousand students here and more are arriving. There are quite a few Sixth Form students here too. I can even see a few school uniforms. Nick Clegg must be the most unpopular politician in Britain today. Politicians aren’t well liked at the best of times but Clegg is singled out for a lot of abuse on today’s demonstration. He deserves it. I cycle in low gear down Whitehall. I can see a police van parked in the middle of the road, just past the Cenotaph. “That’s a bit stupid of them” I think to myself. It’s almost as if the Met wants that van to get smashed up.
I am outside the Treasury. There’s a cordon of police blocking our way to Parliament Square. I’m now beginning to see my bike as a liability. It’s starting to get in the way. There’s a sudden surge of people moving away from the police. For a moment it looks like some of us will get trampled. I make myself look big and stand my ground. Others do the same. Things calm down. It’s clear the police aren’t going to let us through. A fire is started. Why didn’t anyone think to bring any bangers or marshmallows? There are a couple of journalists behind me. They look like tabloid types. I avoid them. They probably think I’m just some bloke with a bike who’s been caught up in the demo. Little do they know.
The crowd is starting to thin at this end of Whitehall. I suspect that some of the protesters are going to try and get out of Whitehall. I also suspect that the police have cordoned off all exits. I suddenly think of The Charge of the Light Brigade. This is a time when people really need to understand their terrain. The police clearly have the upper hand in this situation. Then some noise. The police van is finally attacked from all sides. That’s a cue. The police remove their casual-looking baseball caps and swap them for helmets and shields. Suddenly I get the feeling that we’re all about to be kettled. I think of Boris Johnson’s recent outspoken advocacy of that tactic.
I finally manage to squeeze my way to the other side of Whitehall. I negotiate my way across a hole that’s been left by the roadworkers. I make my way up to the northern end of Whitehall. A woman is being carried by the police towards Parliament Square. I am not sure if she is a protester or some Tory MP. I can see another cordon. Towards King Charles Street, I can see another cordon. They aren’t going to let anyone out. A number of protesters try and force their way through the cordon. It fails to break the column.
I stand around for a bit, trying to figure a way out. Then I move towards the cordon. The cop says “This is an absolute cordon”. To which I reply, “Is that different to a normal cordon”? He doesn’t reply but lets me out. Maybe it’s because I don’t look like student. Being a bit older does have its advantages after all! I cycle up Whitehall at top speed. I need the loo but they’ve closed all the public toilets. I walk my bike along the Strand and go down that road to the side of the station (I can never remember the name of it), lock the bike up at Embankment Station and go into a pub. There’s a group of blokes sitting around, drinking and gawping at the feed from Sky News. I use the loo and leave.
Cycling home, I accidentally take a wrong turn and end up cycling through Imperial College. It used to be federated with the University of London. I can see lots of students through the windows. Do they know about the protests or are they bothered? Maybe they’re having a sit-in. But somehow I don’t think so. This is Imperial College.
Once home, I turn on the telly. Emily Maitlis is interviewing Michael Gove or “Pob” as we call him at Nowhere Towers. He repeats the, by now, standard lie that the protest was “hijacked”. He knows nothing and yet he is the Secretary of State for Education. You know, I don’t think Gove has ever protested in his life. He probably never had the need. Apparently Gove is in favour of “reasoned debate”. He also talked of “logic”. He’s not au fait with either concept.
There have been other protests around the country. I hear that there was a horse charge in Manchester. You can read the Twitter feed here.
I’ll post up some photos when I get time.