I always manage to set off late to the demos. Before I leave, BBC News are reporting on this afternoon’s vote in the Commons. The overall message that comes from the Beeb is “Students won’t get what they want”. But what the BBC and the other news outlets continues to ignore is that the protests are about more tan just tuition fees, they’re about the cuts to education and the public sector as well as the scrapping of the Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA). The news media would do well to report the whole story and not just part of it.
I emerge from Leicester Square tube station into the December sun. It’s a good day for a march. It’s a little milder than it has been in recent days. Charing Cross Road is eerily quiet. I see that Bill Bailey’s show Dandelion Mind is on at Wyndhams Theatre. There are a couple of British Transport police hanging around outside the tube station. I walk towards Trafalgar Square. I can see a few protesters and some confused tourists wandering about in a near-daze.
At Trafalgar Square, I notice that the convenience store on the corner near Whitehall is boarded up. The Pret a Manger next door is not. I wonder what’s going on? A bit of an overreaction on the part of the shopkeepers perhaps? I can also see that Whitehall is blocked by a line of police. In fact, they surround the square except for Admiralty Arch. What’s going on? I do some circulating. I walk past some cops who are talking about “protecting Cowley Square”. Cowley Square, soon to be renamed Cowardly Square is home to the Lib Dems. A big cheer goes up as a banner from the RMT appears on the Strand. I make my way towards there. As I do so, I spot a former work colleague, His mate has a sound system on a bike that’s blaring out loud dub music. Yeah, this is just like Carnival!
As we walk down The Strand, the TSG move quickly along our right flank. They’re up for a ruck. I can see it in their body language. There’s a line of cops blocking the Strand. We head back around the corner and back towards Trafalgar Square and regroup.
Suddenly all of us move towards Admiralty Arch and down the Mall. The TSG are in hot pursuit but they’ve been caught on the hop. Further down the Mall, another line of police. Ah, so that’s where they are. The TSG try desperately to outflank us. They don’t look very fit. The speed of the march moves at an incredible pace down Horseguards Road. The TSG look puffed and confused. I move around them. Sirens. I can see small convoy of police vans full of reinforcements. This is going to be interesting. I climb over the barrier and down Great George Street. I can see Big Ben in the distance. I’ve cycled down here many times and although it is an official cycle route, it’s not for the faint-hearted.
Parliament Square. There are loads of police. The square itself is totally screened off. That won’t last long. From behind me, I can hear someone shout “mind your backs”! A line of TSG moves past somewhat aggressively. I shout back to them “no need to be aggressive”. They ignore me. These guys are spoiling for a fight. I can see one of those police ‘medics’. Surely an oxymoron?
I wander around the square. I can see tabloid news types on hair-trigger. I walk down into the subway, Westminster tube station is closed. “Station’s closed” says the cop. I walk up to the south side of Parliament Street, where Portcullis House squats. More police in full riot gear. No baseball caps this time. No pretence.
Party aides and researchers are gawping out the windows of Portcullis House. Some are taking photos. There’s a Sky News reporter trying to do a live news feed. It isn’t working for him. He’s picked a bad spot. The sheer numbers are overwhelming. Never mind, there’s probably another Sky scumbag around the other side of Parliament Square filling in a few gaps for the viewers.
There are loads of photo-journalists swarming about, looking for a good
‘story’. A small group of protesters who have climbed on top of a roadworks container are setting fire to some placards. They now have a story. I tell them this.
There’s a bit of noise. The screens have gone down. I head back towards Parliament Square and brush past Kurt Barling of BBC London News. It’s like a carnival here. There are drummers. A group of people have shown up with a tea urn. Good thinking! At the other side of square opposite Westminster Abbey, a man handing out flyers compliments me on my headgear. We have a quick chat. He’s an engineering student from Reading University. He’s also a member of the National Shop Stewards Network. He tells me that his uni is building luxury student accommodation at a staggering cost. He says that only rich students will be able to afford the rents. I agree. What is Reading Uni thinking? I take a flyer and he goes off. There are fires burning. There’s a particularly large one to the north of the square.
I listen to a couple of speeches from Socialist Party members. One speaker, an
Irishman who came here in 1968, tells us how he marched against the Vietnam War and has been on every march ever since. I move back towards the square where I see the coffin from UEL. I hang around with Marija from my PhD course who is with a few others from the Docklands campus. A Star Wars stormtrooper in pink moves across my field of vision. I excuse myself and rush off to take some pictures. As I finish snapping, I turn around and notice a surge is taking place on Victoria Street. The cops look completely overhwhelmed, then the surge subsides. I see Kurt Barling again. We exchange smiles. Maybe he thinks I’m a reporter. I have a journalist’s notebook after all. I even have a pen jammed into my hat. I sort of look the part. My hands are getting cold, it’s difficult trying to write in gloves but it’s even harder to write with cold hands.
Another attempt is being made to break through the police line, There’s a stand-off. It’s starting to get dark. I decide to try and find a way through the lines of police. I notice what looks like a couple of tourists, maybe they’re workers. I pretend to be with them. I follow them up Great George Street. The cops aren’t letting them through. I walk back around the corner to the gap between the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre and Methodist Central Hall. Again, they won’t let us through. I decide that the best course of action is to really lay on the American accent. I go to the line of riot cops on Parliament Street and tell them that I need to get out because I “have a doctor’s appointment”. The cop asks “Are you on the protest”? I tell him “no” and he believes me. I head up Whitehall and pop into the Wetherspoon’s pub to use the loo. There are quite a few protesters there drinking and chatting. A little while later, I’m walking past the Prince of Wales pub on Villiers Street and look through the window. The punters are watching Murdoch News. The scrolling bar says that a policeman has been “seriously injured”. This is just what the right wing media wants to see. Though it is unclear how this policeman was injured. One tweet says that this is the inspector who punched a protester in the face at the second demo. It’s hard to know.
Sitting at home the live news feed from the Beeb is pretty predictable. Ben Brown talks about the “dangerous” Whitechapel Anarchists Group. Oh, please. Sky News is even worse. A retweet that I receive from Brian Moylan to markthomasinfo reads “Kay Burley describes students as ‘insurgents’ but still not quite as outrageous as describing herself as a ‘journalist'”. Yeah, Kay Burley. She’s pretty shit.