I was at the protests in London on the 10th of November and I saw what happened first hand. I’m writing this article to draw attention to two points that are either misrepresented or completely missed in the Redbrick article as well as the vast majority of the media coverage. I hope that Redbrick will be brave enough to print an article from a differing point of view. NB (I thought that Sam Langtree’s editorial was well written and accurate, it is the news coverage rather than the comment I have issue with).
It wasn’t just the anarchists
The media coverage tends to portray the majority of students as good naturedly coming out for their democratic right to protest and a “show of student solidarity”. The reality is that the march had a decidedly lacklustre, bored and pessimistic feeling. The majority of people who I heard and talked to, showed little hope that the protest would achieve anything and many expressed a desire to resort to more radical action. A point that is often missed is that there were at least a thousand people in the square outside Millbank and many more on the street beyond. Though not all of them took part in the occupation the vast majority cheered when the protesters broke in through the windows and the vast majority joined in with the chants of “Tory scum” and “shame on you”. Despite what Aaron Porter or Boris Johnson says, I see no evidence that the students who weren’t present (“the majority”) would feel any different. That they weren’t there doesn’t mean they disagree. The media often makes the erroneous connection of masked face=anarchist (“with the masked face of anarchists” in redbrick). In reality I saw the anarchist contingent on the march before the occupation and there was at the very most 30 of them.
What did they expect?
Redbrick describes the protesters entrance to the building with this sentence “Rising to shouts of ‘Tory scum’ the individuals pushed back police lines with a scuffle and entered the building, as shattered glass lay beneath their feet”. This is the only description and papers over many of the important details. The “occupation” began when students on the march pointed to the Millbank Tower and starting chanting ‘shame on you’ this led four or five misguided students to run in to the branch of pizza express that happened to be next door. A more sizable group then proceeded to occupy the reception of Deloitte much to the bemusement and derision of the employees inside. Finally a group of about two hundred walked through the open door and in to the reception. This initial occupation was very good natured, no one was hurt and nothing resembling violence took place. Then a group of about thirty police officers and ten riot police arrived and blocked the entrance to the building, stopping anyone getting in or out. Over a long period of time the crowd both inside and outside grew steadily more and more radical and angry, culminating in the windows being smashed and the police being completely surrounded. When a march protesting Tory cuts goes past a completely unsecured Tory headquarters people will inevitably go in. And when thirty police try to keep five hundred people at bay it will inevitably lead to escalating anger tension and violence. I have been on five marches in my life and no matter how peaceful they were there has always been an enormous police presence. I have never experienced a protest without police lining the route. This time I did not see a single police officer until they arrived at Millbank.
I have two main conclusions to draw from this: Firstly the violence was caused by a lack of organisation by both sides. The majority of the media portrayed the ‘violence’ as the work of a ‘minority’ who came to the protest to cause havoc. In reality it was a process of cumulative radicalization as the crowds on each side of the glass slowly: egged each other on to reunify and realised that they could smash the windows without police retaliation. A properly organized Met could have stopped the windows being smashed with a decent police presence, instead they put the small amount of police in danger and allowed the situation to come to a head (I have nothing but praise for those police officers who stood their ground and didn’t lose their cool under very difficult circumstances. Had they lashed out the consequences could have been very unpleasant.) Properly organized protesters could have peacefully occupied and held Millbank. Taking the “high ground” of non violence and forcing any brutality on the police.Secondly I am forced to conclude that either both the Conservative Party and the Met are staggeringly incompetent, or that they deliberately encoraged violence on the part of students in order to discredit the protest. Several newspapers noted that large sections of the Tory staff had been evacuated from the building and yet nothing I have yet read mentions that they left the front doors open. I also find it hard to understand how it took the Met almost four hours to assemble an adequate police presence when on every other protest they seem to assemble a small army. It is quite possible that these sets of facts are perfectly reconcilable without resorting to conspiracy but I personally can see no possible way. It is unbelievable really that the media are not forcing the Met and the Government to answer these questions. The Government must not be allowed to use the media’s false narrative to justify a repressive and violent stance towards protests.