Belfast Telegraph

Why I wanted to rush out and hug rioting students

By Amy Jenkins

Someone texted me last week: “Riot in Millbank!” and I rushed to the TV. Finally someone is showing a bit of gumption, I thought. The cuts are getting the kind of response they deserve.

Heart pounding, blood up, I was childishly disappointed to find myself out on a limb — or so it seemed as I surfed between news channels. And even the newsreaders who, on the BBC at least, are meant to be neutral, sounded awfully disapproving of the “alarming” scenes at Westminster. I wasn't alarmed. I was the opposite. I was reassured. My faith in human nature was revived and, more than that, I was invigorated; I was inspired. I was ready to rush out and hug a student.

The police had expected 15,000 students to demonstrate on Wednesday against increased tuition fees and the end of the means-tested maintenance grant. They now say 25,000 came. Organisers claim it was 50,000.

As the march flowed along peacefully, a few demonstrators were amazed to discover that they could walk right into the Millbank building which houses the Tory Party HQ. Once in, they decided to stay and others joined them. Windows were smashed when enough police turned up to rile the marchers but not enough to restrain them. The worst moment came when someone foolishly threw a fire extinguisher off the roof.

The consensus of the faint-hearted was that the message of the demo had somehow been nullified. Small-mindedness was everywhere on view. It reminded me of when you're having a perfectly good argument with someone in a call centre and you get heated and swear. However justified your arguments are, the minute you use the F-word you've lost the moral high ground.

The police, the politicians, the media — all was the usual mind-bending double-speak of denial, as if the very suggestion that violent cuts might engender violent protest would send us all rioting. Of course the message of the demo wasn't nullified by the violence. Quite the opposite. An orderly demo would have merited a 30-second news item. As it was, the student protest led the news.

I thought the young were expected to be angry, but even the NUS leader seemed to be a stranger to all outrage except outrage at the “hijackers” of the protest. Already a member of the establishment, he didn't think anything of prostrating himself before some imaginary middle England consensus of disapproval.

Such a shame when the great thing about the student march was that, for a moment, that suffocating blanket was thrown off. This whole Cameronian thing about “doing it properly” — “proper” is a word Cameron uses constantly; this whole poppy-wearing awfulness that has overtaken the country is enough to drive even the mildest lefty to violence.

I have much sympathy for any soldier killed or wounded in our pointless wars, but the stifling hegemony about poppy-wearing gives me an aversion to the damn things. The fact is: there is no consensus about what's happening in this country.

Altogether 10.5m people voted Conservative at the last election; 44.5m are registered to vote. As Gil Scott-Heron once sang: “Mandate, my arse.”

Belfast Telegraph


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