9 Nov 2011

London student protest – ‘not a quiet affair’

After the 2010 student protests, there was speculation today’s London demo against education cuts would be similarly violent. But a sizeable police presence meant there was only sporadic disruption.

Today’s student demonstration in London was never going to be quiet. Though the number of protesters probably fell well below the predicted 10,000, the mood from the outset was boisterous.

And walking en masse through London’s main thoroughfares as workers stare down at you from their offices is in any case a provocation to be noisy.

Those we spoke to – a small, unscientific cross-section – said they were there because they objected to education cuts and to the privatisation of the education system.

When the march reached High Holborn, the shouting was still mainly good-humoured. “You can stuff your rubber bullets up your a***” was the most notable chant – the police having suggested before the march they might use baton rounds to control any unruliness.

At this point the Channel 4 News online team cut across Covent Garden to be ready to film the marchers as they moved up the Strand. In the process, we missed events in Trafalgar Square, where a small group set up an impromptu tent camp.

Anti-cuts protest in London

Tension spills over

By 2.20pm, the march had reached Holborn Circus, on the outskirts of the City. The police halted the demo for about 20 minutes. Tension spilt over, and sticks and bottles were thrown when protesters finally moved forward again.

On Holborn Viaduct, small knots of demonstrators broke through the police cordon at the front. A mobile sound system started playing and, for a brief moment, the police appeared to lose control.

Cue the appearance of a phalanx of Territorial Support Group officers, now leading the protest ahead of the mounted police. From Holborn Viaduct until the London Wall, the TSG marshalled events from the front. At London Wall – the march’s destination – the police kettled protesters, then slowly released them.

We spoke to two groups who believed the demo might have got its message across more effectively by moving to the Houses of Parliament rather than the City. Others, though, thought differently and headed off up to the nearby Occupy London protest camps at St Paul’s and Finsbury Square.