I work directly alongside Westminster Abbey, close to the Houses of Parliament, which means that I have a prime position whenever there are protest marches in London. There have been several student protests over the last few weeks in protest at education cuts and proposed rises in university tuition fees, but on this day my working day was disrupted by the big daddy of all student protests, as MPs prepared to vote on the changes that evening. From just after 1pm there were countless riot police and police on horseback preparing for the 40,000+ protesters who were marching through central London.
From around 3pm the action got tasty! Police implemented their ‘kettling’ tactic but hundreds of protesters forced their way through, having thrown flares, smoke bombs and pieces of metal fencing that they had broken up. It was a cold day, so naturally they felt the need to build a couple of bonfires in the middle of Parliament Square, presumably to throw politicians on to if they voted in favour of the proposals. Or possibly to toast the bread that they had brought along for their traditional student dinner of beans on toast.
We had a great vantage point on our first floor balcony, which didn’t go unnoticed by a passer-by who shouted: “Your school is being used by the police. You should use your privileged position to help the students out here!” Well, firstly, we don’t work in a school, we are an advertising company, so what can we offer the police to ‘help’ the students – free ads on Gumtree.com? But this guy wouldn’t shut-up and keep shouting at us. He can’t have been a student surely? He was in his 40s! This surreal picture was then completed when a policeman wandered past covered in pink paint, which I thought set off the yellow of his fluorescent jacket quite nicely.
By now there were thousands of protesters pushing against a line of riot police and mounted police. Hundreds did make it through eventually and attempted to head to a nearby government office. There must have been some bad injuries with such huge crowds pushing against pumped up police. More fool the idiots at the front, being hit by police whilst being pushed forward by their comrades! And all played out to a kicking drum ‘n’ bass soundtrack coming from an invisible sound system. Where was it? Maybe it was the sound of a thousand iPods… It was at this point that a Westminster Abbey Choir School mini-bus pulled up. I thought, surely they haven’t brought in choirboys as reinforcements?! What are they going to do, sing ‘Kum-bay-yah’ to the police horses, horse whisperer style?
The vote was due to take place just after 5pm. If that didn’t go in favour of the students, then I could imagine the reaction, so I thought it best to leave work early. Plus I couldn’t see much now that it was dark so it was no fun anymore!
Stewie, reporting LIVE from the streets of Westminster, London.*
*Or maybe from my office safely high enough from the street, to ensure that the only kettling we had to worry about involved arguing who was going to make the tea.