Day X4, Les Événements in a kettled democracy
Is there a whiff of the Commune in London’s air? Or at least as a Newsnight journalist has just said ‘a hint of the poll tax’? While Edinburgh’s NUS leadership approved ‘candlelit vigil’ at the Scottish Parliament was predictably staid (the Scottish news then led on the week-old ‘Cold Weather in Winter’ story), tens of thousands of our London comrades forced the coalition majority down by three quarters. Three parliamentary secretaries resigned. The vote has passed at the end of a police baton. Journalists were wearing combat helmets and looking terrified amidst the smoke. The party of order on Sky and the BBC called for more backbone from the pompous horseborne thugs of the Met – and we saw the most magnificent episode of lèse majesté perhaps since 1649. Charles and Camilla went on to meet Andrew Loyd Webber at the Royal Variety Performance; indicating that as well as a radical movement against austerity, the students are fighting middlebrow vulgarity in all its forms.
Anyone influenced by the frothing about the demonstration’s militancy should remember two points. The first is that the cops make things up. They did it last week after the horse charges, they did it when Ian Tomlinson was killed, they did it in the Miners’ strike and before. As always you should consult the comprehensive Richard Seymour but enlightening coverage comes also from Paul Mason who pointed out what everyone actually on the demonstration knew. The police kettled people from behind at Parliament square and baton and horse charged protestors throughout the day, leading to numerous hospitalizations.
Here’s a second point though. The police were also ringing the place that is supposed to make decisions on behalf of the electorate. How can the students change the policy that’s taking away their futures? Vote for someone who’s against it? How should they react when that person goes back on their word because the ‘markets’ demand it? The protestors were getting back into the place from which their voices had been expelled, and because of its radicalism this protest has broken through the ideological kettle surrounding the coalition’s austerity programme and the capitalist crisis it is designed to ameliorate.
Where next? The vote has passed but as the 10 o’clock news said, the coaltion has ‘lost control of the streets’. My answer is to follow the 1968 model and move from students on the streets to workers on strike. Easier blogged than done but there are encouraging signs that this is possible, at least. One is the appearance of several union banners on the demonstration and the participation of the UCU in the march to Parliament. To a greater extent even than the previous days of action, the demonstrators were the poor youth of London’s suburbs who will not wear what the millionaires’ cabinet plans for them. One chap, a sixth former perhaps, explained: ‘We’re from London’s slums yeah? How are we going to get 9 grand for uni?’ Some news (not on the website but reported live about 9:30) did make its way through Sky’s Murdochfilter: during the Jacobin incident on Regent street, a group of ‘workers’ gathered to support the students. How remarkable that was to hear, and how warming a prospect.
When I got home I read some Milton that seemed right for Cleggeron.
“Fallen cherub, to be weak is to be miserable”