NUS demo a washout – Low turnout, anti-NUS sentiment and heavy policing characterised yesterday’s #Demo2012, in which thousands took to the streets to protest education cuts as well as Gaza. In an embarrassing turn of events for Liam Burns, President of the NUS, crowd members booed and heckled the Heriot-Watt University graduate at a post-march rally which took place at Kennington Park.
Eggs, beer cans and fruit were thrown at the Union President amidst cries of “sell-out” and chants of “NUS, who are you? Where the fuck have you brought us to?”
Burns’ second speech was cut short by the stage invasion of at least 20 protestors, who broke through the security barrier and took possession of the microphone.
While Burns was ushered away, struggles between security enforcers and protestors continued. “It’s like they are sheep,” one of the security officers involved told The Cambridge Student afterwards. “As soon as one goes, they all follow”.
Two years after Millbank, which saw 50,000 students take to the streets, the #Demo2012 saw around 4,000 students attend the protest, well below the 10,000 figure expected by the NUS.
With the tagline “Educate, Employ, Empower”, the march included 100 Cambridge students, at least 200 from Sheffield and a large cohort from the University of Winchester. The NUS Scotland group formed the front of the demonstration from Temple Place to Kennington Park.
Previous to the protest, societies at the University of Manchester were sent a controversial e-mail telling them that “additional funding” for societies “would be contingent on sending ten society members to #Demo2012”. Over 500 signatories have since supported a petition, in response to the email, which affirms: “We are adamant that student societies must be allowed to reserve their right to exist as politically neutral organisations”.
On the day, many protesters carried ‘F**K FEES’ placards. Just as common were Palestinian flags, “Free Gaza” signs and chants of “1, 2, 3, 4, occupation no more, 5, 6, 7, 8, Israel is a terror state”.
Chants of “fuck the police”, “anticapitalista” as well as less optimistic signs were also visible at the march. One read: “This march is shit. The future is shit. All I want is revenge.”
Rosalyn Old, Cambridge University Students’ Union President, told TCS that the protest was “lively” and “positive”, “covering a whole variety of issues facing current and future students: loss of the EMA, £9000 fees, a lack of postgraduate funding and damaging changes to international student visas”.
Beginning at Temple Place at 12.05, twenty minutes later than planned, the demo passed through Embankment and onto Westminster Bridge.
Police enforcement was heavy, with units of officers cornering off Parliament Square and parts of Embankment.
Superintendent Mark Twist told TCS before the protest that Section 12 of the Public Order Act 1986 was to be enforced on the day. Its stated aim is “to prevent serious public disorder, serious damage to property or serious disruption to the life of the community”, relating “to the route of the procession or prohibiting it from entering any public place specified in the directions”.
After a minor stampede towards Portcullis House and Westminster at 12.55, the march split off into different groups, leaving Westminster Bridge almost empty for at least 15 minutes.
Passing through Westminster Bridge Road and onto Kennington Road, the demonstration, now a single body of protestors, continued towards Kennington Park.
The march culminated in the rally at the Park where speakers addressed a damp crowd. Liam Burns’ attempts to move the protestors were met with profane gestures, shouts of “sell out” and calls for a “General Strike”, before a stage invasion ensued. Such behaviour raises serious concerns as to Burns’ integrity and image as NUS President.