The scenes that followed the passing of the regressive tuition fees policy are signs of what’s to come. Frankly, whilst I would never go out of my way to positively advocate violence, I can understand why people reacted the way they did. Yes, throwing bricks at the police, out-of-order – but so was the police charging at the crowds with horses and dragging a disabled activist out of their wheelchair (he, Jody Mcintyre, has an interesting blog on this). I admit when violence first broke out at Milbank, I was a bit hesitant in stating I understood why it did; something I regret now. Whilst some clearly take part in the protests to cause violence, and have no real care about what else happens, there are some who are resorting to it as they aren’t being listened to. Thus, whilst I wouldn’t promote violent tactics myself, it is important to understand why it is happening.
Again, a lot of the violence has been overblown. Consider the reporting of Camila and Charles’ car being ‘attacked’. This turned out to be a few kicks at the car, hardly an ‘attack’. Who can blame them anyway, when they live off the state through the civil list, but future generations are not only condemned to higher tuition fees, but will also experience the worst effects of an £81bn cut package?
I think it is important to separate those who go to protests to solely enact violence, and those who are clearly hitting out within the context (police tactics that tell the protesters to exit through one way, and then kettle them when they do, for example). It is also important to clarify atypical generalisations that equates violence as ‘anarchist’ in nature. Furthermore, we have to remember the police violence as well as the vandalism, which has been talked about for some weeks now, this government is implementing.
Murray Bookchin is a good read regarding the rich historical tradition that anarchism has when it comes to non-violent direct action. Bookchin’s work on lifestyle anarchism considers how new forms of so-called anarchist groups are discrediting anarchism as an influential political praxis and theory, which intends not for arbitrary chaos but for non- hierarchical organisation. It infuriates me when I hear over and over again, the claims that “oh, well it’s those anarchists doing all the violence”. Whilst there are some anarchist groups who are taking part, they are not representative of the movement at large, and it is doubtful whether we could even call them anarchists.
We have to view this movement in the broader context too. These protests are going to continue, those who thought they would stop regardless of whether the fees package would go through or not were wrong. This movement is here to stay and grow, and as I have said to many already, is framed within a largely anti-government movement. The scenes and protests that have been taking place across the country for the last few weeks were not confined to a minority; it illustrates the problems with the system itself – the system that claims to be democratic. How is it fair that a bunch of mainly middle class, middle age, white men can decide the fate of future generations – not only in terms of higher education – but also in terms of the wider social, economic and environmental issues? It just isn’t.
If you shut people out of the system, you will get these reactions. People aren’t drones, they don’t just lie there and take it as their lives are shattered around them, by a government that is hardly accountable. This is where we need proper direct democracy, with face-to-face assemblies where people have a real voice. These events demonstrate the need for a new way of doing politics, so that people aren’t always ignored – as they were over Iraq and as they have been over tuition fees and cuts in general.
The LibDems made a choice, don’t let them kid you otherwise. Many of them, including Clegg, choose to vote for this – they could have abstained (not in my view any better) or preferably voted against. The likes of Cable may try to kid themselves, and you, that they have braved the storm, but the storm has yet to arrive.