Redlines solidarity protests in London

Two different activist groups staged protests in London today in solidarity with the so-called Redlines protests taking place in Paris at the end of the COP21 climate talks.

First were a group of around 25, calling themselves ‘Red Lines London’, who carried 10 giant inflatable cubes, similar to those used in Paris, to various sites across London.

They began with a short roadblock outside the Houses of Parliament, highlighting our Government’s increasing subsidies to fossil fuel companies while cutting support for renewable energy schemes and alternative energy research.

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Next, they crossed Westminster Bridge to pose outside the Shell HQ building.

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After a brief pause to top up the air pressure , the next target was the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern gallery, which receives sponsorship money in a green-washing exercise from BP.

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Moving further east, the group then blockaded the entrance to News International’s London HQ near London Bridge. Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers have been very supportive of air attacks on Syria, which is no surprise as he has oil interests along with Jacob Rothschild in the Syrian Golan Heights.

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Crossing the River Thames they carried their red lines through the City of London financial centre (where they attracted inquiries from police).

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Their fifth and final destination was the office of PR firm Hill & Knowlton, which works for fracking lobbyists to promote the idea that extreme energy extraction techniques are safe and sustainable, despite scientists’ analysis that further carbon exploitation will cause runaway temperature warming.

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———-

Meanwhile, back at Westminster,  Campaign Against Climate Change were preparing their own Redlines solidarity action starting with some speeches outside Parliament, including from Sian Berry, the Green Party candidate for London Mayor.

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The action comprised unfurling a 300m red line across Westminster Bridge.

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Despite strong winds, they managed to hang on and span the whole bridge behind Parliament.

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Both UK actions were in solidarity with the thousands gathered in Paris in defiance of emergency powers to send out a message to COP21 delegates that there are red lines that must not be crossed.

Syria Vote: die-in outside Parliament

As MPs debated whether to drop bombs on Syria, people gathered again in Parliament Square to protest against military action. The Stop the War Coalition had a small stage and PA and a crowd began to form on the grass as speeches got underway.

Meanwhile, an activist from Peace Strike ran onto the road outside Parliament and put herself under a large truck. This caused a roadblock for some time until she was eventually coaxed out by police and arrested.

Apart from this brief interruption, it was clear that StWC had some sort of arrangement with the Met, as senior police were overheard asking the organisers to stall for as long as possible before taking over the road.

So the speeches rumbled on for over an hour, with mostly the usual StWC glitterati, among them George Galloway who, whatever you think of him, is a decent orator, enthralling the crowd.

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Once the rush-hour traffic was finished, the die-in was announced, and in a carefully staged action of mock civil disobedience, around a thousand people took to the road and started their die-in.

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Police told the few motorists, mainly taxi drivers, caught in the action, that they should switch off their engines as they may be there some time.

However, after about quarter of an hour, officers moved in, and with a mixture of encouragement and a little brute force (without arrest), channels were cleared to allow the trapped vehicles to leave.

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Pre-organised diversions were in place to close off most of the square, but police also moved in to clear a single carriageway on the Abbey side to allow Millbank traffic to pass through towards Victoria and and St James.

The Stop the War Coalition then packed up their stage and PA and as far as I could tell, the organisers all left, leaving the crowd to carry on shouting and chanting outside parliament for the next couple of hours.

A little after 9pm, Natalie Bennett (Green leader) came out of Parliament to address the protest. Unfortunately, as StWC had gone home, she had to use a megaphone, but her short speech of encouragement was warmly welcomed, as she described how the demonstration could be clearly heard in the House.

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The noise built up and reached a massive peak as Big Ben tolled out the 10pm deadline for debate. There was some confusion over the news around the amendment vote blocking military action, and for a moment cheers rang out as some people thought it was a good result, but that soon changed to a resumption of anti-war chants until the 10.30 final vote.

As the news came through 397 MPs had voted FOR military action and 223 against, the mood turned from immediate rage, to sadness, and then stunned silence. In fact, an eerie one minute’s silence was called, respected by all – the only noise in the square coming from police radios for a short poignant moment.

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After that, chants resumed louder than ever – “Tories out, refugees in” and “You were wrong then, you are wrong now”. Gradually people began to stand and leave, but a small group made their way down to the media village at St.Stephen’s and chanted loudly as MPs were interviewed. This certainly came over loud and clear on Sky TV, though many of the other broadcasters were already packing up their gear.

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I was struck by two advertisements I saw at Westminster station for arms companies – their shares guaranteed to rise quickly as a result of the vote.

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Reaching home I heard that two bombers had already left an airbase in Cyprus bound for Syria with their promise of collateral damage and fuel for terror, less than an hour after the parliamentary result was in.

 

1st December #DontBombSyria rally

Arriving in Parliament Square just after 6pm this evening, the first banners I saw were those of Peace Strike, at the gates of Westminster.

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Across the rush-hour filled road, the Stop the War Coalition had set up a small stage, and a crowd of up to two thousand had already arrived.

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Among the speakers were Caroline Lucas and George Galloway.

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As more protesters arrived, they spilled out onto the road, but police kept a single lane open to traffic heading west.

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Just after 7pm, a short march was announced, and set off towards St James.

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The first stop was the nearby Conservative Party HQ where Andrew Murray delivered a letter to the Conservative Chairman.

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The march continued loudly and briskly.

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A second letter was delivered at the Labour HQ.

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As the marchers headed back along Victoria Street towards Parliament Square, I could see there were still marchers way behind at St. James’ station. Clearly numbers had built up massively, and I’d estimate there were more than 5000 involved.

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Back in the square, people started to leave, but a group of around a thousand continued chanting, and some people climbed statues and trees in the square while police numbers built up to block any attempt to block the roads, although later there was a brief sit-in, some skirmishes as police intervened, and one man was arrested.

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12 151201 syria rally - © @indyrikki

Among the crowd was a tearful Syrian man who was showing people pictures of his family home bombed to ruin – the real face of war.

With the parliamentary debate taking place tomorrow and a vote by 10pm, the Stop the War Coalition has called a further protest including a die-in from 6pm tomorrow evening. I am sure other groups will join this call, and Peace Strike will be continuing their vigil during the day.

 

London Climate March – pics and full report

As the London 2015 climate march began to assemble in Park Lane, the weather looked poor, with very grey skies, blustery winds, and a very wet fine rain drenching everything. But despite this inauspicious start, it was clear that something quite big was beginning to happen, as the wide Park Lane carriageway started to slowly fill up in front of the makeshift stage, a converted red fire engine, outside the Hilton.

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And with perfect timing the rain stopped as the first invited speaker Himaya Quasem spoke on behalf of ActionAid about how climate change is already affecting her village in the south of Bangladesh, with higher sea levels, floods, increased salinity, more frequent cyclones and storms.

As more people joined the protest, Sue Ferns spoke for TUC and Prospect, offering union solidarity for the three central demands round climate, jobs and justice, as well as a transition to a low-carbon future. She decried the insane prospect of steel workers being made redundant while future steel imports will be needed in order to support low-carbon infrastructure.

All the main political parties were invited to speak, and there was some argument among organisers when the Tories failed to respond about whether a platform should be given to other parties, but sense prevailed, and those that wanted were given the platform. The first of these was LibDem, Lynne Featherstone, who used to be a minister in International Development. She spoke of visits to Darfur and Asia, and the changing patterns of rain and drought affecting the poorest communities most. She described Tory policies on renewable subsidy removal, increased subsidy on nuclear energy, and end of Green Deal/Green Investment Bank, as “utter madness”.

Next was Vivienne Westwood, in a bright yellow cardboard crown, who began with her slogan “Politicians are Criminals”. She explained they were all trapped in a rotten financial system at the root of poverty, war and climate change. With global warming at a tipping point, she showed a map of a future world made largely uninhabitable by a runaway positive feedback loop. She said there was no choice between a green economy and mass extinction, but that we, the people can do it. She offered some some specific examples of what can be done to bring about change, quoting Paul Watson, from Sea Shepherd, that regeneration of the ocean could be quickly achieved by stopping industrial fishing. The charity ‘Cool Earth’, she said, have working proposals to save the rainforest with just £100m by working with and giving power to indigenous people. In the UK, she identified the biggest battle as fracking.

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Next to the stage was Tina-Louise Rothery, one of the ‘fracking nanas’, who also stood for the Green party in Lancashire against George Osborne. She spoke, eloquently as ever, about the rapid growth of the anti-fracking movement across the country. But she warned that people power was being fought by a Government so hell-bent on pushing through that it has just announced it has taken Cuadrilla’s planning appeal out of the hands of the local Council, over-riding local government.

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She invited people to come to Cheshire on 4th December for a blockade at the Upton site.

She was followed by Romayne Phoenix, co-chair of People’s Assembly who, with the news of green organisers under house arrest in Paris, warned of rising government surveillance and intervention here too, and the labelling of environmental campaigners as “non-violent extremists”. Highlighting the fluidity of legality with reference to the powerful, she related the carbon economy and war as products of the capitalist system that thrives on destructive exploitation. Trade treaties such as TTIP expose an utter contempt for democracy. Although People’s Assembly was set up to fight cuts and austerity, she said it also recognises the link with climate change, and she urged people to get involved by attending their 5th December conference.

Afsheen Rashid described the ‘Repowering London’ community energy enterprise, which brings together communities as stakeholders in local green energy products. This inspirational and empowering model is facing problems as the Tories cut subsidies and withdraw promised support.

Kofi Klu spoke for the Pan-African Reparations Coalition and also for the ‘Wretched of the Earth’ Global South bloc that was due to lead the march. He spoke of the continued coloniality of power and the neo-colonialism that today represents a continuing war started by Christopher Columbus in 1492. He called for people’s control of their own resources and reparatory justice, suggesting, very plausibly, that this would have a massive effect in stopping wars and to prevent climate change.

The Royal College of Nursing was represented by Cecilia Anim who spoke about health workers on the front line of climate disasters like Hurricane Sandy, and Matt Wrack spoke for the Fire Brigades Union. He noted the deaths of firefighters in the United States fighting increasingly severe wild fires, and said that as well as combatting the impacts of climate change, we need to deal with the causes. He asked whether the crowd had any confidence that David Cameron would do the remotest thing to tackle either of these fronts, or whether the oil companies would, or multi-national corporations. He said ordinary people must build the international movement to invest in clean energy, and to challenge the orthodoxy of austerity, cuts, and lack of subsidies.

Jeremy Corbyn received a very warm welcome, and he began by thanking the FBU for providing the fire engine being used as a stage, pointing out that it saves people, not banks. He was joined by John McDonnell, Barry Gardiner, and Lisa Nandy, and he said at least another dozen Labour MPs were on the march. He identified the problems facing COP21 as being pollution, climate change, inequality, environmental refugees, war refugees, and resource wars. He urged the COP delegates to listen to the voices of millions telling them it is possible to reduce emissions, to slow the rate of temperature change, and to protect large parts of the environment of this planet, and to do what they had been sent there to do on our behalf. He called for government policies on sustainable transport, on support to encourage rather than close down our solar industry, on creating jobs in a growing sustainable economy. Finishing briefly, he summed up that we need to sustain and protect our planet and our environment, and he reminded us that “we are the very very many and they are the very very few”.

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The speeches ended with Caroline Lucas from the Green Party. She said that “to change everything, we need everyone”, and that with similar huge protests in major cities around the world we were showing we were far ahead of the governments and private corporations who try to block us, because we are more powerful than they can imagine. She warned that any announcements from Paris would not be enough and we are facing a future of drought, desertification and disease arising from 4 degrees warming and more. She called for people to take their futures in their own hands rather than leaving it up to the elite in their secure zone in Paris, and called for non-violent direct action wherever necessary.

She also called for huge investment in green jobs, for a serious debate about aviation (not a choice between Heathrow or Gatwick expansion, as neither must be permitted), and a close look at agriculture, with meat production causing more emissions than cars, boats, trains and planes put together. She gave a special shout to the divestment campaign, noting that we have to leave 80% of known oil reserves in the ground. David Cameron’s drawback of solar subsidies, slashing of zero-carbon homes, and his new dash for gas with fracking, all decry his usefulness at COP.

She ended with Arundhati Roy’s quote, “Another world is not only possible – she is on her way” and looking out across the huge crowd, Caroline said she could see that world right now, and that while Paris 2015 will be remembered for the awful terrorist attack, she hoped it will also be remembered for the start of real change as our force together will be irresistible.

With that, the march set off, led by a group of Sami people and indigenous people from the global south representing the “Wretched of the Earth”.

As tens of thousands flooded into Piccadilly, the front banner read “STILL FIGHTING CO2ONIALISM – YOUR CLIMATE PROFITS KILL”.

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From the number of police focussed around this front group, and the Police Liaison Officers abandoning any pretence that they were anything other than forward intelligence units, it was clear something was afoot, and indeed, suddenly in Pall Mall, an unauthorised sit-down was dramatically staged outside BP’s offices there. 2nd DECEMBER UPDATE – there’s a back story here which I wasn’t fully aware of. Read this guest piece in New Internationalist from the point of view of ‘the Wretched of the Earth’, and the struggle they had with NGOs over the message of the march.

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Mindful of the huge crowd behind, organisers of the sit-down announced it would be over in a few minutes, and it passed without further incident but provided some different shots for the press.

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For the first time on a climate march, and apparently not without disagreement among the NGOs, private security personnel were hired to assist. One of their team leaders, from Apollo Events, continually hassled members of the press, and also refused to display his SIA identification, even when challenged. This is a criminal offence he didn’t seem to be aware of. It doesn’t really make organisations like Avaaz look very good when donations get used to pay for such behaviour, and perhaps they should reflect on this.

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That aside, the march snaked down through Whitehall to finish at a stage set up in front of Old Palace Yard. I continued to watch the relentless flood of banners, animal heads, dancers, and drummers arriving over the next hour, vaguely aware of a string of celebs performing on that stage.

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Meanwhile in Paris, people defied the ‘state of emergency’ ban on protests, and linked arms in their thousands after leaving shoes on the ground in the Place de la Republique, and although entirely peaceful and very poignant at first, later the authorities moved in and provoked the situation resulting in the use of tear gas, sound weapons, batons, some fighting and more than 200 arrests.

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Despite the expected largest turn-out in Paris being scuppered by arbitrary repression, with the other events around the world there are estimates of more than three quarters of a million people standing up for climate justice and calling for real action.

Don’t Attack Syria – London protest pics

For this protest, called by the Stop the War Coalition with only a couple of days’ notice, police had cordoned off the southbound carriageway of Whitehall, and StWC had set up a small stage in front of Downing Street. Similar gatherings were taking place, we were told, in 30 towns and cities across the UK.

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The protest, called for midday, continued to grow over the next couple of hours as a variety of speakers took the stage, and I’d estimate at least 2,000 attended in all.

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After John Rees spoke for the coalition, the first big celeb speaker, dressed in a very pricey-looking grey winter coat, was Brian Eno, who spoke from the heart about the illogicality of a military “solution”.

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After a typically rousing effort from Owen Jones, we heard from Green deputy, Dr. Shahrar Ali, and then Sabby Dahlu from ‘Stand Up Against Racism’, who spoke passionately about the right-wing media demonisation of Muslims, and the resulting rise in racist attacks.

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A heartfelt and honest speech from the massively talented actor Mark Rylance, was followed by well-honed oration from George Galloway.

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Next on was Tariq Ali, who used to write regularly in the Guardian, but, in talking about the media frenzy over Corbyn, Paris, and a Syria attack, admitted he can no longer bear to read it. His speech reminded us of the long-standing plan, exposed many years ago by ex-NATO supreme commander, General Wesley Clark, to “take out” a series of countries in the Middle East, including Syria. This story was backed up recently by the revelation from French Foreign Affairs minister, Roland Dumas, that UK officials confessed to “preparing something”, an organised invasion of rebels into Syria, more than two years ago.

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By 1.30, with the south carriageway pen full to overflowing, police had given up trying to persuade protesters outside Downing Street to move over the road, and with the pavement full there too, some folk decided to invade the north carriageway and completely block the road.

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Sergeant Dearden is often seen at protests carrying out surveillance in his National Domestic Extremist Unit role, but on this occasion he was in charge of police operations and wearing Inspector epaulettes. After sending in some Police Liaison Officers to gather intelligence and try persuasion, he then brought in some TSG officers to push people off the road and allow some traffic through.

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However, demonstrators were persistent, and staged a sit-down, at which point, police closed off the carriageway at Parliament Square, where they listened to the final speaker, Dianne Abbott, who had been delayed travelling, as she brought greetings of solidarity from the Labour leadership.

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As the protest pen cleared, and traffic began to pass south, a little after 2.30, people began to drift away from the sit-down, and cleared the road by about 2.45.

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There is another protest planned at Parliament for 6pm on Tuesday IF the government announces a vote to take place on Wednesday. Check stopwar.org.uk for new information on this.

UPDATE – announcement HAS been made, so Wednesday debate, and emergency protest at Parliament 6pm Tuesday 1st August

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Class War Autumn Statement

As George Osborne gave his Autumn statement in Parliament on 25th November, announcing both more austerity and yet more deficit, Class War activists visited his family business, Osborne & Little on the King’s Road, London.

They were there to protest, that despite massive turnover, and excellent remunerations to top staff and shareholders, the business has somehow contrived to pay virtually no corporation tax over the past few years, and in one recent year it even acquired a tax rebate of £12,000 due to some creative accounting.

The group of fewer than a dozen activists held a large banner and some small placards outside the shop, and engaged with locals, while police stood in front of the doors, and another twenty officers lurked in vans round the corner.

 

NCAFC Student Protest Nov 4th 2015 – pics/report

Not content with previously raising tuition fees and scrapping the Education Maintenance Allowance, the Conservative Government announced in the budget this year that from next September, grants for students from low-income households will be abolished and replaced with further loans of up to nearly £9,000 a year.

This will mean that the poorest students may finish three-year courses with a more than £50,000 debt burden at the start of their working lives.

Students protest in Central London calling for free education.

Despite assurances from the Dept of Business, Skills and Innovation that they are “committed to ensuring that everyone with the potential to benefit from higher education has the opportunity, despite their background”, the fear expressed by students marching yesterday is that the huge debts will disproportionately affect the poorest and deter them from taking up higher education.

Students protest in Central London calling for free education.

The new Labour leadership is vociferously opposed to the scheme, and Jeremy Corbyn reminds us that “we all benefit from education, collectively as a society, not just as individuals”. His Chancellor, John McDonnell was one of the first speakers to address the 2,000-strong crowd in Malet Street at the start of the march yesterday, offering solidarity, highlighting that education is not a commodity to be bought and sold, and condemning the Tory betrayal of current students and future generations. Other speakers included a junior doctor, a ‘no borders’ activist, campaigners against the Govt racial profiling “Prevent” programme, and education activists.

Students protest in Central London calling for free education.

Students protest in Central London calling for free education.

The march was organised by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC), which is a grassroots movement that grew out of frustration with inaction of the official student body, the National Union of Students, who offered their “support” to yesterday’s protest.

As students set off at 1.30 yesterday afternoon, a short but heavy rainstorm did little to dampen spirits. Nor did the oppressive police presence, which included officers stationed at every corner in the vicinity of the University, dozens of TSG officers (normally deployed against football violence and riots), a police helicopter, lots of blue-bibbed ‘Police Liaison Officers’, who are inextricably linked with intelligence gathering, as well as several undercover officers amongst the crowd. The National Domestic Extremist Unit was also monitoring the protest, with several of their senior officers in attendance.

Students protest in Central London calling for free education.

Students protest in Central London calling for free education.

Students protest in Central London calling for free education.

As the march approached Whitehall, the sun came out, and it was clear that numbers had increased to several thousand, booing and shouting as they passed Downing Street. It was great to see so many different banners at a protest, with far fewer adverts for Socialist newspapers – the usual sight so often – instead replaced by inventive slogans and art, and many variations on a pig theme.

Students protest in Central London calling for free education.

Students protest in Central London calling for free education.

The heavy police presence continued with horses deployed at Westminster Bridge, and dogs at the Home Office.

Students protest in Central London calling for free education.

This finally provoked a reaction from a small ‘black bloc’ presence in the crowd, who threw a few paint bombs (eggs injected with water-based paints) at officers outside the Home Office, along with a couple of smoke flares.

Students protest in Central London calling for free education.

Nearby, I saw Green leader, Natalie Bennett, giving interviews and offering her support then making her way to the Department of Business, Skills and Innovation in Victoria Street.

Students protest in Central London calling for free education.

This building was very heavily protected by police, both inside and outside. There was an attempt by some students dressed in matching black overalls and using large foam shields painted as book covers (the “Book Bloc”) to push through the police lines and occupy the building, but this was viciously fought back, and scuffles erupted, more paint bombs and flares were thrown, and the lamestream press, looking for confrontation, got their shots.

Students protest in Central London calling for free education.

Students protest in Central London calling for free education.

Students protest in Central London calling for free education.

Police also briefly imposed cordons (some called this a kettle, the police called it a ‘containment’), and officers started telling people to “leave the area if you’re not involved”, thus trying to split and disperse the demonstration, rather than facilitate it for the vast majority of students who wanted to make their voices heard.

Students protest in Central London calling for free education.

Students protest in Central London calling for free education.

The police tactics did however succeed in disrupting the protest, and planned speeches didn’t happen. Some of the Book Bloc did manage to break through police lines, and then among scuffles there were some arrests, while a breakaway march began round the back streets of Victoria, making their way slowly back round towards Parliament and Downing Street and then retracing their route back towards Malet Street.

Public reaction to the chants of “Free Education” were generally very good, with lots of waves and thumbs up.

Students protest in Central London calling for free education.

Students protest in Central London calling for free education.

Police however, were not content to let the protest march peacefully back to Malet Street, and, in a huge operation surrounded and contained groups near Trafalgar Square, pushed them towards Charing Cross, and then threatened arrest using dispersal powers unless they left the area.

In all there were 12 arrests for a variety of suspected Public Order offences, and prisoners were held overnight at West End station.

Many students complained yesterday that when a peaceful march is so heavily policed with TSG, horse, and dogs, it is hard to see how it is going to remain peaceful.

It would not be the first time that heavy police tactics have been used to dissuade students from protesting against government plans.

Tory HQ heavily defended by metal fencing, police and horses, though no students actually went there.

To find out about future events, see the NCAFC website.