How did you first get involved in the protests?
The former President of Sheldon Sixth Form organised a coach up to the first protest. For the second protest, somebody I know got funding for Abbeyfield, and suggested I do the same for Sheldon
So, what exactly was the point of the protests?
The aim of the protests was vaguely to hinder the government’s education reforms. The main issues being protested against were tuition fees and educational maintenance allowance. Many attending described this as the ‘privatisation’ of the education system. The argument for this is that universities now raise their own funds and are no longer reliant on the government in that respect. The service they provide is based on the quality of their lecturers and their reputation, both of which are provided by money. Therefore Universities are no longer reliant on the government, but act more as a private business.
I can't remember if you went to the London ones about the fees last time, so if you did - What was it like in comparison with the protests beforehand?
I was at the London fees protests last time. The protests this time were on a far smaller scale (the Metropolitan police claimed only 2000 attended, but in a private report for met use only, they stated the number was more like 10,000) than last time, when 50,000 attended. A lot of this is due to the fact that the issue has died down a bit, but a lot of people travelling with us dropped out at the last minute due to the police threatening to use rubber bullets.
Do you think the threatened use of rubber bullets was in anyway justified?
I do think it’s justified if they prevent more harm than they cause. However, I’m completely against the way the introduction of them has been handled. It honestly sends an awful message when rioters escape any riot measures after days of rioting, but protesters are threatened before the thing even starts. In the end, none were used, but it certainly depressed the numbers attending due to worried parents, and I think that’s a real shame.
How did you manage to get the support of the trade unions and what exactly did this mean for you all as a result?
Well, Unison funded Abbeyfield students, and GMB funded us at Sheldon. We simply emailed them asking them for funding to attend the protests, and they both agreed (many trade unions backed the cause of the protests, as did the National Union of Students). It was extremely helpful to have transport costs covered, as train fees to London are extremely expensive (and yes, the Conservatives are putting them up again).
What was the atmosphere like?
The atmosphere was jovial, despite the seriousness of the cause, as many student protests are. It was almost entirely peaceful, and it was nice to see students from many different backgrounds coming together to protest.
What was the route of the march?
The route of the march was far less controversial to last time. Last time the march passed Parliament as MPs prepared to vote on the tuition fees rises (the protest could apparently be heard within Parliament) and ended fairly nearby Conservative Party HQ – and we all know how that ended. This time, the route started at the University of London Student Union, and continued across a few leafy suburbs. I’ll be honest, we stopped for a McDonald’s and lost the march for a while, so a short cut was taken!
Do you think the day's events made any real impact?
Well, yes. I don’t think there was every any chance of MPs looking at the 10,000 protesters and saying ‘right, let’s reverse tuition fees’ when they wouldn’t amid the media furore as they prepared to vote this time last year. But it does have a profound effect on politics if people don’t give up their cause. Politicians very rarely backtrack or admit they’re wrong in public, but they do see what hits their opinion poll ratings and what people take to the streets about. If there had been no student fees protests, it’s possible in that hard times in the future, more cuts could have been made to education. After all, I’m sure it’s no coincidence that the hardest hit by these measures are the under 18’s unable to vote. Now that politicians have been made to see just how motivated and angry young people in this country can get, that won’t happen. It’s also no coincidence that political leaders are falling over themselves to get on the side of young people now in a way they weren’t beforehand – with Ed Miliband calling for the 9k fees to be scrapped or lowered, and David Cameron boasting of the apprenticeships scheme hisgovernment has brought in. For some reason, Nick Clegg isn’t talking much to young people at the moment.
Do you think the education cuts have helped encourage more young people to get involved in politics?
Yes, definitely. For me it was the tuition fees decision that made me get actively involved in politics and led to be eventually joining the Labour party. I attended the party’s conference this year and spoke to a lot of young members, and there were a lot of people in similar situations. In fact, the Conservative party has always had the largest party membership of any British political party. It was finally overtaken by Labour in 2010/2011 due to the amount of young people joining.
Thank-you very much Harry!
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