NUS Demo 2012

  Demo 2012 was billed as a march that would set the political agenda regarding further and higher education before the next general election. However, a combination of a poor choice of route and the lack of a strong, unified message quickly turned the march in to a walk through some of the lesser known parts of south-central London. It got off to a promising start, with rally cries from various student groups and a noisy response from the thousands of students huddled together in Temple Place. But as the procession set off along the Embankment the mood appeared to drop, flanked by police on both sides the people around me began to question exactly what we were achieving, and I must say I agreed with them. As we approached Westminster Bridge it was clear that the ‘hard left’ factions within the NUS, accompanied by Free Gaza protesters, Anonymous supporters and a scattering of Anarchists, had decided to ‘protest Parliament’ on the corner outside Big Ben. They were more vocally airing the view that there was nothing significant south of the river and a tenser atmosphere was starting to build. We decided to follow the official route across the bridge and it quickly became apparent that they were right; chanting and waving placards along the tree-lined Kennington Road, in the rain, seemed utterly pointless and the only people that were going to be impacted by the various messages of protest were the unwitting residents in their apartments and townhouses. We reached the end of our walk, Kennington Park, deflated and drenched. There was a half-hearted attempt at a rally, but the hordes of people that were there at the start of the day had already started to dissolve into the side streets to board their coaches home. Then as quickly as the rally had begun, it was over; the fractious and rather lack-lustre nature of the day came to a head when the ‘hard left’ made another appearance during NUS President Liam Burns’ speech. The spark seemed to be his mention of the word ‘comrade’, because as soon as he had said it boos began to ring out and moments later the stage was stormed and the video feed to the big screens was cut. This unfortunate airing of NUS’s dirty laundry, more specifically the political infighting and ideological debates on how hard a line the union should take, gave the media and most probably the Government, the comedy element that they needed to undermine the purpose of the whole day.

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