The violence at student protests misrepresented the vast majority of us

9:15 am - November 12th 2010

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contribution by George W Potter

Having read Mr Barker account of what happened at Millbank I felt quite pissed off.

His account is unrepresentative of the majority of the protesters.

I went to the protest as a Lib Dem and marched with other Lib Dems to demonstrate our personal opposition to fee rises and to show that the majority of the party does not celebrate what our leadership is doing.

I wasn’t there the moment protesters went into the courtyard of Millbank Tower, but I was there shortly afterwards. I first noticed something was up when part of the crowd began following others off of the road to the right.

I first noticed smoke rising from the crowd. I remember some people gasping and hoped they hadn’t set fire to the building. Banners of the type that I had seen being carried earlier by SWP and anarchists were clearly visible above the heads of those gathered outside Millbank.

As we went past someone pointed out that they’d smashed a window with a chair. People around me were appalled at this and someone pointed out that the window they’d smashed was the office window of a private company and nothing to do with the tories at all.

Not wanting to get caught up in the violence (or be noticed by the socialists whilst wearing our Lib Dem regalia) we hurried past to the end of the protest. After realising that we were too far back in the crowd to hear what the speakers were saying, and that the view of the projector screen was blocked by the placards of people in front of us, we decided to mark the end of the protest in ture Liberal tradition by going to the pub.

We headed back past Millbank where we saw a few more people had gathered around the fire (the majority of the crowd looked to be in their thirties and it certainly seemed that non-students made up most of the people there). More windows had been smashed and it looked like it was turning uglier. There was a police van parked in the road but they seemed to be content to stand by and do nothing whilst property was damaged.

The crowd had thinned and we didn’t want to become a target so once again we hurried past Millbank. A few yards down the road we met a few more of our number who had been held back at Parliament Square by the police because some idiot had shouted out something stupid (along the lines of ‘Let’s go smash the tories’ though I can’t remember precisely). For me, this was the end of the protest as we got into a pub as soon as possible, once again aware of the socialists, bands of whom were now roaming the streets around the path of the march.

[Image by Jonathan Warren – who has more]

However, I can state with certainty that when I went past Millbank there were no more than a few hundred people gathered outside – about a thousand maximum. The vast majority of students went straight past and showed no wish to get involved. Yes, there were some morons who joined in but the vast, vast majority did not.

Out of the people I spoke to nearly everyone seemed to be concerned that the violence would overshadow our message and everyone was shocked as we heard about how the violence was escalating.

So, Arthur is completely wrong when he says:

As much as the Tory press (and for that matter Aaron Porter, the BBC, and The Guardian) are keen to give the impression that a tiny minority of nutters who ‘probably weren’t even students’ were ruining the march for everyone else, this is simply not true. There were thousands of students in front of the Milbank Building, cheering as windows were smashed, adding their placards to the bonfire.

Granted, as a lefty I did enjoy some schadefreude at the thought of the Tory HQ being trashed but at the same time we were very glad that no one had been hurt. Except, as we were to learn later, people were injured. Glass, lumps of concrete and a fire extinguisher were thrown into the crowd and eight people (at least) had to be taken to hospital.

This was not the behaviour of the majority of protestors. Even if we assume Mr Barker is not exaggerating there were only about three thousand people at the most cheering the events at Millbank, and even less actually carrying out the violence. The other 47,000 protesters had nothing to do with it.

What he describes was not the righteous anger of students as some have attempted to portray it but an outburst of tribalistic, anti-tory hatred by a bunch of morons who cared more about smashing things up than the cause against tuition fees. Media coverage has been dominated by the violence – arguments about whether it is fair to raise tuition fees scarcely got a word in edgeways.

Aaron Porter was completely right to condemn the violence.

The forced entry and destruction of private property is illegal for good reason. Those who smashed up Millbank should be ashamed of themselves.

Granted, the police are partially responsible for the violence as they could have easily prevented it by defending Millbank in the same way they defended Cowley Street (it was so well defended that even some of my fellow Lib Dems who worked their weren’t allowed in). And, the violence probably did bring more publicity to the demonstration. But I’m not one of those who thinks all publicity is good publicity.

This was violence for the sake of violence and was completely unnecessary. It has tarnished all of us and will overshadow our cause for months.

To those who say the violence was necessary to get the politicians to notice, I say this: tell that to Mahatma Gandhi.

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Reader comments

Well said

hmm, I certainly don’t think most of the people there were in their 30s – what I saw was a few of the ‘usual suspects’, and lots of younger students who, I would guess, were either freshers, or in sixth form, who were not really sure what they were doing. If this had been the ‘usual suspects’, there is no way people without their faces covered would have been throwing stuff at police lines. And there would be no way the would have failed to break through such a thin police line and swamp the building entirely. I’ve been to demos full of experienced protesters and ‘usual suspects’ – this wasn’t (mostly) them.

I also think it’s unhelpful to talk so much about violence, without giving any context. Yes, there was violence against people. Yes, we should condemn that, always. But mostly this was property damage. You may think that this is violent too, and that’s a reasonable opinion. But unless you say ‘violence against property’, I think most people think you mean ‘violence against people’.

If you do mean violence against people, then all you are saying here is ‘those people at Millbank who were violent against people should be condemned, and don’t represent the majority’ – well, I think the majority of people at Millbank made that pretty clear when they chanted at those throwing stuff ‘stop throwing shit’ – before they poured into the building to occupy it.

The truth is that, whether or not we support what happened, or bits of what happened, this has helped to change the story on cuts – as the Independent have said, no one can pretend there is a consensus anymore. Now the resistance is the story.

And I think it’s worth remembering this:

“The argument of the broken window pane is the most valuable argument in modern politics.” – Emmeline Pankhurst

The hypocracy from Labour on this is pretty smelly. From the tone of comments here and elsewhere you would have thought Labour, while in Government and in the election campaign reduced/abolished student fees and/or promised to do so, and had nothing to do with Lord Browne’s report.

The truth is, of course, that the Labour Government maintained and increased fees, and commissioned Browne’s report, sertting its frame of reference.

By all means attack Lib Dems for a broken promise: that is entirely legitimate. But a more honest and consistent way of describing the underlying politics is probably something like:

“Now you niave Lib Dems have discoverd the reality of power you understand you can’t make foolish promises. We are so glad you have at last come round to our understanding that student tuition fees are inevitable and bound to increase.


@ Adam Ramsey

So what are you saying? That it’s ok to use violence or the threat thereof, or destruction of property to essentially demand payment for something which primarily benefits the individual?

How would you feel if I came to your house and smashed it up and terrified your family because I disagree with your political views, or even simply because you might earn more money than me and I feel I deserve some of yours. The example is extreme, but that is effectively what you are condoning.

Is it fair that some taxpayers have to fund education for other taxpayers, so that the latter can earn more? Hows that for a socialist dilema…

Student fees – it’s not exactly a civil rights movement now is it?

5. George W Potter

I’d just like to apologise for the spelling and grammatical errors in the article.

I’d also like to clarify that I don’t mean that the majority of people committing the violence were in their thirties, what I meant, but did not perhaps make clear, is that the people who seemed to have started it were mainly non-students. There’s no doubt that students joined in and made up the majority of the crowd there, but I would still characterise it as more a minority of naive idiots than anything else. I’ve read a piece by someone else who was there at the moment it actually started and he says a lot of people went in their because that looked like it was the way they were meant to go.

6. George W Potter


I think many people are understandably dissatisfied and impatient with the conventional practice of walking with a placard and then listening to some speakers. There are lots of people who want to convey their views and raise the profile of the issue in ways that are more effective than this. Above all, there’s a widespread sense of a need to DO SOMETHING.

But I agree entirely with those who have condemned the violence. Putting others at risk of harm, e.g., by lobbing fire extinguishers off roofs, is inexcusable. And I don’t see any point whatsoever in smashing a window for its own sake, whatever Emmeline Pankhurst said.

Adam rightly points out that most protestors condemned the actions of those who were throwing things off the building at Milbank. Great. But we have to worry about an episode of direct action that allows itself to escalate to the point where some people start doing things like this. As an anti-cuts movement, we surely have to take more responsibility for ensuring that our actions do not have this kind of escalating dynamic built into them and not just hope that the hotter heads will always be restrained on the day or that they manage to miss people when they lob things off roofs. (I have no patience with those who say things like ‘Oh, but that was just one incident’ or things like that. So what? It only takes one fire extinguisher landing on one head to kill one person.)

The alternative is not that we just go back to the conventional demo followed by lectures from the great and the good. There is direct action that is resolutely non-violent and which always has specific, planned objectives. The Vodafone action is a great example, and it may be that much of what Climate Camp has done on the climate change issue is also a good example from which we in the anti-cuts movement can learn….?

@Guest: The violence at student protests misrepresented the vast majority of us

Have you told Sunny, he seemed quite happy and wants more of the same?

@Adam Ramsey“The argument of the broken window pane is the most valuable argument in modern politics.” – Emmeline Pankhurst

This was for the rights of women to vote…just a tad different. Also can you tell me how much more a student will pay when these proposals come in? It seesm to me that including the maintenance grant and including the maintenance loan, and with tuition fees at 6000 quid, students will owe LESS THAN THEY DO NOW!!! It is only if the max cap of 9000, or maybe up to 7500 or 8000 that students will end up paying more.

9. George W. Potter


This just happens to be an area where I disagree with Sunny. Far from the only one.

10. George W. Potter

A more general account of my experience at the protest can be found on my (brand new) blog, here:

Will Aaron Porter also take responsiblity for routing the march right past Millbank. To do so when he knew the feelings amongst students against the Tories and Libdems is highly irresponsible.

12. George W. Potter


I don’t see what’s wrong with routing the protest past Millbank but the trouble should have been anticipated and stewards sent ahead to direct people past Millbank.

What your article basically means is you are a pacifist. You avoided all the trouble. As you approached Millbank you walked a little bit faster then slowed down as you went past. Eager to demonstrate to the state authorities you wanted no part in the more vigorous aspects of the demonstration.

You are strangely keen to proclaim your Liberal support and yet the Libs caused all this. You say you lean to the left but the party you voted for clearly leans far to the right. You must be really confused right now. It’s not a good time to be Liberal but then it never was as their invertebrate constitution has kept them at the back of politics for decades. Most people see Liberals for what they are.

All you have to do is look at the smug faces of Tory MP’s in the Commons when they push forward the ginger rodent and Clegg (flying insect) to make all the unpalatable announcements. They look their being forced into it by the school bully and they have to do it so they wont get battered.

Take some advice. Don’t make any Liberal Proclamations anymore.


I doubt George is a pacifist, but if he is a liberal he will not approve of political violence. Don’t judge others by your own standards, but by their own.

Rae, Let’s be very clear. It was LABOUR who opened the floodgates to the university tuition fees debacle that is now being imposed on our country. It was Labour who commissioned the Browne report, and it was Labour who set the whole thing up in the first place, by imposing top-up fees. As soon as the argument had been made by Charles Clarke that it was right for students to pay a substantial amount toward their higher education, and that higher education free at the point of delivery was going to be a thing of the past, then full-scale marketization became inevitable. It was only a matter of time. Rupert Read made this argument at the time. .

The “state authorities”?
Is Rae Merrill actually Rik Mayall from The Young Ones?

From the Flood episode:

Neil: Oh well. well, we’ll all probably get drowned or eaten by octopuses, then.
Rick: WHAT? Phone the police!
Neil: But they’re fascists!
Rick: Well, never mind about that now! Telephone, Vyvyan!

17. Stuart White

Rae Merrill @ 13: Nothing George Potter says in the above article commits him to pacifism. He is criticising one particular use of violence in one context. That’s moral discrimination, not (necessarily) pacifism.

I’m glad that as a Lib Dem he is sticking to his principles and protesting against the Coalition. I wish there were more Lib Dems with the same grasp and courage of their liberal convictions.


I am not a pacifist and my take on direct action can be found here:

As a general principle though, I believe that violence is only ever justified in direct defence of yourself or others.

I don’t have the time to explain to you, in terms you can understand, why I’m still a Lib Dem but if you bother to read my blog tomorrow evening I’ll have written a post about it. I doubt you will though since you seem to be the kind of person who opposes solely for the sake of opposing, without reason or logic.


Certainly on this issue the majority of the party agrees with me. I’d be very surprised if our current leadership is still in charge of our party come the 2015 election.

20. Stuart White

@ 19: that’s interesting – that the majority of the party agrees with you on the HE issue.

But are they, like you, protesting? Are they calling up their MPs and telling them not to vote with the government?

I’m also interested in what you say about the removal of the current party leadership by 2015. How is the opposition to the present leadership organizing and mobilising now to help make this happen?

All questions intended in a spirit of cross-party liberal solidarity. And feel free to tell me they’ll be addressed in your forthcoming post on remaining in the Lib Dems.

@20 A lot of Lib Dems and Liberal Youth are calling up their MPs and telling them to keep their pledge. If Tim Fallon is elected pres, you’ll know that we are the majority.

Good article, one of the most honest and well-balanced I’ve seen so far.

@2. Adam Ramsay. If I smash up my girl friends home – society calls that domestic violence; ergo it is generally accepted that violence doesn’t always mean injuring a person. Non violence is a cornerstone of Green philosophy.

The GPEW’s MfSS 7: 7.We look for non-violent solutions to conflict situations, which take into account the interests of minorities and future generations in order to achieve lasting settlements.

I think a lot of people are using semantics to justify violence. Would you be so supportive if the Irish Green Party HQ was smashed by angry students.


here’s some facts and figures for you:

Liberal Youth conference and every regional conference, except the south west conference, passed motions against increases in tuition fees.

A survey of members conducted by LibDemVoice (bear in mind that the surveys are online and only of party members signed up to the LDV forums) found that 59% of members thought that all our MPs should keep their pledges on tuition fees and 29% they would be disappointed if our MPs broke their pledges but would reluctantly accept it under the circumstances.*

41% said that there was nothing that would persuade them to support a package which included increased tuition fees.** However, 82% of them still supported the coalition*** and a more detailed view of members views of the coalition can be found here:

Personally, I have pledged not to campaign on behalf of any Lib Dem MP who breaks their pledge and my entire local party and our councillors have voiced their complete opposition to the fee increases.

There is not, as far as I am aware any plotting against the leadership and I would not condone any if there was. We signed into this coalition and must continue to support it, albeit critically, until the end of this parliament. However, I have met encountered lots of Lib Dems speculating about getting rid of the leadership and, on the basis of anecdotal impressions from my fellow members, Nick Clegg would be extremely lucky to remain leader after the 2015 spring conference. I certainly wouldn’t support him if he seeks to remain leader after 2015.

I will address some of this stuff in my blogpost but it will mainly be from a personal perspective though you have just given me an idea for another blogpost in future 😉



The rot had set in long before then – before 1997 in fact. My intake year was the last year to get the grant, and by then it had been penny-pinched to the point where it did not even cover a single term’s rent. Part-time work and loans were the only way around this, and the loans as they were then – though they were only necessary to cover a shortfall – had much more punitive repayment terms.

I don’t think a single political party is responsible as much as a general trend on the part of the British government to turn higher education into yet another wealth-favouring, market-driven service.

George –

I may be thrawn, I may be unreasonable and I may have a poor grasp of logic. But one thing I am sure of. My principles remain. Not sure many Libs can claim that in recent weeks.

28. George W. Potter


Aww, the troll is speaking *hug*

It shows how passive we have become that people think that “violent” is an accurate general term to describe this protest.

30. Daniel Factor

Those who advocate smashing windows in the name of “protest” are under the illusion that it will change things. It won’t.
The idiots at Millbank were rent-a-mob professional annarchists who hijack demos in order to get their faces on the TV and in the papers.
Furthermore they do not represent the working classes and the poor because they are posh kids who’s Mummy and Daddys will bail them out of the trouble they have got themselves in.
No tuition fees but no posh thugs either!

It shows how passive we have become that people think that “violent” is an accurate general term to describe this protest.

Several companies had their offices wreaked. 8 people ended up in hospital, including one that had potential brain damage after being hit by a brick thrown by one of the protestors. Plus of course the attempted murder by fire extinguisher. Yet you think that that is not violent?

@ Stuart White: “I wish there were more Lib Dems with the same grasp and courage of their liberal convictions.”

The Lib Dems have indeed elected Tim Farren as party President, no doubt substantially because of his promise to vote in Parliament agianst the tuition fee increase.


We’re not hanging people from lamp-posts yet. Frankly I think the whole effort seemed rather tame and restrained.

I think that your comparison to coming round my house because you disagreed with my politics misses a somewhat fundamental point, Mr Potter. I, last time I checked, am not running the country. Because of this, I am not running it badly into the ground in pursuit of my bone-headed ideology.

If I were running the country, I think I might be a little more aware of the long history of angry mobs with torches and pitchforks, and their capacity for violence when impoverished or grumpy. I think, therefore, I would take some steps to not make them any more impoverished or grumpy than I had to, especially if I had a face as eminently punchable as George Osborne.

But, hey, if you want to consider the fact that the Bullingdon Brothers are actually in charge as a negligible fact of no importance to the moral consideration, you go right ahead. As someone who’s still a member of the Liberal Democrats, you must be very used to handwaving by now.

Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    The violence at student protests misrepresented the vast majority of us

  2. Elliot Page

    RT @libcon: The violence at student protests misrepresented the vast majority of us

  3. michael carden

    “@libcon: The violence at student protests misrepresented the vast majority of us”amen to that

  4. Kevin Blowe

    Bet someone will condemn Egyptian protesters' violence against police as it'll 'overshadow message' – this guy maybe:

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