Back-dated to Saturday 11th December
It’s one of the few Saturdays I return during term time to the house where my parents live. I’ve come back to show my Erasmus housemate and very good friend both the city and some English Christmas traditions. It’ll also end up (possibly?) being a demonstration of the (political) situation of modern Britain…
Following months of political unrest and protest predominantly, although not exclusively, led by the youth and student population, concerning the issues of cuts to education and a radical tripling of the cap of tuition fees; following the growing list of services slashed in some elitist effort to “fight the deficit” (ema, the British language council programme, sports partnership, aim higher, humanities/arts funding, university funding, the closure of libraries nationwide…); following the U-turn by the Liberal Democrats and their refusal to maintain integrity on account of an intense desire to maintain power (for what, exactly, one wonders); and following the devastating result in the House of Commons on Thursday’s vote which passed the motion tripling the tuition fees cap I find myself in Manchester city centre on a Saturday two weeks before Christmas day. Upon leaving the station the first striking thing is not the bustling crowds eager to snap up a bargain or two, but the large and persistent presence of florescent yellow jackets: the police. Reaching Picadilly gardens this becomes more extreme. There are five or more police mounted on horseback, stationary, accompanied by their colleagues on foot, milling around. Now this hasn’t been a regular site for me growing up, maybe because of where I grew up, maybe because of other reasons, either way I find the image before me somewhat strange. Images of police violence, police cavalries charging protesters, from the many videos available depicting shocking, disconcerting, upsetting, and frankly disgusting examples of behaviour which have surfaced following the protests in London flood my mind, accompanied by the sharp, serious, shocking words of the articles detailing the occurrences, from within the protests, and kettles, and from outside of them. I shiver, and blink back tears. Further down the street I find myself behind two officers, carrying video cameras, videoing the public, their jackets emblazoned with the term “evidence gatherer”. The words “Big brother” and “police state” swim into my mind’s eye. Those and one other: intimidation.
Not long after, a quiet rumble of shouts begins. The words are discernible, the chant we all know by now: “no ifs, no buts, no education cuts”. I hurry to try and catch up, darting between the crowds of shoppers which outnumber those protesting 100s to one. I finally manage to reach the group outside Vodafone, where the crowd have stopped, shouting “shame on you”. Police hurry in, protecting the business from what surely is a criminal offense – tax evasion. The protesters are moved on. Prevented from voicing an opinion. Round the corner (I don’t know the street names in Manchester city centre….) I come across two or more police vans, from the safety of which flee more than twenty officers. Approaching the Arndale thirty florescent yellow jackets run by, followed by another group of faceless yellow. The police presence astounds me. Later I would be assured that this the case at the other protests staged during this week, which, on account of fast-approaching deadlines (‘swooshing by’) and a mountain of work for them, I hadn’t attended.
By the Town Hall, horses gallop through ahead of a swarm of police leading the protest, which has diminished significantly. Amongst the crowds of the public I hear phrases such as “oh there’s not ANOTHER protest” and “bloody students” as the sounds of sirens permeate the air – A stark juxtaposition with the cheerful voices enjoying bratwurst and gluhwein in Christmas Markets. I am struck by the stigma of student stereotypes, formerly attributed with the qualities of apathetic drunkard, now reduced to nothing more than a caricature of an anarchist wielding violence (a comprehendible result after enduring hours of being ‘kettled in’). The youth of this country, watching their futures slip out of their hands on account of the decisions made by Eton’s Alumni Association which governs the UK, are marred by stereotypes, condemned by elitism, and beaten by intimidation into submission. It’s a bleak prospect for all.