LIVE BLOG: Thousands march on Parliament as MPs debate controversial tuition fees rise

Photo: Germaine Arnold

Thousands of students, lecturers, teachers and staff from universities, colleges and schools in south and east London marched on Westminster as MPs took the crucial decision on the controversial rise in tuition fees. The vote on the rise, which could potentially treble the maximum rate per year to £9000, was taken at around 5.40pm and passed with a majority of 21. The proposals have inspired rolling protests and demonstrations since they were announced in late October and this is the third major rally in the centre of London. Both earlier protests sparked confrontations with police with several arrests being made.

ELL will have reporters on the ground throughout the day, following a group of students from Goldsmiths. Check back as events unfold; regular updates will posted to the top of this post.

For a comprehensive overview of how the tuition fees debate has developed, see our feature “Tuition Fees: Where we are, how we got here and what’s at stake”. For ELL coverage of previous demonstrations, see here. For a comment on the speed of the government’s actions see here.

For more pictures see our Twitter: @eastlondonlines

Latest Update – 22.30

Reports suggest that some protesters are still being contained by police on Westminster Bridge after they were moved out of Parliament Square just over an hour ago. 

20.15

We’re signing off for the evening now, thanks for staying with us during the day. We’d be delighted to hear your views on the protest, and your experience of it if you went along, just send us an email or leave a comment below. Check back tomorrow for our follow-up coverage; in the mean time, have a look at our google map which tracks the path of the demonstration, tagging our reporter’s photos as they went. We’ll be updating it as more information comes to us.

Map created by Padraig Moran

20:00

A video from 3:45pm today of police battling with protesters beneath a section of metal fencing.

19.25

Police sources now say that 22 protesters have been injured. They say that “extreme violence” is hindering an effort to release people from the kettle.

19.18

The police have now secured the Treasury and pushed the crowd back according to reports.

19.02

Unconfirmed reports say that protesters have entered the Treasury.

19.00

13 protesters and six officers have been injured, according to police sources. In a statement the Met Police said they are “extremely disappointed” with the protesters’ actions. Nine people have been arrested.

18.51

Five or six windows of the Treasury have been smashed with scaffolding poles by demonstrators according to one of our reporters. The police and protesters are now taking it in turns to charge each other, with the police trying to move the crowd away from the building.

18.35

Protesters on Parliament Square are now using barriers to push the police line back, but there are still clashes across the line. Some demonstrators are also trying to break the windows of government buildings on Great George Street.

On the other hand, Hazel Lush, 21, Goldsmiths student  sees a different picture: “We’re at the edge of the kettle, wanting to be let out, and people are sitting down singing Christmas songs to the police. Hundreds of them.”

18.17

Heidi Alexander MP for Lewisham East has told ELL why she voted against the rise in tuition fees:

“I voted against a rise in tuition fees this evening as I think the scale of debt that will be faced by a young person under the proposed arrangements will put many people off from continuing their studies. I grew up in a family where money wasn’t ‘easy come, easy go’, and I believe that fears about debt are greater amongst young people who have grown up in a family where money is tight.”

I think it is much harder for young people from less well-off backgrounds to imagine a scenario in which they will have a job where the repayments are manageable. I also think the brightest students should be able to go to the best universities and I don’t think their choice of university should be determined by the cost of the degree – a danger under the proposed arrangements.”

18.05

Along the edges of Whitehall near Westminster protesters are picking up railings to throw at police, there are crushes as people are trying to get out according to one of our reporters.

17.57

The second vote has been passed with an identical majority. This vote has raised the cap to £6000.

17.53

As word of the vote result spreads through the crowd in Parliament Square, the mood is turning sour. Our reporter says protesters are throwing fences at police officers.

17.45

The first vote on tuition fees has been passed. 323 yes to 302 no. Universities will be free to raise their fees to £9000 per year if they can justify it.

17.40

Diane Abbott, Hackney North and Stoke Newington MP has just tweeted: “Just voted against tuition fees. Saw Nick Clegg patting a distraught Lyn Featherstone [sic] on the back as they both voted for the huge rise.”

17.29

A rumour circulated in Whitehall that the vote had passed, leading to a brief clash with police.

17.24

The Guardian is reporting that the man dragged from his wheelchair is Jody McIntyre. His brother says that he has been “pulled from the chair twice” and that “police dragged him away”. Our reporter captured the moment an hour ago. See our twitter account for up-to-date pictures.

17.15

Protesters have climbed on top of a police van on Whitehall. They are calling to police below to end the kettling and lay down their batons.

17.11

One of our reporters say the supposed exit through Whitehall has been closed. Demonstrators are being refused an exit from Parliament Square, while two more lines of police have been established along Whitehall, consisting of mounted personnel and riot police. These lines are advancing down Whitehall, forcing protesters back into the kettle at Parliament Square.

17.08

There is a teach-in happening at the National Gallery which started at 5pm. There are apparently around 200 people there, with gallery staff trying to remove them. The teach-in includes lecturers from the Slade, Goldsmiths, Kingston and Chelsea. They are talking on the subject of Art and the Multitude.

17.06

One of our reporters has been batoned by police. He reports that fences have been thrown as horses charged.

17.05

A spokesman for Heidi Alexander, Labour MP for Lewisham East, has confirmed she will be voting against the proposal to raise tuition fees.

17.00

The actual vote on tuition fees should be happening within the next 15 minutes. Joan Ruddock, MP for Lewisham Deptford has said she will be voting against tuition fees:

“I believe that the increase is absolutely unacceptable and is the government’s way of making up for the fact that they’re cutting 80% of the teaching funds. This is simply a case of transferring the cost to students themselves.”

She believes there needs to be a “proper balance” between both public funding and students in meeting the cost of university, but this policy puts the entire burden on students alone.

For institutions that specialise predominantly in the arts, this policy could mean they lose up to 100 per cent of their teaching funding, and this will be impossible to adjust to in such a short timeframe.

“The major institutions in my constituency are Goldsmiths and Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, which are known for absolute excellence and have world-renowned reputations.”

Goldsmiths will see almost 100 per cent of funding cut, and Trinity Laban will see their entire funding cut. “This is a recipe for disaster,” she added.

She has received “many, many emails” from concerned constituents, who have said this policy “will completely put them off” from attending university. This decision goes back on all previous efforts to extend university education to all, and the result will be that education is only available for the rich, and the poor will never find places at the best universities because the best will also be the most expensive.

16.54

Huge clouds of smoke billowing around Parliament Square after a rubbish bin is set alight. One of our reporters says that the area is filling with smoke and that she can barely see Big Ben despite being in the shadow of it, nobody is dealing with it.

16.45

One of our reporters has been speaking to one of the police officers dressed in riot gear, he said: “There are people in the crowd who are doing things they shouldn’t, it is a minority but we have to protect the public.”

16.30

More pictures from the demonstration including a protester with a head wound from a baton and a view from inside Westminster:

From inside!

Photo: Starbuck Coleman

protester with baton wound at the cordon

Photo: Germaine Arnold

16.17

Goldsmiths lecturer Angela Phillips is at the UCU rally on the Embankment. She says: “There is something rather pathetic about the little knot of people at the UCU rally on the Embankment. The usual ‘important’ people up on a stage talking at us, while behind in Parliament Square, the students have taken over and are letting their MPs know just what they think about legislation. The UCU have been very lukewarm in their opposition and have completely misread the mood.”

16.10

Here is a picture from Germaine Arnold showing police officers with batons raised:

protesters (and myself) shelter under a fence as baton blows rain down

16.05

One of our reporters says mounted police and protesters are now clashing outside Westminster Abbey, off Parliament Squate. Fireworks have been thrown at police and parts of the fence are being passed to the front of the crowd. He says he saw a protester with a bleeding head wound, with the crowd making a path for him to leave, with police medics tending to him.

16.00

Here are some assorted images of the scenes in Parliament Square:

police dragged a man from his wheelchair in par sq 5 mins ago

A protester getting close to the police line. Photo: Germaine Arnold

mounted police have charged protesters.

Photo: Germaine Arnold

15.55

People are being told to avoid Embankment, where violence has erupted. Flares and fireworks are being thrown. Horses have again rushed the crowd outside Westminster Abbey. Our reporter outside the kettle says the police tactics are similar to those used at G20.

Here is a picture from our reporter, who says this was as the police horses charged:

police horses charge half an hour ago. Sending pics again now I'm safe

Photo: Germaine Arnold.

15.51

Peaceful demonstrators trying to leave the Parliament Sq kettle have been met with violence from police. A young woman and two men have been forced back into the kettle with blood gushing from their heads.

15.40

Police on horseback have charged at the demonstrators in Parliament Sq. Protesters are attempting to get out of harms way, but are crushed in a group of thousands.

15.38

Large groups of school children as young as 12 are present at the protest unsupervised, and are starting to engage in vandalism. Westminster Abbey has been graffitied with anarchist symbols. Peaceful protesters are being caught in the middle of skirmishes, minor injuries reported.

15.30

Our reporter Michael Northcott says he has heard one of the police shout “absolute cordon” and close ranks he said it seems that people will not be let in or out any more at least where he is. The line is apparently now four or five policeman thick. The police line is now moving forward, including those on horseback.

15.22

We have been in contact with schools across the boroughs and it seems that for most it has been a normal day, with no stoppages in lessons.

Ken Warman, principal of B6 Sixth Form College in Hackney , said today has been a normal day, with some students protesting, but lessons running normally. He said they are expecting more movement next monday, when students will protest to defend the Education Maintenance Allowance. The school will hold a rally outside their building that day.

15.10

Protesters are trying to keep warm in the ‘filtered cordon’ in Parliament Square:

keeping warm in the kettle.

Photo: Germaine Arnold

One of our reporters has also been speaking to two Goldsmiths MA Fine Art students who are members of the Arts Against Cuts movement, but did not want to give their names, they said: “We’re here because there has to be a visible resistance to the violence of these cuts. The government are forcing people into market driven choices in education.”

14.55

Here is another selection of photos from outside Parliament Square:

Photo: Germaine Arnold

Photo: Germaine Arnold

14.47

The original plan was for the protesters to attend a NUS/UCU rally along Victoria Embankment from 3.00- 4.30 and then a candlelit vigil in the same location from 4.30-5pm, as agreed with the Metropolitan Police. However, it seems that many are happy to stay in Parliament Square.

One of our reporters says that the kettle will remain open unless anything “kicks off”.

14.42

One of our reporters in Parliament Square says that spirits are low among the protesters and there is no atmosphere as people are happy to sit rather than try to continue the march route. He says there is an open kettle and people are coming and going, with many people leaving.

14.37

Events on Parliament Square:

Photo: Germaine Arnold

14.34

Our reporter says they have definitely been kettled between Parliament Square and the green outside Westminster Abbey.

14.25

The protestors went down the Mall and stopped for a while, fences were then broken by the more enthusiastic demonstrators. The crowd then rushed through the gap and made it through to the green outside Westminster Abbey on the Parliament Street side. Our reporter says that this was not where the protest was intended to end but the police “have other ideas”. The protesters are currently on the green outside the Abbey with not much chance of moving.

Here is a picture of the broken fences:

Photo: Germaine Arnold

14.10

Things are starting to escalate with smoke bombs being thrown by the crowd and the police being pelted with eggs:

Police being pelted with eggs. Photo: Germaine Arnold

Photo: Germaine Arnold.

14.05

Here are the latest pictures showing police in riot gear and an announcer in a van telling the protesters they are being redirected down Whitehall, which is off the pre-arranged route:

Photo: Germaine Arnold

Photo: Germaine Arnold

13.52

The police line at Parliament Street have donned riot gear according to one of our reporters.

13.43

The protest has entered Parliament Square, but is being held up by a police line close to Big Ben. One of our reporters has spoken to Jonathan Rosenhead, a professor from the London School of Economics, he said: “I don’t think this law will be overturned by Parliament, but it might be overturned by the people. Protest on this scale is extraordinary.”

13.37

The march is now thousands strong and is heading up the Mall, passing through Admiralty Arch:

Photo: Germaine Arnold

13.33

University of London SU party arrive in Trafalgar Square to huge cheers. They have an immense soundsystem shaking the ground:

ULU party arrive in Traf Sq to huge cheers. They have an immense soundsystem shaking the ground.

Photo: Germaine Arnold.

13.30

One of our reporters has spoken to Gabriel, 13, who said: “I came to the protest today with my friends. I don’t think the new law will be beaten in Parliament tonight, but we’ll beat it eventually.”

13.20

The march is at a standstill now in Trafalgar Square as protesters await reinforcements:

Photo: Germaine Arnold

13.09

The amassed Goldsmiths and South Bank demonstrators have now joined up with King’s College students and staff on The Strand.

13.07

There is an excited, almost festival like spirit among the protesters, with drum and bass music blaring out of speakers. Here are some pictures from Germaine Arnold:


13.00

Rushanara Ali, MP Bethnal Green & Bow in Tower Hamlets, just stood up and interjected into Commons debate. She is concerned that loss of Education Maintenance grant will have detrimental effect on poor ethnic minorities in her constituency, particularly the large Bangladeshi minority, many of whom rely on this grant. She believes it will result in deprived pockets of ethnic minorities.

12.56

Here is a picture from Germaine Arnold of student Hugh Haslam with a scratch on his neck after an altercation with a police officer outside Waterloo station:

Photo: Germaine Arnold

12.53

The protesters are now crossing Waterloo Bridge, one of our reporters has spoken to Kayni, a student from South Bank University who is attending her first protest. She said: “The mood is really good and I didn’t expect so many people.”

12.45

The demonstrators are now outside Southwark College, some sixth formers have now joined what is a hundreds strong contingent from south-east London.

12.40

Our reporter says that the sunshine has protesters in a lively mood as they move down Blackfriars Road, as these photos from Germaine illustrate:

Photo: Germaine Arnold

Photo: Germaine Arnold

12.35

Another comment from Goldsmiths Student Union President Bindz Patel: “This is amazing, the biggest protest so far. The entrance to Goldsmiths was packed out, everyone realises this is it, the big one.”

12.31

Here are some more pictures from our reporter Germaine Arnold:

Outside Southbank University. Photo: Germaine Arnold

Photo: Germaine Arnold

After a quick bus journey, Goldsmiths and South Bank University students have now joined up and are now on their way to Southwark college to collect sixth form pupils.

12.15

The Press Association are reporting that Nick Clegg has called opponents to tuition fees “dreamers”. While Aaron Porter, President of the National Union of Students has asked for MPs to “do the honourable thing and vote down these damaging proposals”.

“Students are now descending on Westminster to ensure that promises to voters are kept and they are not sold down the river,” he added.

11.45

Our reporter says that Goldsmiths students are going to Elephant and Castle to meet with students from South Bank University. One mature student, Rebecca Wright, is bringing her baby on the protest in a pram; she said: “I don’t want to raise an apathetic child. I think it’s important to expose her to social struggle.

“It’s not fair that people who have nothing to do with why we are in this mess are having to pay for it.”

11.40

Goldsmiths students had been occupying the campus library in the Rutherford building since Monday night, before going on the demonstration. The fire alarms were set off in the building last night as the occupiers were holding a disco involving a smoke machine.

11.25

Here are the first pictures of the day, from our reporter Germaine Arnold outside Goldsmiths:

Photo: Germaine Arnold

Photo: Germaine Arnold

Our reporter Charlie Cooper says: “Goldsmiths students are starting early. The Student Union President Bindz Patel, complete with mega phone, is leading a pied piper-esque march through the corridors of the college picking up students on the way.

“The group is entering lecture theatres  and classrooms drumming up support and calling for a student and staff walkout.”

11.00

Hello and welcome to ELL’s coverage of the demonstration in London. For previous coverage of what is at stake, see here and here.

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