Goldsmiths lecturers are under fire from Downing Street for backing student protesters who stormed Conservative Headquarters yesterday.
Downing Street has called lecturers “irresponsible” for issuing a statement congratulating staff and students on what the academics called a “magnificent anti-cuts demonstration”, the Evening Standard reported.
The Goldsmiths branch of the University and College Union released the statement yesterday afternoon, expressing support for the 50,000 people who marched through Westminster in protest at funding cuts and tuition fee hikes. The statement criticised the National Union of Students and the national UCU for condemning the dramatic storming of Tory HQ by several hundred protesters.
“We wish to condemn and distance ourselves from the from the divisive and, in our view, counter-productive statements issued by NUS and UCU concerning the occupation of the Conservative Party HQ,” the statement read. “The real violence in this situation relates not to a smashed window but to the destructive impact of the cuts.”
Goldsmiths itself has taken the same line as the NUS and UCU, a spokesperson said: “This statement in no way reflects the views of Goldsmiths. We completely disassociate ourselves from what has been reported.
“Our position echoes that of the University and College Union and of the National Union of Students in that it was deeply saddening to see a peaceful protest tarnished by utterly unacceptable behaviour”
At the height of yesterday’s demonstration a large group smashed windows and entered the Millbank headquarters of the Conservative party. A small group of about 20, including around five Goldsmiths students, made it to the roof of the high-rise tower block, but were later among fifty-one arrested by police as they attempted to leave.
All the students were released overnight.
Goldsmiths students involved in the Millbank invasion quickly received the backing from their lecturers’ union. Downing Street reacted angrily when news of the lecturer’s support emerged this afternoon.
Earlier, the Prime Minister had called for the “full force of the law” to be brought against any who became violent. The National Union of Students condemned the Millbank protest as “despicable” and “not part of our plan.”
Angela Phillips, a lecturer in Media & Communications at Goldsmiths, who attended the march which proceeded the dramatic scenes at Millbank, said that “before Mr Cameron condemns the smashing of windows, he should remember his Bullingdon days, and recognise that at least these students were doing it for a good cause.”
Five Goldsmiths students were arrested yesterday, and released on bail early this morning.
Among them was James Haywood, communication and campaigns officer for the college students union, who was arrested while trying to leave the building. He was released on bail until February. Police confiscated his telephone and his clothes.
Mr Haywood said students would not be deterred by the threat of arrest. “I have no regrets. The occupation of Tory HQ was completely justified.”
He distanced the Goldsmiths group from those who threw missiles and a fire extinguisher from the roof. “There were a few idiots there,” he said, “None of our lot.’’
However, Mr Haywood refused to condemn the damage done to the building and said that the protest was mostly peaceful. “The vandalism was unfortunate, but when you have a Government who are not listening to people this is what you have to expect. The Government are to blame. These people are damaging futures of thousands. The damage done to their building is nothing in comparison.”
Mr Haywood said he was taken to Charing Cross police station and remanded there until 1.30am this morning. Police used the same ‘kettling’ tactics employed at the G20 protests in the City of London in 2009 to contain the final few hundred demonstrators and stagger their departure. They photographed those leaving the scene to identify potential suspects and made 51 arrests.
He described a game of cat-and-mouse with police at the heart of Tory HQ.
“We were told the police had secured the area, so we thought we should get down from the roof,” Mr Haywood said. “We tried to go down a staircase, but saw the cops coming up and tried to use the other one. But someone in the building pointed us out to the police.”
The names of the other Goldsmiths students who were arrested have not been released.
The Goldsmiths management said it would not be commenting on the arrests.
Student leader Haywood was in defiant mood today, and said students would try to “break the back” of the Coalition Government in the coming weeks and months, by targeting Liberal Democrat MPs in London. He believes yesterday’s protest marks a watershed in national resistance to the government’s spending cuts. “The perception that the English just drink tea and do not protest is over,” he said. “We occupied the heart of Government. We intend to break the back of the Lib Dems in the coming weeks – we are going to make them pay a big political price.”